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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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