A RECIPE BOOK /
PANDEMIC PROJECT

Over the past few months while in lockdown, I've been working on creating a book of my Grandma's recipes. It's been a great way to connect with her through her self-isolation, as well as an exploration into my family history and her life story. 

But more than just a nice personal project, I wanted to use the book as a way in to exploring different graphic styles through history and location. Giving me an opportunity to demonstrate skills some of my professional and commissioned work up to now hasn't shown. I'll be building this page throughout the process to show how I work and highlight individual graphic pieces until I *hopefully* pull the whole thing together. I'm aiming for completion by the end of 2020 (and hoping that writing this will help me get there). 

Fareed El-Atrash, Tahya Karyoka, Samira
the story & structure

One of the reasons I chose to create a book of my grandma's recipes is her interesting personal history. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1932, she moved to Paris to live with an Italian aunt after the war in 1949. In 1951 she married my grandpa Jack, and they moved to the far east (Bangkok and then Sarawak), where they lived from 1951 - 53 while my grandpa worked as an exotic wood merchant. 

Having fought in WW2 for the British, my grandpa Jack had British citizenship, and so, when my uncle was born in 1953 they moved back to Europe and settled in London where my grandma, who I have always just called Sonia, still lives. 

Sonia has always been the kitchen matriarch of the family, and with influences from the Middle East, Italy, France, Thailand (and even a little bit from Borneo) it's easy to see how she learnt to cook so well. 

I decided early on that the book would only cover the period from 1948 - 1954 when Sonia was travelling the world and learning how to cook from everyone along the way.

Alexandria in Egypt photographed in the
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graphic narrative

I decided to build the book from Sonia's point of view, as if it were a hero prop in the film of her life. This gave me a great way in to exploring a variety of graphic styles based on the locations and the very slight period variation, while maintaining the integrity of a single character. This has been a really tricky challenge to navigate on my own, and without a real script to work from, but a great way to help me build out my portfolio and learn a whole load of new stuff about graphics in the 50s all around the world. 

research

My initial point of research were many long Skype calls to Sonia (which looked a lot like this photo) getting the details of who, what, where and when. We then worked together picking her favourite recipes that fitted into each of the sections. 

Once I had the structure and recipes to work from, I started investigating graphic styles, historical typography, ephemera I could use in the book and period media. 

From there, I built out a series of "look books" which explored each section in depth. I've included some sample pages below. 

alexandria

The Alexandria my grandma grew up in was a disappearing post-colonial melting pot. A place where Jews from all over the Mediterranean ended up, along with Copt Greeks, Egyptian Muslims, Italian traders and French diplomats. All mixed and mingled together blending culture, history and (of course) food. Sonia, like many Alexandrians, grew up speaking 4 or 5 languages - Greek to the baker, Arabic to the housekeeper, French in school and so on. 

 

But this world was fading fast, and in 1952 Nasser rose to power following the Egyptian revolution. 

I used this section to give the book it's origin story. Sonia had a strong memory of her childhood housekeeper/cook Zeyneb, who taught her to make some Alexandrian staples, and so for this section of the book, I imagined Zeyneb had given Sonia the book as she's leaving for Paris as a memento of Alexandria and her food.

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paris

Paris, in my mind, was still clinging to being a city of glamour in the early 1950s, as it recovered from WW2.

 

During this period Sonia lived with her Italian aunt Tante Lili, and cousins in an apartment they shared with a woman named Mme Urban. Apparently this was common in Paris at the time, and my family had one half of the apartment, while Mme Urban stuck to her half.  

In our story Mme Urban becomes the character to introduce Sonia to true french cooking, taking her to an (imaginary) bistro for Veal with Mushrooms. Other recipes in the section are inspired by the blend of Italian and French cooking which have become hallmarks of my grandma's food. 

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bangkok

While living in Bangkok, Sonia and Jack (my Grandpa) moved within a circle of mostly expats, merchants, diplomats and dignitaries. I was surprised to learn Sonia learnt to make a curry here from the Indian Attaché's chef. 

Bangkok at the time was the cosmopolitan "Venice of the East", built up and fashionable, but with a strong sense of tradition. 

The influences for this period came from looking deeply into the life and house of Jim Thompson, who was a silk merchant living in Bangkok at a similar time. I also found an amazing book which delves into the regional food and traditions across Thailand, with reference to the 50s. 

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sarawak

After only a year in Bangkok, Sonia and Jack moved to Sarawak in Borneo, which was largely still a rural, tribal community. She didn't much like living there, but did learn some amazing Malaysian and Dayak recipes which she still cooks today. 

Since in this period there would be less packaging and ephemera from which to build, I decided this section should have a more sketchbook feel - with little illustrations of people, places and meals.

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London

After a brief trip through Ethiopia and back to Alexandria, Sonia and Jack arrived in London in 1954. Rationing was still in force and the food was a world away from the spices and flavours of Borneo. Most of the recipes Sonia suggested for this section involved way more lard than any human should consume in a lifetime! But there were a few gems which we discovered hunting through her old recipe notebooks. 

During this time Sonia had a home help called Mrs Austin, who taught her how to cook english delicacies and make the most of their rations. 

This section is rich in interesting typography, and a world I am familiar with. I thought it might be fun to also look at creating a period-accurate tube map to slot in somewhere. 

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look books

Once I had all my look books, I pulled them together onto a wall to have a good look, reflect on each section and work on the cohesion throughout the book. 

 
 
 
 
 
key graphics

For each section of the book I highlighted some key graphics I knew I wanted to invent, recreate, illustrate and fake. 

 

Hover over each box to see the detail

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alexandria

Bimuelos
Veal with Mushrooms

paris

bangkok

Curry Tiffin
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sarawak

Dayak meal
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london

Steak and
Kidney pie

THAT'S ALL FOR NOW

I'll be adding to this page throughout the process (I'm pacing myself a bit) to demonstrate how I work, highlight some details of the book and share the layouts. 

© 2020 by Gabrielle Leon | info@gabrielleleon.com