Opinion by Richard Baird Posted 1 July 2019
Pentagram partner Astrid Stavro and project team Jake Gilbert and Susanna Foppoli have recently completed work on A Work in Progress: A Journal, a book from the acclaimed Danish chef René Redzepi, published by Phaidon.
Through Noma, a two-Michelin star restaurant that reimagined Nordic cuisine, René Redzepi has built a formidable reputation for innovation and inventiveness. His viewpoint and approach emerge throughout this new publication by way of a first-person narrative.
Part cookbook but largely a journal that documents a year in the life of Redzepi and his team, the writing is a “candid and witty story about creativity and inspiration”. This follows the process of discovery, creation and refinement, and profiles the struggle, determination and teamwork required to embrace and make the most of the ingredients of each new season. As you would expect from a journal this is delivered alongside the day to day, a transcript of a TedX talk, lists of work delegation, talk of dreams, moments of frustration and visceral scene setting.
Creativity and innovation, surprise and delight, seasonality and simplicity characterise the gastronomy at the level of René Redzepi and attributed to Noma. Yet, it can be a mysterious and private process with the dishes being canonised rather than the individual struggles and methodology that came with their creation. Documentaries such as Chef’s Table have sought to delve deeper, presenting a life story in a sophisticated and appealing manner. These are structured in a way that contextualises but also mythologies, aestheticises and furthers the archetypal fray of artistic endeavour, less so the daily trials, the push and pull of pragmatism, creative leaps and the unpredictability of natural ingredients. These are the details that make for good long-form reading.
The passing of the seasons, the move through the gastronomic year, told through a journal, augmented by a few recipes is a refreshing approach. Pentagram partner Astrid Starvo and team manage to take this spirit of openness and insight, discovery and seasonality and frame it in a way that shares a synergy with the practices and presentation of René Redzepi’s work and the intimate tone of his writing.
“The text is set in Arnhem, a highly legible and elegant serif typeface designed by Fred Smeijers. With its large x-height, strong colour and high contrast, Arnhem was the perfect typeface for long passages of text. It conveys a sense of warmth whilst retaining a strong and contemporary personality. All the design elements, including materiality, come together to support the intimate, reflective nature of the content.” – Pentagram.
The book features generous margins and an abundance of space. Ingredient imagery that calls to mind pressed flowers and plays with the seasonal progress of the journal. A visible structure of fine lines, large numbers and columns. Interior pages of cream and a cover of laid paper and black block foil. These are brought together in a way that expresses the chronology and journalistic nature of the document, the methodology and pragmatism of the process it seeks to reveal, and the potential of simple ingredients to be transformed and the beauty of a completed dish. Subtle moments such as the creases of the table surfaces, the absence of superfluous set dressing, offer a sense of the immediate as the antithesis of the staged; the dish captured in the moment of its creation.
The book employs a pared back and understated visual language of space, image and text, and in its bookended chronology of a year, offers a structure that presents both a complete and open-ended story, a methodology and philosophy to be repeated (and furthered) the following year but with different results. More work by Pentagram on BP&O.