Pride & Pudding is an unusual cookbook, but one that's been loved by critics and the public alike – making it into most of the key 'best cookbooks of 2016' lists from the newspapers and booksellers. It's a recipe-led history of the most British of dishes – the pudding, both sweet and savoury – written and photographed by Flemish blogger and British food enthusiast, Regula Ysewijn.
The book is packed with recipes from the 14th century to the modern day. It's illustrated by her husband, art director Bruno Vergauwen, in a style that draws both from the shaded and coloured line art of art nouveau (and much modern digital art) and more traditional fine art.
I sat down with Bruno to discuss the project, his creative process for the artworks and his approach as an artist.
Neil Bennett: Hi Bruno. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Bruno Vergauwen: "I was born and raised in Belgium, where I still live today. I come from a creative family, so you could say creativity is in my blood. While other kids went on holiday with their parents, our summers were spent with a huge block of clay or pots of paint. We loved every minute of it.
"At home I like to surround myself with objects I find interesting, ranging from art, toys to curiosities and antiques. I’m not really someone who likes to go out. I’ve always been more of a loner, not that I don’t like people, I just never found the urge to go to social gatherings, events or pubs because I find the small talk boring very quickly – and start thinking about what creative things I could do with that time.
"I’m lucky to have an amazing wife who is very creative – she's a photographer and writer. What I lack in social skills, she makes up for it with her bubbly nature. I can’t imagine living with someone who doesn’t have the constant urge to create things. The downside is that our house looks more like a studio than a house – which is fine by us, we like it, it is our creative mess.
"While I'm an illustrator by passion, by profession I'm an art director. I enjoy the balance between both, and I also believe the two can complement each other.
NB: How would you describe your style of illustration?
BV: "I’m without a doubt influenced by my father, who was a fine art painter. He himself was very influenced by art nouveau and the pre-Raphaelite aesthetics. So I can definitely see those coming through in my work as well.
"I was also and still am a huge comic book reader, so apart from adopting some of its style elements, I love to tell a story with my pieces. I also believe my background as an art director and graphic designer also bring a kind of graphic sense into it. I like clear shapes and symmetric compositions – and although I use a lot of figurative elements and details, I try to keep it as simple as possible."
NB: Tell us about working on Pride and Pudding.
BV: "While designing the book, [Regula suggested that I should create] the illustrations to separate the different chapters. We always wanted to do something different than your typical cookbook. It had to be something more, it had to inspire on different levels and it had to suck you into the world of historical food.
"The content of each chapter dictated what the illustration should be – what tools did they use a hundred years ago, what was the history of those type of puddings, the evolution from Roman times through the Tudor period up until today.
"[To begin each piece], I usually got a small moodboard filled with pictures, drawings and texts. Regula would tell me the history behind the dishes in the chapter so I could fully grasp the concept and capture all that historic information into the drawings."
NB: What was the most important thing to represent with the artworks?
BV: "They each had to tell the story of the different kinds of British pudding. There's ancient puddings which were 'Boiled and Steamed', Baked puddings, Batter puddings, Bread puddings, Milk puddings and Jellies.
"Apart from the representation of the old tools and produce used to create the dishes, I also tried to bring in old pudding adverts, political pamphlets and postcards. My wife has a collection of old artwork that – apart from being representation of the puddings – also had a political undertones."
NB: Could you take us through your composition and creative process of one of the Battered artwork please – from concept to composition and symbolism, and from sketch to the final piece?
BV: "I usually make a small sketch as soon as I have formed the concept in my head – mostly because it wouldn’t be the first time that I've then forgotten [the idea], as I usually work on different stuff at the same time.
"Then I make a more detailed drawing on my Cintiq. When I’m happy with the composition, I print the linework onto large, dark paper.
"I use this to do my first black-&-white shading. Once I have the black and white rendered piece, I scan it back into the computer and start colouring and tweaking on the Cintiq. I tend to enjoy this final part the most as I can finally see it all come together.
"Although I still enjoy drawing and working on paper I love the freedom the digital medium gives you. Most creatives are a bit of a control freak, so being able to tweak every part to how you want it is so amazing and liberating.
"As for the concept of the drawing itself. I’m not going to deep into the history and do’s and don’t s of the pudding itself [you'll need to buy the book for that, Ed] but I was mostly influenced by my wife’s stories of by the historical research she conducted for the book and the experiences she had cooking over fire with [British] food historian Ivan Day in his home in the Lake District.
"I remember a sense of amazement when she told me how those dishes came to be cooked in front of the fire, and I pictured how that must have been captivating for small children in the past as well. So I pictured the youngsters becoming one with the fire. In a way losing themselves in the flickering flames while the fat of the fore rib of beef drips from the bottle jack spit onto to the pudding in the pan below – cooking it at the same time.
"A medusa-like figure appears out of the brick wall holding everything together, her hair made out of fritters who when boiled in oil are like little snakes. The soot from the fire smudging the wall and the frame outside the drawing."