Review – Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried


The sign of a good writer is whether or not the imagery they commit to the page elicits a response in the reader. Can they make the place, the character, or the event vivid and real to the person reading the story? Oddly, one of the most difficult things for fiction writers to describe is food or meals, especially if the scene is integral to the story. But when the writing is well-done, the description of a repast (sumptuous or otherwise) not only progresses the plot but can be so vivid that the reader can almost taste the dishes described on the page.

In Fictitious Dishes, New York Graphic designer Dinah Fried thought to take the process one step further – she cooked, styled, and photographed foods from great works of fiction. Amassing a vast collection of props along the way (plates, tablecloths, cutlery), she chose 50 works of literature and set about bringing a meal from each to life.

Holden Caulfield’s Swiss cheese sandwich and malted milk from The Catcher in the Rye grace a Formica diner table. The potato salad and coconut cake from East of Eden adorn a picnic table and make the mouth water. And the spread of hors d’oeuvres from The Great Gatsby will have every reader wishing for an invitation to the party.

Holden Caulfield’s cheese sandwich and malted milk from The Catcher in the Rye.

Fried’s layout is simple – a two-page spread for each entry, the related quotation on the left hand side, along with some interesting trivia about the book, the author, or the food – the entry on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn relates the southern tradition of eating cabbage and collard greens on New Year’s Day. On the right, a carefully styled photo recreates the meal from the quoted passage, down to the smallest detail.

For the most part, Fried has chosen – possibly unintentionally – spare and simple dishes. The bread and blackberries from Peter Rabbit, for instance, or the cans of peaches and pears from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The whole roasted potatoes and eggs from The Secret Garden are pretty but plain, and it sometimes takes a second glance to notice the added details that Fried has included – the key to the secret garden in the corner of the shot, or a pair of eyeglasses at the edge of the picture of the pasta dish from The Talented Mr. Ripley.

That’s not to say that the work that went into Fictitious Dishes was minimal. A selection of “making of” photos at the beginning of the book are as interesting as the styled photos, and show Fried making a tiny table for the Gulliver’s Travels shot, as well as an attack by a hungry seagull, devouring the melon Fried has arranged on the beach for the Robinson Crusoe entry.

There is some disconnect for the reader if the books referenced are unfamiliar, but Fried covers everything from children’s books (Beezus and Ramona, Bread and Jam For Frances) to great classics such as Moby Dick, so there’s something for everyone. For my part, Fried’s styling has actually encouraged me to seek out some great classics that I’ve never read.

Some authors don’t flesh out their food scenes very well, either by oversight or by design, but for anyone wishing for a better visualization of some very important meals in literature, Fictitious Dishes is a charming collection that would be equally at home on the tables of readers, food lovers or photography fans.

This post originally appeared on Vermicious.