Cook Beautiful by Athena Calderone. A book review

In our Instagram-obsessed world saturated by the importance of the look, it’s so refreshing and inspiring to come across someone like Athena Calderone of Eyeswoon. Yes, that woman looks stunning, she cooks stunning food and presents it in the most elegant manner; and yet there is a lot more behind the surface – there is a real warm energy about what she does and a profound understanding of food; it’s textures, flavour combinations as well as it’s role in brining people together. 

The first ever dish that I tried to recreate in my kitchen a while back, literally as soon as I’ve read the recipe, was this number (roasted cauliflower with a punchy parsley-capers-jalapeno dressing). SOLD IMMEDIATELY!  Since then this dish has become a staple in my home which I continue to adapt and alter from time to time, and it now feels like a good old classic of my own. Similar can be said about rosemary roasted grapes served atop of a crostini smothered in lemony ricotta. I could not believe my luck to have come across a treasure chest of unique recipes that is Eyeswoon! However, it is not only the elegance of the food and the adventurousness of her palette that drew me to this lady. I discovered her account at a time when I was feeling completely lost in my professional life, emotionally and intellectually depleted after finishing a PhD, creatively stifled after endless hours spend in the library and frankly panicked that I will never find a career that makes me truly happy. The way Athena spoke so honestly about her own creative trials and tribulations and the wisdom and warmth that oozed from the images and the text, made me feel … connected. It does sound insane and a tad scary (hello stalker) to say I felt connected to a person I’ve never met and only saw pictures of her food on Instagram. Yet that’s exactly how I felt and began to reconnect with myself, asking what does make me truly inspired and excited, and what do I feel happiest doing – cooking! That was the answer. 

Fast-forward three years, and here I am sitting on the floor of my living room, pouring over my very own brand new copy of Athena’s debut cookbook – COOK BEAUTIFUL. I have to confess that I’ve been religiously following all the behind-the-scenes moments of the book shoot on Instagram, so again, I have that odd feeling of reconnecting with an old friend while paging through my copy. Well, what can I say, in a nutshell – this book swoons the hell out of my eyes! From the food styling and photography, the the layout and the colour coordination of each chapter, this book is a pure aesthetic delight and I can only lament that this copy will get pretty disheveled as I will page through it time and time again. 

There is a beautiful simplicity to Athena’s style of food – it may be a recipe for roasted squash yet an addition of a crunchy topping or a zesty dressing elevates the dish immediately and makes your realise just how much flavour is packed into this elegantly simple plate. What I do love the most is Athena’s use of herbs – a lady who is not afraid of tarragon is the one after my own heart! As I turned each page I caught myself exclaiming some kind of a sign of pleasant surprise, fascination or curiosity – there is no single recipe in the book that is predictable, ‘trendy’ or similar to the one you’ve already read a few pages ago. However, they all feel like a part of one story for there is a coherence of style and theme running throughout. Seasonality guides the book’s form and content, but it’s also the charm of the author that makes you feel fully immersed in her beautiful universe. 

Each chapter is also complemented with tips on style and decoration of the dinner table. The decor obsessive in me is in heaven and just wants to dive into the page to sit at the exquisite table created by Athena. OK, let’s face it there is no way I will be able to afford to recreate these in exact detail ( I can only buy one set of cutlery from West Elm not six). But having said that, each chapter does strive to make these design ideas as accessible as possible, suggesting how to find a more affordable solution.

Those who know me, have experienced how I love to add a little touch of something extra to the meal when gathering friends at home (not to mention when organising a KinoVino event) or even when having a simple dinner on a Tuesday night with my man (he often begs ‘can we just have a normal meal without all the theatre’). So if you are anything like me, COOK BEAUTIFUL will take your breath away. There is a lot to be said about the pleasure of looking at something aesthetically pleasing – it makes you feel inspired, moved, allured and fascinated, but also gives a sense of comfort, groundedness and connection. This and a lot more is what I experience when I explore Athena’s world.