Turns out plenty of people are as handy with a spatula as with a sketchbook.
Call them culinary artists. They are the contributors to the increasingly popular recipe blog TheyDrawandCook.com, a site that re-imagines basic recipes as artful illustrations drawn with a whimsically homey touch.
So far, the site, launched in February, has drawn hundreds of submissions, spawned a kids page and is on its way to becoming a book, scheduled to come out next year.
But it began with much humbler ambitions, says co-founder Salli Swindell.
"It was really just started out of pure, 'This will be fun,'" she said. "I think it's kind of stayed that way."
The genesis for the site came from a meal Swindell's brother, Nate Padavick, cooked during a family vacation. He was recreating a fig pasta dish he'd had in Berlin and when Swindell saw the figs she was inspired to get out the watercolours, then scan the finished painting into the computer.
"I thought, 'I love illustrating food! What have I been doing all these years?'" recalled Swindell, who has worked as a magazine illustrator and for a greeting card company and now runs an online design studio with Padavick.
The first thought was to work with other artists to create a self-published book that could be given as gifts. But delays in getting some of the art turned to frustration. So instead the project turned into a blog. Then it started getting noticed.
First, came a big following from people in Brazil. Then the blog caught the attention of illustrators in England. "Once you're with those London illustrators, oh my gosh," said Swindell.
The original point of the blog was to provide a platform for illustrators to show off their chops, while showing off their, well, chops. But it also has generated an interesting conversation about food media — that food illustrations might engage people in a way that increasingly slick food photography may not.
"I read a lot of food blogs — there's just a sameness to the visuals," said Janice Gregg of Philadelphia, who blogs about food, culture and technology atwww.gigabiting.com.
Technological advances have made the close-up, deeply saturated food photo easier to get and they can be beautiful, she said. But "to me, it's just sort of a little bit of a break on the eyes not to be looking at all that photography."
Illustrations on They Draw and Cook range from fairy-tale whimsy and cute critters cooking in aprons to bold graphics. A watercolour recipe rendering of moules frites by Hannah Clark, an English contributor, is a symphony of blues and yellows.
A recent contributor to the blog was Sean Ingvard Ashby of Edmond, Okla., who submitted an illustrated recipe for Danish pancake balls called aebleskiver (EB-el-sku-wyr).
As an illustrator, Ashby liked the pictorial focus of the blog as well as the fact that it presents a relatively narrow sliver of the food world. "There was something kind of nice, I thought, in that this was fairly specialized. It was just one simple concept."
To Swindell, an illustrated recipe is about a story.
Sometimes a funny story. "You can't pull off humour when you're photographing food," she said.
For now, she and Padavick plan to continue posting recipe illustrations. "We're trying to keep the site interactive and fun and extend it in as many ways as we can. I just want all these great artists to benefit," she said. "Whether it's promotional, whether it's monetary exposure. There's so many great artists out there."–AP