In Fictitious Dishes (HarperCollins, $19.99), which was released last week, author Dinah Fried photographs her re-creations of literature's most famous meals. Vivid colors, soft lighting and Fried's stylistic interpretations of some of the world's greatest author's words invite the viewer into the Proustian memory of when they first read each book.
A shot of clam chowder, “made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts… ” served in a chipped bowl on a weathered wooden table takes you back to when you read Moby-Dick in middle school. A cup of tea with golden brown madeleines, ready for dipping, is perhaps the book's most appropriate image.
Fried grew up in New York, but has spent the last few years on the West Coast. We were able to reach her recently, via phone, to chat about her inspiration, her love of literature and the recipes she developed for the book.
Squid Ink: This book is all of my favorite things between two covers. How did this project begin?
Dinah Fried: It started small. I was in art school at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) at the time – this was 2012 – and it was while I was working on my thesis. I had this idea to do five photographs featuring the food out of five of my favorite books. I love reading and love books and my most vivid memories of books are the scenes where there's food. It seemed like a natural thing to connect those words to create a scene.
S.I.: Are you a photographer?
D.F.: No, actually I studied graphic design and work as a designer. In fact, I didn't think that many people would see the initial set of photographs, so I spent more time on the styling – which is what I am sort of more specialized in – than the photography. I like to cook, but I'm not a chef or great cook either, which is a question that comes up a lot.
S.I.: How did you release the first set of five photos?
D.F.: I just put them up on my website, as sort of a gallery. I didn't expect people to – well, almost right away, people started emailing me to tell me their own memories of the food in books they read as a child.
S.I.: What did people write in about specifically?
D.F.: One of the first emails I got was from a woman who loved The Bell Jar. She wrote, “I recently made the avocado and crab dish, inspired by my eighth grade reading of the book, for a friend's wedding shower last year. One could say it was an interesting choice given that Esther got sick after the meal. But somehow, it still appealed to me.”
And sometimes people would just flat out request that I recreate something. Someone wrote in about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and asked if I'd make Turkish Delight because she remembers eating “crazy amounts” of Turkish Delight after reading that book as a kid.
S.I.: Is that how the series expanded into its own book?
D.F.: Yes, exactly. The first five quickly turned into 10 photographs because I had friends asking me to re-create their favorite dishes from books, and then emails started flooding into my inbox. One day last year, a publisher from HarperCollins wrote in and that's how the book was born. All in all, I photographed 50 dishes total.
S.I.: I understand that there are no recipes accompanying the photographs – what happened to the recipes that you developed for each dish?
D.F.: The publisher wanted to know the same thing! And food magazines always ask this too. When I set out to do this project, I didn't have a cookbook in mind. I'm an artist and designer, so this is my expression of these memories. Plus, the recipes aren't all that interesting from an editorial standpoint. Who wants a recipe for gruel (from Oliver Twist)? And though the recipes were all created specifically for this project, they weren't tested, and I often mixed recipes and took things out of existing recipes to make it work for a photograph. The book is organized so that on the left page there's the photo, and on the right there's the excerpt from the book followed by a few fun facts and tidbits about the book or author.
S.I.: Has anyone approached you to do a recipe book? And – I have to ask – if you do one, can I help write the recipes?!
D.F.: [laughs] Yes, there's been some interest. I'd like to do a second book simply because I have so many requests and my own ideas for other meals from books that I could style and photograph. And there's been talk of a recipe book, but no one has offered to do the recipes! I will keep you in mind.
S.I.: Awesome – thanks! Ok, this is silly, but your last name, at least how it's spelled, is somewhat appropriate for a project like this, no?
D.F.: I suppose so, though it's not pronounced like that. What I'm surprised that no one has brought up is that song, “Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah.”
S.I.: Oh, right! What a great little song. Or, what about the cat from Alice in the Wonderland (you photographed the tea party from the book)?
D.F.: Yes, yes, Dinah the cat. She's my favorite.