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15 Hours on the Job With a Bagel Roller

It’s dark. It’s 39 degrees outside. And it’s 2:40 a.m.

At a bus stop in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, Celestino García, wearing a black puffer jacket, jeans, gray Skechers and a black North Face backpack, has already started his day.

Mr. García, 58, cranes his neck to look for the B3 bus, which will take him to the Avenue U subway station. He will then catch the F train and head to his first workplace of the day, Court Street Bagels in Cobble Hill. There, he will roll hundreds of bagels — by hand.

CC Allen, a supervising producer for the New York Times Cooking video team, and Gina Fernandez, an associate producer, followed Mr. García on this particular Friday in March for the first episode of the new season of “On the Job.” (The episode will be uploaded to YouTube on Friday afternoon.) Hosted by Priya Krishna, a reporter for Food and Cooking, “On the Job” tells the stories of some of the hardest working people in the city: the largely unseen labor force shaping what and how New Yorkers eat. Each episode is about 10 to 20 minutes long and spotlights a day in the life of someone like Mr. García, who is one of the city’s last bagel rollers.

Mr. García is used to the early call time. Six days of his week begin in the middle of the night. For members of The Times’s Food team, it was a little tougher to get out of bed, though well worth it. The team likes to slowly introduce crew members to their subjects throughout the day of the shoot.

“These are not people who are usually on camera,” Ms. Allen said in an interview. “So if they’re going to have a camera in their face all day, we want to make sure they feel comfortable.”

Ms. Krishna met the group at the bagel shop at 5:45 a.m. By then, Mr. García had already filled sheet pans with fluffy bagels and was getting ready to head into Manhattan to the Avenue A location of Tompkins Square Bagels, the second of three shops he works at over the course of a 15-hour day. He zipped up his jacket and started his commute, the Times team in tow.

Spotlighting the efforts of people such as Mr. García, who make New York delicacies or work tirelessly to feed the city, was one of Ms. Krishna’s goals when she began the series in January 2022.

“One thing about every person we follow for ‘On the Job’ is that they do an incredibly difficult job,” Ms. Krishna said. “And they believe their job is not difficult.”

The six episodes in the series’ first two seasons have been viewed more than five million times. (The “How to Feed NYC’s Largest Middle School” episode alone, in which Ms. Krishna takes viewers inside the life of a lunch cook at a public school in Queens, accounts for nearly two million of those.)

Planning for an episode begins months before filming. For each episode, a team of video producers interviews three or four potential subjects. They typically select a job to focus on before finding a person to follow, Ms. Allen said.

Once the producers have identified the right person, they visit the site to answer any questions their subject might have and ask if there is anything — like secret recipes — that the person would prefer not be filmed. The team members plan out a shot list weeks in advance, broken down into about a dozen scenes, with a list of two to eight shots they hope to get for each.

But some of the best footage is captured during the moments they can’t predict.

In the latest episode, that was video of Mr. García’s bagel-rolling speed — Ms. Krishna timed him at 17 bagels per minute, or about 3.5 seconds per bagel.

“He’s like the Energizer Bunny,” Ms. Krishna said as Mantai Chow, a video journalist for the Cooking team, zoomed in on Mr. García’s hands kneading the dough.

As Mr. García worked, Ms. Krishna asked him, in Spanish, about his life, routine and passion for his job. Viewers have praised Ms. Krishna’s warm, easygoing demeanor and frequent use of Spanish — one of four languages she speaks — to put her subjects at ease. (Estefania Valencia, a translator, was also on set.)

“It helps me establish a rapport,” Ms. Krishna said, noting that Spanish is often the first language of the workers she features, many of whom, like Mr. García, are immigrants.

Mr. García finished rolling 1,700 bagels in four hours, a little over an hour ahead of schedule. (It took nine 50-pound bags of flour.) Ms. Krishna joined him on his six-block walk to his next and last stop, another location of Tompkins Square Bagels. She likes to get a sense of a person’s entire day to truly understand what the job entails.

Ms. Allen and Mr. Chow, holding cameras over their shoulders, positioned themselves outside the shop’s front door to capture the exit. But as Mr. García and Ms. Krishna stepped out, a bus pulled up in front of the door, blocking Mr. Chow’s view.

“Can you do that one more time?” Ms. Allen called out. “We have some bus interference.”

After Ms. Krishna and an amused Mr. García re-exited the shop, Ms. Allen trailed behind them as they hustled — Mr. García knows no other pace — to the next location. Inside, he walked down the stairs to the basement, where he donned a black apron. The smell of cinnamon wafted through the room.

“New location, new energy,” he said.

Ms. Krishna, taking a seat on an overturned white bucket, faced the camera and offered her own assessment. “I can’t say I have the same pep in my step,” she said as Mr. García began mixing the dough for a batch of bright yellow French toast bagels. He had already worked a full day, yet appeared just as positive as he did when he started.

After a shoot is finished, Ms. Allen’s team will review the footage, mixing camera angles and adding music, subtitles and voice-over narration. The process can be long and tedious. The final 15-minute episode on Mr. Garcia, for example, took over a month to edit.

“You might hate overshooting as an editor,” Ms. Allen said. “But it’s worth it to capture those precious moments that tell the actual true story of the person.”

The team has five more episodes planned for the third season, which it hopes to publish every other month or so. Which probably means five more very early alarms.

“But it’s worth it,” Ms. Krishna said. “It’s the only way you get an inside view of the process.”



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