When considering cookbook aesthetics, it can be easy to forget one of the foremost purposes of the visuals: to educate the reader. This season sees several books that take a design-heavy approach to cooking, using photographs and infographics to dissect dishes and ingredients.
One such book is The Flavor Matrix (HMH, Mar.), by James Briscione, a chef who directs culinary research at the Institute of Culinary Education, and his wife, Brooke Parkhurst, a food writer and novelist. The book is the result of Briscione’s research into the chemical makeup of certain ingredients, which he conducted using IBM’s supercomputer Watson. Intricate infographics, called flavor matrices in the book, show which foods pair nicely, and not so nicely, with which others.
Alex Littlefield, senior editor at HMH, says that from the outset the book was conceived “as being a reference guide as much as a cookbook”; to help create the graphics the publisher worked with a data visualization artist, Jan Willem Tulp. “Infographics were a novelty at first,” says Melissa Lofty, art director at HMH, “and now people better understand their usefulness in displaying complicated data.”
A similar effect can be achieved with a more minimalist approach, as in Chronicle Books’s Kitchen Confidant (Mar.). Recipes for savory dishes, baked goods, and cocktails are accompanied by simple silhouettes; for instance, illos depicting equivalent serving sizes for beer, wine, and spirits. Deanne Katz, associate editor at Chronicle, says the book’s straightforward graphic style is aimed at inexperienced home cooks. “There’s quite a bit of how-to, and we wanted people to understand it easily,” she says.
Another way to appeal to visual learners is use design cues that guide readers through the text. How to Taste (Sasquatch, Mar.), by chef and cooking instructor Becky Selengut, includes no photographs, instead using simple illustrations and shading. The book, somewhat like The Flavor Matrix, aims to break down the principles underlying flavor, and has a playful, science-experiment feel. A recurring cartoon rendering of the author addresses the reader directly, via cheery speech bubbles.
Tony Ong, the book’s designer, says he drew visual inspiration from Rube Goldberg machines and midcentury illustrator Jim Flora. He adds that “using photography would have been too literal. By using illustration, the flavor components become more of a concept.”
Thanks to its very specificity, photography can be a powerful instructional tool. Dinner Illustrated, from America’s Test Kitchen (Apr.), divides each of its 175 recipes into several small steps, each of which is accompanied by a photograph. The book’s photo count is impressive even by cookbook standards—there are more than 1,200. Julie Bozzo Cote, photography director at America’s Test Kitchen, says the team’s aim was for each recipe “to tell the story in a glance.” She adds that the photos depict crucial aspects of cooking, such as “how brown a food should get in the skillet or how to hold a vegetable when cutting,” that other cookbooks might instead describe in text or omit entirely.
This season brings plenty of design-heavy books that break down food principles and kitchen techniques, among them New Favorites for New Cooks by Carolyn Federan (Ten Speed, Mar.) and Appreciating Oysters by Dana Deskiewicz (Countryman, Mar.), and Food Infographics by Simone Klabin (Taschen, Apr.).
One title may typify a design-centric approach to cooking instruction: Pantone Foodmood (Guido Tommasi, May), from the company known for its color-matching technology and its well-publicized Pantone Color of the Year selection. The book organizes its 56 recipes by eight colors: the blue section, for instance, includes a recipe for a salad with borage flowers; fox grape pudding is among the recipes in the purple section. Francesca Malerba, an art director and recipe designer at Guido Tommasi, says the book seeks to set “design and food on a common table.” Judging by the number of graphics-oriented titles pubbing this season, she may want to make room for some additional place settings.