When I heard there was a cookbook that contained recipes that did not require reading, I just had to see it! I requested a copy from Ulysses Press and they sent it to me and I fell in love with Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat. The illustrations are so adorable, the concept so fresh and creative, I just had to ask the author and illustrator Katie Shelly questions to find out more!
Katie, this is perhaps one of the most unusual cookbooks I have ever seen. I would love to hear how and why you came up with a completely illustrated cookbook.
I came up with it one day when a friend was telling me a recipe over the phone. I took notes by drawing, kind of without thinking about it. The drawing was neat, but later that evening when I was cooking (eggplant parmesan) I had such an easier time following the recipe-as-drawing. That inspired me to make more recipe drawings. I distributed a PDF of ten recipes to my friends via e-mail. I also submitted it to Drawn!, a now-defunct illustration and cartooning blog that I like. Illustrator John Martz posted it on Drawn! and it exploded on the internet from there. And that’s how it snowballed from a ten-recipe PDF to a fifty-recipe hardcover book.
What do you think of traditional cookbooks? Is that why you wanted to create your own, your way?
Usually when I cook, I Google a recipe, print it, use it, and then toss it (well technically I recycle it). I have a handful of actual physical cookbooks, most of them gifts, and they feel like more of a luxury or a novelty item because they’re not nearly as practical or efficient as Googling. So, for me traditional cookbooks are not super useful. I do use Picture Cook often though, because it’s all the recipes I like, and it’s in a format that I like following. It feels kinda weird and awesome to cook from your own cookbook. (Suzie note: yeah, no kidding, that rocks!)
How long did the book take you to, um, “illustrate?”
I started in February 2013 and was finished by July 2013. It had to be produced quickly in time for the holidays. I worked on it non-stop, and barely saw my friends and family during that time. It was a kind of fun hermitage that I enjoyed, being really intense about a project, and then calling it done.
Have you always had a passion for food?
Yes! I was an adventurous eater as a kid and always loved trying new things. My dad is a bit of a foodie, always pointing out the difference between “good” and “great” ingredients and dishes. Of course as a kid I majorly looked up to my dad so I think that’s how I got into food very early.
Would you say your cookbook is for new foodies? Artists? Everyone?
It’s definitely good for people who like to cook frequently–weeknight chefs– because the format is super fast and unfussy. Many people do appreciate it on a purely graphic level (on Amazon you can see that People Who Bought This Also Bought books on infographics and visual design). I have heard a bit of feedback from teachers working with students with language-based disabilities that their students respond really well to the picture format. That was a cool and unexpected outcome.
Did you draw all the illustrations yourself?
Yes. I tried to put love into each one. Not unlike how I cook.
Would you consider yourself an intuitive cook?
Absolutely. Almost to a fault.
I am planning on making your “Cheating Peanut Sauce”. I love its simplicity. Any advice for making the recipe?
Keep stirring constantly, because the stuff at the bottom could burn, and conversely the cold part at the top of the pan can develop a skin.
Your recipes have all sorts of cultural influences, from Comfort Polenta to Thoughts of Raita. Does that reflect the wild foodie life of living in New York City?
Absolutely. I grew up in Queens and it is just the best place on Earth for delicious, authentic food from around the globe. My elementary school had kids from lots of backgrounds. On playdates I ate like a queen. Homemade Indian curries, Polish dumplings, crumbly Italian cookies, a wonton soup that I still remember, weird Russian finger foods, Korean candy, everything. I remember my second grade teacher collected recipes from all the parents and actually made an “international cookbook” (a simple little photocopied booklet) with them. And of course there are also the restaurants. It’s great eating here.
I suspect from the variety in this cookbook you believe in making food your own unique way and prefer recipes to be more of a suggestion than a regime. Am I right?
Absolutely. And I’m not the only one! I think a lot of people, in practice, are quite loose with recipes.
To Be Continued…
I am indeed going to be cooking that peanut sauce to review so I am very grateful for Katie Shelly‘s advice. I loved hearing the story behind the cookbook and what an amazing foodie success story. I can see why people want Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat. just for the design and layout fun but I am looking forward to seeing how it does as an actual cookbook. More to come and thank you Katie Shelly for a great interview!