Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Hillsborough

Romulo Yanes redefined food photography. Here are some of his photos.

He worked for Gourmet for 26 years and died in Tampa at 62.
Romulo Yanes photographed food for work and at home. “It was amazing how much of our life he documented,” his husband said.
Romulo Yanes photographed food for work and at home. “It was amazing how much of our life he documented,” his husband said. [ Photos by Romulo Yanes, courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]
Published Aug. 2
Updated Aug. 2

Rob Schaublin-Yanes still has the home he and his husband made in Tampa, the business they built in Safety Harbor, boxes of cameras and equipment and an i-Phone.

On it — about 17,000 photos from the daily life of a man who made art from ordinary things.

Romulo Yanes redefined food photography at Gourmet magazine. His award-winning images ran across glossy covers for decades.

Mr. Yanes and his husband moved to Tampa in the fall of 2019 to be closer to family after Mr. Yanes was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer. He died June 16. He was 62.

Schaublin-Yanes shared some of the photos he found on his husband’s camera.

Here is a look at what the photographer saw.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

Mr. Yanes was born in Cuba and came to the United States with his family when he was 8. In New Jersey, where he grew up, an aptitude test determined Mr. Yanes should be a dentist. But a photography class in high school turned him in another direction.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

At 24, Mr. Yanes joined the staff at Gourmet as the assistant to photographer Luis Lemus. The two, both native Spanish speakers, worked together well, said Zanne Stewart, who retired as Gourmet’s food editor in 2008 after a 36-year career there. When Lemus died a few months later, Mr. Yanes stepped into the role. Soon, he made it his own.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

Mr. Yanes didn’t just come in and take photos of food, Stewart said. “He had been with us all along as we were developing that food, those recipes, so he knew what the food editor was trying to go for...He was always thinking about how it was going to look, but he cared about how it was going to taste, and he cared about the integrity of the recipe.”

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

People used to joke about opening up Gourmet to the centerfold, Stewart said. That’s where the menu section ran with Mr. Yanes’ photos. “It was really imparting his delight at what he did,” she said. “He had tasted the food. He knew how to bring out the best in it in the images.”

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

On the Fourth of July in 1992, in the parking lot of a New Jersey club, Mr. Yanes met his future husband as both were about to go inside. “He always treated me like I was the best thing on the planet,” Schaublin-Yanes said. The two were the first couple in their city of Paterson to register as domestic partners and later as a civil union.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

The couple renovated two historic mansions in New Jersey and later lived in San Francisco. Mr. Yanes’ design ideas usually won. “It was actually quite annoying to me most of the time,” Schaublin-Yanes said. “He was asymmetrical. He didn’t believe in full symmetry.” So their mantel was off-center, and the art arranged with Mr. Yanes’ vision. Schaublin-Yanes got over his annoyance eventually. “It looked beautiful, no matter what.”

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

For years, the couple hosted dinner parties nearly every Saturday night. Mr. Yanes enjoyed planning the meal, shopping and then preparing it. “He loved to cook the food as much as he loved to photograph it.”

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

Mr. Yanes’ work was recognized around the world, but he was humble about it, Schaublin-Yanes said. On a trip to Paris, the couple ate at a tiny neighborhood restaurant, and the chef ran out of the kitchen to meet Mr. Yanes. He had recognized the photographer’s name when he saw the credit card.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

In 2009, Mr. Yanes took a week of vacation and traveled to San Francisco to shoot a job for the furniture store Williams Sonoma. When he got home, Gourmet, then owned by Condé Nast, folded. “We lucked out in a way by getting him when things changed,” said Amy Heine, Williams Sonoma’s director of photography.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

Mr. Yanes built a family at Gourmet and another at Williams Sonoma. “We probably should not have been paid as well as we were for the years of laughter that came out of the kitchen,” Stewart said. “And when Romulo came along, we laughed even more.”

Drawing by Romulo Yanes
Drawing by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

In early 2020, after settling into their home in Tampa, Mr. Yanes and his husband decided to build something together. “How about an ice cream shop?” Schaublin-Yanes suggested. That spring, they signed the lease for a space on Safety Harbor’s Main Street. Mr. Yanes designed every detail.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

He also created the toppings that Kiki’s would offer, like homemade chocolate sauce and apple pie. For some recipes, he called up old friends, Stewart said, to talk through his ideas.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Courtesy Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

Kiki’s, named after the couple’s niece, Karina, opened this spring. Mr. Yanes got to visit Kiki’s once before his health kept him home. But his vision is in every space and every taste.

Photo by Romulo Yanes
Photo by Romulo Yanes [ Rob Schaublin-Yanes ]

Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

Sign up for Kristen Hare’s newsletter and learn the stories behind our obituaries

Our weekly newsletter, How They Lived, is a place to remember the friends, neighbors and Tampa Bay community members we’ve lost. It’s free. Just click on the link to sign up. Know of someone we should feature? Please email Kristen at khare@poynter.org.

Read other Epilogues:

Brandon nurse joined the Peace Corps after retirement

He devoted his life to understanding Florida’s coral reefs

Owner of Mykonos restaurant, ‘unofficial mayor’ of Tarpon Springs, dies at 80