Most cookbooks get swept up in the details, which equates to words. Lots and lots of words.

But Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat. takes the idea of cookbook illustration to the infographic level.

For instance, here’s a recipe for lasagna. Yes, that’s the whole, entire thing.

But look closely at this recipe for Kale. All the steps you need are there, aren’t they?

What’s remarkable is how well these sketches scale to multiple ingredients and steps.

Here we even see how a recipe for rice pudding becomes a flow chart, combining multiple bowls into one.

I’d be curious to see how new cooks would respond to these recipes vs the more traditional variety, but I’m betting that "complicated" recipes would feel a lot more accessible.

Of course, some of the recipes are so simple that literally anyone could handle them.

An Ingenious Cookbook Uses Infographics Instead Of Words

Ever get lost in a cookbook’s long narrative of instructions? Us too. One illustrator boiled 50 recipes down to simple sketches.

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.

Buy it here.

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9 Comments

  • Shimon Shmueli

    Pretty awesome for many who prefer visuals over words, me included. Now I can join Ken Robinson in the kitchen and maybe together we can cook an egg ;-)

    However, in general and in this specific case, why call it infographics? What's wrong with plain old graphics? I am not sure we really need the term because after all is there any graphics that does not carry information? At least keep the term for when graphics is used to convey complex information to audience with relatively short attention span (that would be my definition.)

  • Guest

    Infographics is a buzzword right now.
    I see people draw a simple diagram or pretty looking comparison table and it gets labeled as an awesome infographic.

    Most people don't know how awesome proper infographics really are!

  • Al

    I love this, it's exactly how my mind works: get the bigger picture and the general idea, look into any details that aren't obvious or intuitive, then once I understand how it works, get on with it. I can't follow recipes at all, I just get distracted wondering why things are done that way.

    I imagine it's not for everyone though, a lot of people will prefer step by step instructions. But it's the only cook book I could imagine actually using.

  • Kristen Kane

    The drawings are cute but my brain wants the words.  It totally confuises me.   *Confuses

     

  • CoconutJoe

    I agree, Ms Kane. Yet another menu of one off graphics to learn? Gimme a break. EVERYONE understands words. Why confuse them with pictures previously unseen?

  • Jill GT, Sydney

    Very cool & engaging, particularly good for those not so great at following recipes.