How do you make lasagna? Even though it’s not that complex of a dish, to spell out the methodology—the specific ingredients and the many small, easy steps of prep work—it would take me half a page of type or more.
But for designer/illustrator Katie Shelly, writer of Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat., the recipe for lasagna looks a lot different. It’s a simple sketch that deconstructs lasagna into its discrete components. So with a glance, anyone can learn how to layer cheese, noodles, sauce and meat to make the dish.
Of course, illustration isn’t a new idea in cookbooks—drawings that show finder details of technique like dicing onions are mainstays in classic food tomes. Where Shelly’s illustrations become radical is their scope. Using a bare minimum of text, she depicts everything from a quickly blended Gazpacho to a 2-hour, 21-ingredient pho. The somewhat oddball idea came to Shelly when writing down a friend’s eggplant parmesan recipe over the phone.
“She started by saying ‘well first you get out three bowls …’ and so it was natural to just draw the three bowls in that moment, and then I stuck with drawing the rest of the recipe on this little scrap of paper,” Shelly tells Co.Design. “That night when I got down to cooking, I pulled out the drawing of the recipe and found that it was really useable, more useable than a text recipe where you have to stop what you’re doing and read and re-read the steps.”
From there, she pushed the idea further, drawing on a background in UX testing to create recipes and spot where her testers (friends) may may potentially go wrong. This honed her craft, so much so that you’ll probably be a little impressed by her subtle uses of iconography (like the number of flames below a pot slyly depicting relative temperature), but you’ll be downright shocked at her ability to make even the most involved from-scratch cooking look fun and approachable.
“One of my goals for this book is to encourage people to just let go of rigid kitchen rules and be loose and free about cooking. The charm of the illustrations is great for its own sake, but it’s also performing a real function in helping make cooking feel easy, lighthearted, and do-able,” Shelly writes. “So what if you mess up? Once things get too serious, the drawings stop being inviting and start seeming intimidating. Like how people feel so oppressed by Ikea diagrams.”
Picture Cook won’t be released until October. But you can preorder it today for all of $11 on Amazon.