INTERVIEW: Adriano Rampazzo on drawing Signature Dishes
The artist behind Signature Dishes describes his route to our new book, via art school and restaurant kitchens
Adriano Rampazzo has all the ingredients you’d want in an illustrator for Signature Dishes That Matter. The Brazilian artist has studied at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins art school, takes a strong interest in food, and has worked in professional restaurant kitchens.
Read on to discover how his culinary and artistic skills landed him work with the world’s premier global publisher of the creative arts, which dishes he experimented with to get his style right, and which ones proved the hardest to reproduce.
How did you get into food illustration? I studied fine arts in São Paulo in 2005, then, in 2008 I joined a culinary school. That lasted two years and I started working at a restaurant. I always wanted to be an artist, but midway through my art studies I was feeling a little bit lost.
I moved to London and worked a few restaurant jobs. My first job there was at a French restaurant in Pimlico. I also worked for about a year in Jamie’s Italian in Covent Garden - that was late 2010 – then I picked up work at the Hereford Road restaurant in West London. It was while I was at Hereford Road that I decided I needed to finish my art studies. I applied to Saint Martins, studied for two further years, and graduated.
I quit working in the restaurant in 2012, and at the beginning of 2013 I won a competition to illustrate Chop, Sizzle, Wow: The Silver Spoon Comic Cookbook. That was the first book I ever illustrated. I returned to Brazil and ended up doing illustrations for comics and other art books.
How would you describe your style? That’s hard. I try to keep my feet on the ground. I’m interested in the world we live in. My work is not too cartoony and not too realistic as well. I like the imperfections that arise when we do work that is connected to the moment we’re in. I’m not interested in sci-fi or dystopian realities!
How did you get the new commission? I got the email from Julia Hasting, Phaidon’s creative director. I liked working on Chop, Sizzle, Wow so I was really pleased.
Did you try out many different styles for the book? Yes. The victim of the whole exercise was the Cronut! I was planning on working with technical drawing pens at the start, as I did for Chop, Sizzle, Wow. They’re really precise and stable, and I was going to colour-in on a computer.
However, Julia wanted something finer and more delicate so I changed to the thinnest pen I had, and decided to also use watercolour, so it could be more delicate and more natural. If you look at a lot of food illustration, people use watercolour because its delicate, but they don’t use the black line to delineate like we did. I tried not to do much shading too; I wanted to keep it flat.
There’s quite a lot of humour in the images, The Peking Duck for instance. Yes, the porcelain dish with a duck’s head! I thought we needed to do that one on a dish. Lucy Kingett, the book’s project editor, had a team of people doing research for her. There were so many dishes. Some were easy to find, but others were quite hard to get pictures of. She had to go deeper and deeper in the research. For some dishes I was doing a lot of research myself because the picture wasn’t helping me enough. I watched so many Youtube videos of the chefs in question creating that particular dish. That helped me understand. Some are complicated to make so it’s good to understand what is what.
Which ones were hard ones to get right? There’s this dish from New Orleans, it’s called gumbo and it’s a lot of greens and meats, so it’s a dark green mash and it’s quite difficult to depict. I mean, what can I do? Also, there’s a dish by the Scottish chef Tom Kitchin called Shellfish Rockpool. It’s a clear soup with seafood and that was also a hard one, very detailed.
How many of the dishes did you try before you drew them? About four or five. Obviously the Big Mac is one of them! I’ve also been to St JOHN in London, so I had had one of their dishes. I had also been to Din Tai Fung in Taiwan to try the soup dumplings too. You can also eat these at a branch of the same restaurant in Covent Garden, London which is really good, and not very expensive.
How long did it take you to do them all? About five months. I worked non-stop really, Monday to Sunday. At first I was doing maybe three pictures a day, by the end of the project I was doing 15 a day because that was the only way to get it done.
Were you eating a lot when you were painting them? Yeah! I was actually! I had nothing to do all day but draw and eat. Maybe I was a little bit anxious! Unfortunately, I wasn’t eating the dishes from the book. . .
Which ones are you most proud of? One of my favourites, mainly because it has colours that work well, is the smoked salmon pizza. I also quite like aka sea urchin in a lobster jelly with cauliflower, caviar, and crispy seaweed waffles. The vessel it’s served in resembles a white porcelain sea urchin. It’s got a lobster jelly inside with sea urchin and caviar. Because it’s so beautiful I think it works.
To see all of Adriano's pictures get a copy of Signature Dishes That Matter, a global celebration of the iconic restaurant dishes that defined the course of culinary history over the past 300 years. Curated by experts and organized chronologically, it's both a landmark cookbook and a fascinating cultural history of dining out.