Cooking book trends: Food illustration


In recent years cooking has not just become a trend and a hobby for many, it is as well becoming an art form on a very different level: Food illustrations are everywhere.

Harrods, Waitrose essentials, Tesco’s soup selection and many more are commissioning illustrators to embellish their packaging instead of covering them with high-resolution photos. With digital cameras and super advanced photo devices on every mobile,  we can now all shoot pictures of our food ourselves. We are slowly getting saturated of lunch plate and dinner table photos on Twitter and Facebook – don’t get me wrong, I am doing it most of the times myself, but this emphasises the reason for the move to illustrated foods. Illustrators turn food into art.

I had a look  through my huge collection of old and new cooking books and it’s really interesting to see how the newer ones have far more illustrations than the older ones, illustration is really becoming a growing trend with cooking books…have a little look for yourself:

all nations

1930s: Recipes of all Nations, by Countess Morphy is my oldest cooking book. It was written around 1930 and was very popular around that time. It’s really fascinating how many of the recipes are still valuable today. Also fascinating that tofu was called Chinese cheese in those days. From an illustration aspect, there is nothing to find between the recipes. No photos either. But I was excited to discover that the front and back inside cover were covered in this lovely naive black and white drawing of a map of the world, which demonstrates the travelling spirit of the author and her love for exotic foods, even though not the food itself.

spoon total

1950s: Another cooking book classic is ‘The silver spoon’. More than 50 years ago ‘il cuchiaio d’argento’ was written by several Italian cooking experts and remains Italy’s best-selling cooking book to this day. It was firstly published in 2005 in its translated English form. Even though my version is part of the modern UK print, the small illustrations of food (and there are plenty) are in the style of typical 1950s minimal pencil drawings often with Italian and English titles. They accompany the large colour photographs without being of any explanatory use, not demonstrating any cooking techniques but they give the book a lovely 50s feel!

italian total

1970s/1990s: Marcella Hazan is an Italian cookery book author who writes all her books in English. Her first book ‘The classic Italian cookbook: the fine art of Italian cooking’  from 1973 was followed by several books including The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking’ in 1992. This book has several black & white drawings, often filling the whole page, with fine details and shading, demonstrating several ‘cooking techniques’ e.g. the art of peeling an artichoke or how to make fresh pasta. The drawings are intricate and exact but not stylised in any way, so it becomes pretty clear that they are really just for explanatory purposes and give this book somehow a ‘Hausfrau cooking Bible’ vibe. Not saying that’s a bad thing…..

Heston total

2008: ‘The fat Duck’ cookbook by Heston Blumenthal might not need much introduction. In the first paragraph it says about itself ‘this is a cook book like no cookbook’ and speaks about the ‘startling art and telescoping typography’. It becomes pretty quickly clear that illustration and collages are a big part of the overall book – they are in no way just accompanying the recipes. The illustrations are used to make the whole book into a piece of art itself – unconventional and surprising. I personally find them too big and distracting at times as you completely forget what you opened the book for: To find a recipe for Sunday’s lunch.

rachel kooh total

2012:   ‘The Little Paris Kitchen’ by Rachel Khoo. Flicking through this book again, I was surprised that I couldn’t find any, as I would have almost expected it for a diary style layout. The front and back inside cover are decorated with a wallpaper of naive coloured pencil drawings of foods and utensils with their French names below them – and the all important Eiffel Tower has been sketched onto page 3 to make clear what this is all about: French cooking. The books other pages play with fonts but not with illustrations at all, which I find strange initially as it would really suit this diary/photo album style, but then I realize that this book isn’t solely interested in recipes but also Rachel Kooh herself. Rachel having picnic with friends, Rachel drinking a glass of wine at the bar, Rachel buying veg at the market – This is the glamorization of a tv chef at it’s finest!

selby total

2012- part 2: And then there is the ‘Edible Selby’, a cooking book that combines recipes, portraits and photo profiles with naive and very original aquarelle sketches of the food and the featured cooks. This does not surprise as the creative head behind it is Todd Selby, an illustrator and portraitist (‘The Selby Is In your Place’). His illustrations and handwritten titles give this book a lovely sketchbook feel and the handwritten and hand-drawn questionnaires add to this great treasure chest of cooking tips and personal food stories. This is not necessarily a book would cook with but it inspires your cooking and celebrates the art of food illustration. It goes so far as to print its illustrations onto magnets, so you can pop them out and stick them onto your fridge. It’s all about the art and less about the  cooking – The ‘Edible Selby’ is the epitome of illustrated food obsession.

I find it really fascinating how differently food illustration are being used and how it is a more and more a growing trend in packaging, food magazines and books… but then I am obsessed with it and even started my own illustration blog, so I might have gone a little too far with writing a whole blog post about it. 🙂 Next time will be about food again – I promise.                                                                                                                              


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