“What does America taste like?” is the burning culinary question posed by Phaidon’s new title, Taste of America. Well, by the looks of things it’s all cured meats, thick, rich seafood dishes, various combinations of nuts, caramel and chocolate and dried cereals – which quite frankly everyone who’s been across the pond knows you can’t beat. In fact a few of us are recently returned from the US and have the bellies to prove it. Still, despite its intentions there are no flavours to be found in Colman Andrews’ book, (you can’t taste a damn thing!) but there are wonderfully nostalgic accounts of the author’s favourite food stuffs, histories of some of America’s best-loved brands and 125 sensational illustrations.
It’s the illustrations that really get you salivating, all rendered in Egg Tempera by Handsome Frank’s Joël Penkman over the course of a six-month food bender in which she was sent real, edible food stuffs to her Liverpool studio to draw and digest. Joël only works from life, meaning she made her own hotdogs and grew her own tomatoes for the project, showing an incredible commitment to the lifelike aesthetic of her work. Plus she works in a medium that’s notorious for being tricky; you have to grind your own pigments and make your own gesso to work in egg tempera. Still, the results speak for themselves, these are stunningly-executed illustrations that add life to the texts they accompany and elevating these humble culinary favourites to fetishistic food fantasies.