A taste for reading
READING and eating, Dinah Fried says, have a lot in common. “Both are comforting, nourishing, restorative, relaxing, and mostly enjoyable,” she explains in Fictitious Dishes, her photography book that pays homage to favourite culinary moments from literature.
“Just as reading great novels can transport you to another time and place, meals – good and bad ones alike – can conjure scenes very far away from your kitchen table.”
Truly, nothing quite captures the sensorial experience of eating as good writing does, and rare is the reader who hasn’t, at some point, found themselves salivating over the vivid description of a particular dish or meal in a book.
Fried, a San Francisco-based designer and writer, used this experience as a starting point to launch an ambitious photography project, the results of which are documented in Fictitious Dishes. Over the last few years, she cooked, styled and photographed memorable meals she had read about in novels, and presents them alongside the actual passages that inspired each dish.
The book is charming, allowing readers to both relive moments from beloved tomes as well as discover new titles to explore. Fried further adds to the experience by accompanying each excerpt with interesting snippets and anecdotes about the dish, the book, or the author.
The book consists of about 50 “dishes” in total, and the term dishes is applied quite loosely. Some photographs display a veritable feast – such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of the beautifully-decorated gourmet buffet in The Great Gatsby – while others present simple pleasures, like a stealthy picnic of roasted eggs and potatoes in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.
The stories the pictures tell aren’t always pleasant, but that is, of course, the point. Oliver’s request for a second bowl of gruel in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is as iconic as the delicate madeleines in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, though with starkly different stories to tell.
Some photos aren’t actually of food at all, though they remain in our memories in that context: the rotting vegetables and animal bones served to Gregor Samsa in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, or the orphan Rebecca who eats earth in One Hundred Years Of Solitude (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez), both a startling reminder of their narratives.
What makes Fried’s efforts so impressive is the way in which she gives visual depth to each photo, both by including meticulous details, and by creatively evoking the spirit of each book through the use of props, settings and placement.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, for instance, is delightfully represented by a minuscule table set with tiny dishes and food, placed next to a regular-sized portion. The clam chowder from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville is served in a chipped bowl with a pewter stein of beer on a rustic wooden base strewn with seashells. Meanwhile, those famously dripping crumpets from Rebecca (by Daphne Du Maurier) are just one of many mouth-watering tea-time treats jostling for space on an artfully messy table.
The only thing lacking is a proper index listing each book and photograph by page – this is exactly the kind of book one would dip into to look at specific pictures, but with all of them simply grouped under “The Dishes”, you have to flip through 102 pages looking for what you want.
But that is a minor missing ingredient in an otherwise delicious experience; thoughtfully conceived and beautifully executed, each taste Fried gives us of her work and these books only leaves us hungering for more.