Judging a Cook by Their Cover: The Hardcovers of Yotam Ottolenghi

By Lauren Varley


Although we are often chided for deciding a book’s worth by the artwork displayed on the front cover, it is something nobody can really avoid upon wandering into one’s local bookshop. There is something electric about the rainbow of volumes stacked on uniform shelves. Maybe you’re drawn to the vibrant sleeves of young adult fiction, or the leather-bound classics sat stoic on their thrones. For me, there is nothing as captivating and beautiful as the art chosen to adorn the cover of recipe books.


Some chefs (often celebrity personalities) choose to have an image of them grinning whilst holding a vegetable or kitchen tool, hovering over a bowl of undisclosed foodstuff (think Mary Berry, or the lovely Nigella). Although commendable, these aren’t the kind of covers I’m interested in. One name comes most strongly to mind when I think about the books I’ve longed for in the past: Yotam Ottolenghi. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-English chef, and co-owns six restaurants and delis in London. His food is famously both hearty and fresh, easy to cook and impressive to look at. This reputation is summarised carefully and beautifully in the covers of his cookbooks, especially those of Simple (2018) and Nopi (2015), both of which were designed by the London-based design agency ‘Here Design’.


Simple features, rather fittingly, just a large silhouette of a lemon, with a plain font announcing the title in the fruit’s centre. The hardcover also incorporates texture, with the shape appearing stippled, much like the citrus it is representing. The picture is overwhelmingly, well, simple. And yet, you have probably already recalled the image from memory, having seen it on a shelf or in a friend’s house- perhaps you own the book yourself. It successfully conveys the message: ‘I am an approachable friend, I am an accessible read.’ This is why the cover art is so mesmerising to me. Nopi showcases the more popular recipes from Ottolenghi’s Soho restaurant. The book is perhaps less seen and popular than Simple, but the cover is entrancing in a similar way. The design is a shakshuka pan, circled in gold foil echoing the design of his restaurant’s logo. Black, white and gold create a stunningly straightforward image, classically attractive and effortlessly beautiful.


Black, white and gold create a stunningly straightforward image, classically attractive and effortlessly beautiful.


Unlike many fiction books, which perhaps have more artistic license when selecting a cover, recipe books sometimes fall under the unfortunate non-fiction constraints of gaudy photography or limp self-portraits, stamped over with blinding fonts and graphics. For Ottolenghi, the cover is a recipe itself, combining clever design elements to create an attractive and (importantly) memorable dish. I encourage everyone to take a trip to the food and drink genre and take in some of the more delicious artwork on display there, as the gorgeous work often goes unsung.


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