At the back end of 2019, I had an idea about a little book project. I was inspired by a sketchbook created by inspirational live illustrator Katie Chappell from her travels in Asia (see below). How about trying to make an illustrated book of my Sri Lankan friend Dewa’s wonderful cooking?
Dewa’s a feeder and loves to cook the food she watched her mum cook when she was a girl. But her husband’s not keen on curry or spice – so the opportunities to do what she loves to do are a little limited in our northernmost part of east England.
When the quirky Mule on Rouge café first opened, I was helping to organise events for our local Slow Food group here in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I chatted with Mule proprietors, Sion and Zoe, and agreed that Dewa would do a pop-up evening meal to celebrate national curry week in October 2018. It was the start of a beautiful and happy partnership. Dewa now pops-up regularly at the marvellous Mule, creating magnificent Sri Lankan meals which have been translated into takeaways during lockdown.
But how to create something that captures Dewa’s food and Katie’s illustrations – and what might it be? Katie suggested we get together in my kitchen. Dewa to cook, Katie to draw, and me to sous chef and simultaneously jot down ingredients and quantities. Because, as Dewa tells me each time I ask for a recipe from her: ‘We don’t write recipes down.’ At the end of the agreed day in January, we ate Dewa’s wonderful food with gusto (and with the yoghurt and cucumber she prepared especially to soothe our delicate palates because, as she explained: ‘We don’t eat that in Sri Lanka.’). Dewa ladled leftovers into pots for us to share with our partners and families. Katie cycled off with her share of food nuzzling a sheaf of sketches. I deciphered the notes I’d taken.
Then lockdown intervened. Katie wrestled with a massive live illustration workload (her clients include Google, for heaven’s sake!), the launch of a fabulous new initiative with other local artists (The Good Ship Illustration), and having a life. Despite the heat of Dewa’s food and our delight in the day, the project went tepid. After a bit of toing and froing and umming and ahhing, we thought that a graphic designer might help us ‘throw the illustrations into layouts.’ And really, this lazy thought turned out to be the masterstroke of the project. Local graphic designer Daniel Cox turned our sketches, words, and ingredients into a meal in a book – picking up instinctively on the free-flowing feel of the day and the heat and joy of it too.
And there we have it. Our very first meal in a book: ‘We don’t write recipes down.’ It’s art, food and fun in one small but lovely package. All printed by local printer Martins. So, genuinely cooked-up in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The book is priced at £6.99 (plus a £1 contribution to postage for buyers outside the local Berwick-upon-Tweed area). We are donating all proceeds to Sri Lankan charity The Jasmine Foundation. The charity supports women in rural communities through education, training, sports and welfare as well as health and hygiene initiatives. Coincidentally, this wonderful charity was co-founded by Jessica Mason and her husband Sanas Sahib and Jessica grew up and went to school in and around Berwick. So a genuine 100% Berwick-upon-Tweed production.
If you’re interested in a copy, visit the ‘We don’t write recipes down’ Facebook page.
The book premiered at Dewa’s pop-up takeaway at The Mule on Rouge on Friday 14th August 2020. There are regular pop-ups at the Mule so keep an eye on their social media feeds.
I’m updating this post on 10 November 2020. It’s such a wonder to say that we’ve sold over 200 copies of our little book and donated £600 of profits and donations to our Sri Lankan charity. Just brilliant.