There is a TV show called America’s Test Kitchen, which I like to think of as a cooking show done by minor bureaucrats. Cooking, the preparation of dishes, usually involves an element of chance, a “splash of salt,” possibly, and something cooking for, let’s say, ten to fifteen minutes. America’s Test Kitchen are having none of that. Everything is supposed to be the absolute best (even in the face of shortcuts that would leave many other serious chefs aghast), with rules being followed extremely strictly and equally joylessly. Cooking a meal is treated like the equivalent of filing a convoluted tax return. I can’t pretend to be a food connoisseur, but I’m fairly confident I’d turn down the chance to sample any of the stuff prepared on that show: Food, after all, is not just a collection of calories that goes into my body. It is much more. If the preparation of food is so joyless, how can the resulting food be any good?
I grew up a somewhat different culture than Paola Ferrario. My connection to food isn’t nearly as deep as hers. I am barely able to produce a handful of dishes myself (I’ll cook you a great soft-boiled egg, for example). Making food is not one of the activities that I have a deep connection with (there are others instead). But I think Ferrario and I could easily agree on the fact that if you lead an extremely utilitarian life, where everything has to have a strict purpose (ideally one that can be measured in either time or money), then you might not be living life to the fullest.
This is where Ferrario’s book 19 Pictures, 22 Recipes enters (there’s an order link right on that page). The book connects the pleasures of looking at photographs, of finding what photographs show and how that connects to the world, our world, with the pleasures of preparing a meal, another way to connect to the world. And it takes cues from the world to have them reflect on both as well. Strictly speaking, the book is not really a cook book, and it is not a photobook, either. It’s a bit of both and a lot more.
First and foremost, 19 Pictures, 22 Recipes is one of those rare, unassuming treasures that sometimes find their way into our orbit. The pictures are almost all found photographs. Ferrario reads each and every one of them, to extract something about the world or to have the picture serve as illustrating something she talked about. This is then connected to food; the combination is centered on the idea of pleasure.
Good food, after all, gives us pleasure, maybe more than that: a kind of fulfillment. The same is true for preparing food. Photographs can give us pleasure as well, or they can speak of pleasure, show us ways in which pleasure was and still might be had - as long as you don’t approach either food or photography like the minor bureaucrats on America’s Test Kitchen.
19 Picture, 22 Recipes; found photographs and text by Paola Ferrario; 61 pages; self-published; 2012