The Bookery Cook: three sisters, 66 artists and 120 recipes

Date:08-06-2013 07:58:07 read:7

The Bookery Cook: three sisters, 66 artists and 120 recipes

An unusual new cookbook from Australian sisters Jessica, Georgia and Maxine Thompson features recipes illustrated by nearly 70 different artists

Three sisters: (l-r) Maxine, Jessica and Georgia Thompson, creators of the Bookery Cook
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Three sisters: (l-r) Maxine, Jessica and Georgia Thompson, creators of the Bookery Cook 
An illustration for the smoked salmon scrambled eggs and dill, caper and onion salsa recipe
Image 1 of 2
An illustration for the smoked salmon scrambled eggs and dill, caper and onion salsa recipe Photo: Femke de Jong

They look distinctly unalike with their contrasting hair colours. Georgia, 26, loves mussels; her twin sister Maxine’s favourite foods are ricotta and aniseed; and their older sister Jessica, 30, adores raspberries. They live in three different cities so any sisterly fights take place over Skype, whose tendency to freeze mid-call generally diffuses any heat.

What the Australian trio shares, however, is a love of cooking and creativity, instilled from a young age by their mother and celebrated with the release of their first cookbook, The Bookery Cook, on sale in the UK from today. It is a compilation of 120 family recipes with one particularly unusual feature. Instead of a single photographer illustrating the whole book, the sisters decided to commission 66 different artists to depict each recipe in a unique artwork.

It is an interesting concept. The recipes themselves are adventurous and exotic (see ‘Snail spanakopita’), and as a collection they vary wildly in style, difficulty and origin: there are basics like cauliflower cheese alongside more challenging dishes such as fattoush with lime and black pepper-crusted lamb backstrap. The artworks, however, make you see each in a completely new light, no matter how familiar you are with the dish.

The sisters didn't specify that the artists, who originate from all over the world, had to create the dish they were drawing, and the interpretations that came back were very unpredictable.

Some focus on just one ingredient. For example ‘Homemade baked beans’ is illustrated by a pop art bean dancing in a top hat. Other artists have used the recipe as an imaginative springboard, leading to a picture entirely unrelated to the food: ‘Dark chocolate toastie with Cointreau dipping cream’ is depicted by a swarthy jaguar licking its lips. Few images are literal depictions of what the cooked recipe looks like, so as the cook you are left to assess your own performance without being able to compare it to a chef's ideal version.

The idea, says Georgia, speaking from Australia, first occurred to the sisters one night when they’d cooked what they call a ‘banquet’ for some friends, a ritual that started when they were little. “For some reason we decided to draw what we’d eaten,” she says. “Some of the results were quite literal and others much more abstract, and we suddenly thought it was a really cool idea to see how food inspired art.”

The sisters grew up in subtropical hinterland, 15 minutes from the beaches in south-east Queensland, Australia, where their mother encouraged them to grow and cook their own vegetables. They learned how to create both her family recipes (many of which feature in the book) and others from wider sources including their Women’s Weekly baking cookbook, though Georgia admits that baking was never their strongest point.

The three were adventurous eaters even as children, and were always happy to try anything. Georgia had a Belgian neighbour who once told her: “‘Georgia, you won’t be a woman until you’ve tried red wine, oysters and dark chocolate.’ I’ve always remembered that.”

When she and Maxine left school, they came to Bristol on a two-year long trip, using the British passports they own through their Cambridge-born father. They worked in various bars and cafés before Maxine landed a job as second chef in the kitchens at Casa Mexicana, a “fancy-ish” restaurant which took her on with no training. Maxine is the best chef of the three, her twin says, while she herself has "always been a better eater”.

Their sister Jessica moved into the Bristol flat with the twins after finishing her marketing degree back in Australia, and the cooking stepped up to a new level. Friends were constantly asking for their recipes. A lot of people they knew studied arts at the University of the West of England, and several became involved as illustrators when the book took off a few years later, helping to spread word of the concept to other artist friends.

Putting it together over the last three years has been a challenge logistically, Georgia says, since she and her sisters no longer live together. After completing a degree in fashion design in Australia, Maxine moved to New York and enrolled in the International Culinary Centre, while Jessica currently lives in Melbourne, having spent two years in Japan working on a masters in linguistics. Georgia herself studied interaction design, which incorporated programming and visual arts and was a useful skill when they came to compile the book. She now lives in Brisbane. All three contribute daily to the Bookey Cook blog, which lists the many recipes and corresponding artworks that didn't fit into this book. At some point, Georgia hopes, they'll have enough for a second.

'The Bookery Cook' by Jessica, Georgia and Maxine Thompson, (Murdoch Books UK, RRP £15.99), is available from Telegraph Books at £15.99 + £1.35p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit Telegraph Books.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013