The Designer and the Chef Behind The Geometry of Pasta

Posted inDesign Books

Everybody knows spaghetti, ravioli, linguini. If you’re a foodie, you know bucatini, farfalle, pappardelle. But what about agnolotte and anneletti, bigoli and busiati, canderli, canestrini, caramelli and casorecci, and so on through the alphabet?

Thanks to a graphic designer and a chef, the entire alfabeto of pasta is diagrammed in black and white in a delicious new book, The Geometry of Pasta.

The book is the brainchild of Caz Hildebrand, a partner in Here Design, a London firm that creates chic brand identities, packaging, environments and products, including TV chef Nigella Lawson’s lavishly photographed cookbooks. The young superstar chef she recruited to write and test the recipes is Jacob Kenedy, co-owner of the Italian regional restaurant Bocca di Lupo, recently voted “London’s Best Restaurant” by both Time Out and the Evening Standard.

My cookbook shelves are filled with dog-eared, food-stained classics; few and far between are any new cookbooks I’d want to buy and use. But browsing in a bookstore last Saturday, this jacket with its pasta shapes surrounding “THE PERFECT SHAPE + THE PERFECT SAUCE = THE GEOMETRY OF PASTA” in perfectly spaced Neutraface Bold jumped into my hands. It’s a graphic tour de force. And the recipes are imaginative and (even if not perfectly translated from British into American measurements) well crafted. I would take that one step farther: Jacob could be the most original and charming new voice in food in a generation.

Information architecture: the book jacket unfolds into a pasta chart. All drawings, by Lisa Vandy, are to scale, illustrating the pasta shape's length and/or diameter and thickness.

Caz and Jacob, as luck would have it, are in New York for a few days for interviews and to tape a segment of the Martha Stewart Show that will air on Friday, October 22. I had the opportunity to sit down with them on Monday over a meal of Chinese noodles and talk about the book, food, Italy, and design:

Caz, what was your inspiration for the book?

First was Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi, a book that was published in about 1890 and is a landmark work of Italian culture and gastronomy. The design is simple and modern, extraordinary. And the writing is lyrical, natural, accessible, even now. And more immediately, a plumbing-products chart: grommets and such rendered as simple, geometric, black-and-white shapes.

Each pasta shape is introduced on a spread with title, description, dimensions, synonyms, and “also good with” on the left. On the right is a full-page graphic composition, all of which are different. What was the inspiration there?

Lots of things, from the Italian Futurism of Marinetti to Op Art to Marimekko fabrics. The pasta shapes were rendered by illustrator Lisa Vandy, who does architectural renderings in CAD. They are all true to size: the length, diameter, and thickness of the pasta shape.

How long did you work on the project?

Ten years in total, one year intensely after we’d found a publisher.

Was it easy to find a publisher?

The book was turned down by a dozen publishers, who said things like, “A cookbook with the word ‘geometry’ in the title will never sell.” And they couldn’t imagine a cookbook without color photography. Eventually we found Boxtree, an imprint of Macmillan. The American publisher is Quirk Books.

Jacob, I’m excited to be sitting across from the next Jamie Oliver. Tell me a little about your background.

I was always eating and cooking. I ate myself silly. I cooked at Moro restaurant in London, North African and Spanish food, and then in San Francisco, at Boulevard, where Nancy Oakes taught me everything I needed to know about how to be a chef.

You write in detail about regional pasta shapes and types. How much have you traveled in Italy? Do you speak Italian?

Yes. My mum grew up in Italy and we have a family home in Sperlonga, a little seaside town between Rome and Naples. Before I opened Bocca di Lupo, I spent a year traveling around Italy, learning and eating.

What are you going to cook for Martha?

We’re a bit nervous, actually. The taping will go for an hour. We’re going to make the Cannelloni (page 52) with béchamel, which is actually an American dish that everyone knows. And the Trofie al Pesto Genovese (page 276).

I was recently in Liguria where Trofie al Pesto is on every menu. They sell trofie in bags for six euros in the tourist shops but I couldn’t find any in the supermarkets.

That’s because it should always be handmade.

Are you going to make it by hand for Martha?

Yes, with the green beans and potatoes that make this dish so earthy. And I’ll show how to roll it on a board to get the right torpedo shape.

Let’s make sure all the graphic designers are tuned in. You both look a little stunned at the sudden fame. Caz, what is your advice to designers?

Don’t give up. If you have an idea that won’t go away, let it speak. I kept trying to ignore this idea, but it didn’t go away. I listened to it and made it happen. And don’t compromise. I stuck to my vision of no photography, all black-and-white, even when various publishers said, “It needs a little color.”

The black-and-white scheme is continued on the binding

What’s next on the drawing board?

Textiles, kitchenware — enamelware with white designs on black pots and pans — and, our favorite, little animated cooking segments on TV.

Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy in NYC yesterday

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