Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo, authors of The Adventures of Fat Rice, created a cookbook that looks like no other. Here's why (and how).
When creating The Adventures of Fat Rice: Recipes from the Chicago Restaurant Inspired by Macau, aesthetic was just as important to us as the content and the recipes. We wanted a visual representation of the controlled chaos and spirit of the restaurant with various images, textures, colors, mediums, and concepts, as well as of the complexity and various influences of the cuisines (Chinese, Portuguese, Malaysian, and Indian) that we pursue in the book.
Here are the key ideas we kept in mind as we fine-tuned the visuals of the book:
The basis of many of our recipes are dishes most likely found on a family table for special occasions that are oral traditions usually held by the matriarch. We wanted to bring in that feeling with lace tablecloths and antique silverware and plates. There’s a refined elegance that only experience and age can provide.
The walls of Macau show their age as a reflection of the city itself, covered with layers of paint sometimes peeling and stained with the dirt of time. We used these images as back drops for text to show that Macau is not all the glamour and glitz of the casinos, but rather a layering of peoples and traditions.
We wanted to visually represent the curious dichotomy that is Macau. Portuguese and Chinese elements blended with new and old, foreign and familiar. We did this by including images of signage that’s found in Macau, which is written in both Chinese and Portuguese.
For the “Wok Comics,” we used sequential art or comic panels in conjunction with the recipes to give the user a quick reference point, since wok cookery tends to be over high heat and quickly paced. If you have to find your place on the page, you could potentially burn the meal you have worked so hard on up until that point.
In the restaurant, we use bright and playful imagery from comic covers, movie posters, video games, and album covers to present more difficult-to-understand dishes and ingredients in a fun light. We use these full page “posters” as signage in the restaurant but also in the book.
We wanted to have a cookbook that didn’t necessarily look like a cookbook from its cover. We wanted to catch people’s attention with the aesthetic of the cover looking out of place in the cookbook section.
When shooting, we at times just assembled elements of the dish to photograph, as opposed to the fully cooked or plated dish—examples include the Crazy Squid Rice, Mushroom Fat Noodle (shown below), and Tacho. This was a beautiful way for us to show the dish in an unexpected way.
In some dishes, we wanted to show the transformation of an ingredient that looked unappealing—or maybe at times gross—into their cooked and then plated states.
We wanted to depict the harsher realities of where our food comes from, utilizing images from our explorations of butcher stalls and wet markets in Macau to really convey that food is not just a perfectly plated precious dish. It’s bloody, dirty, hard work, even before the cooking begins. Also, we sometimes present the dishes as half eaten or at times fully eaten. This provides a like-you-are-really-there experience, as if you just arrived to the party and the host invited you to partake.
The Adventures of Fat Rice is available wherever books are sold.