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Delicious recipes and beautiful illustrations: students and staff produce collaborative cookbook ‘The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen’

The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen
Written by
Jake May
Published date
26 September 2018

Students and staff from London College of Communication have collaborated with a Buddhist centre in Elephant and Castle to produce a cookbook of delicious vegetarian recipes.

Students across all three of LCC’s Schools worked together to design, illustrate, photograph and produce ‘The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen’ with the Cafe at Jamyang. The book – limited to 1000 copies – was printed in-house on the Heidelberg lithography press at LCC, and will be launched with an accompanying exhibition at LCC’s Everything Happens So Much show, part of London Design Festival.

The project – which made use of kitchen waste from the cafe by turning it into natural dyes to colour the bookmarks – came about organically, with LCC staff regularly taking lunch at the Cafe at Jamyang and getting to know staff in the process.

The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen

“We have been going to the Cafe at Jamyang for lunch for years and it always felt like a small retreat to us,” said Rahel Zoller, Book Arts Specialist Technician at LCC. “Located away from the busy roundabout at Elephant and Castle, the garden provides a space to breathe and the delicious food feels like a recharge.

“Our former colleague and friend Barbara Salvadori started a conversation with the chef, Ilaria Mezzogori: ‘Can I have the recipe for this dish?’ Ilaria replied, ‘I only have it in my mind and maybe a few handwritten notes… but why don’t we make a cookbook together?’.”

Rahel worked with colleague Florence Hawkins, Screen-printing and Natural Dye Technician at LCC, to start the project – getting students from across all three Schools involved.

Whispers about the project

“There were some whispers about it in the screen printing room, ” said Jaya Modi, an MA Graphic Media Design student involved in the project, “so I just walked up to Flo one day and said that I wanted in!

“I love editorial and publishing design. Plus, I’m always looking for an excuse to flutter around something creative and exciting. I found the concept of the book very beautiful, the way it sought to bring people together, in both its creation and its recipes.

The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen – Behind the Scenes. Image: Azelia Ng Wei Zhen

“I think, being a vegetarian myself, I connected with it at a very personal level and thus really wanted to be a part of it.”

Student collaboration

Students and staff donated their time, energy and expertise to bring the project to life, with Florence and Rahel taking a step back to give the students a leading role in producing the book.

“We always saw our role more as facilitators,”  said Rahel, “and we wanted the students to take ownership over this project. Soon groups were organised and the students started to collaborate.

“Everyone found their own strengths and competencies in this project. In August the Cafe at Jamyang closed for one month to record the recipes. The food was cooked and the students illustrated it, created props and photographed everything. This is how everything started to come together.”

‘Natural to think of LCC’

For the Cafe at Jamyang, working with LCC on a project like this seemed the obvious thing to do.

“Food is ephemeral: it’s prepared, cooked and eaten in matter of hours,” said Ilaria Mezzogori, chef at the Cafe at Jamyang. “And then it’s just a memory.

The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen – Behind the Scenes. Image: Alissa Metchnik

“In my years at the Cafe we experimented, invented, at times got things terribly wrong and at others almost works of art. I didn’t want those flavours and experiences to get lost, and recording our recipes and stories in a book was the best way I could think of to preserve them.

“I knew a book would need photographers, designers, printers, illustrators… LCC appeared like a fantastic place, just around the corner, that could make that idea real.

“We wanted to keep the project as local and authentic as we could, and LCC seemed the best partner for this. I also loved the thought of working with young professionals at the beginning of their career, hoping they would like the project and throw their enthusiasm and ideas into it, just as they did!”

‘The students were amazing’

“The students were amazing,” said Ilaria. “They were incredible with their creativity, professionalism, passion and determination. I’ve learnt a lot from them and I’m very proud to have got to know this incredible group of artists and designers…

“This book really is the child of many, many parents.”

The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen

Learning experience

Book Arts Specialist Technician Rahel said that working on a real-life project alongside their studies “provided an insight into managing and participating in a project from start to finish whilst enhancing their time management skills”.

“The students learned to work collaboratively and to understand and trust each other, gaining confidence for their professional life in the future. We hope the students will take this book to an interview in which they are proud to show what they have achieved together.”

The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen – Behind the Scenes. Image: Alissa Metchnik

The students agreed. “I’m taking away the importance of communication and interaction with your peers,” said Pietro Sandri, BA (Hons) Graphic and Media Design student. “In a project this big I learnt that time management and role allocation is very important. Sharing knowledge and learning from others as well as a fundamental way to personal growth.”

Azelia Ng Wei Zhen, BA (Hons) Graphic and Media, said: “I definitely learned interpersonal skills. Working with different types of people allowed me to be exposed to different specialisms and at the same time learning more about how I handled things, especially when challenges arises.”

Fun and heart-warming

It was also a really enjoyable project to work on – for the students and staff of LCC, as well as the Cafe at Jamyang.

Chef Ilaria said: “I loved the summer of 2017 – the 15 days that took us to reproduce the 108 recipes, take the photos and create the illustrations of the kitchen and ingredients you see in the book.

“I got to know the students then, and they were 15 mad days of hard work and beautiful peals of laughter… I knew a recipe was good when the plate prepared for the photo shoot came back to the kitchen empty and I could see the students in the garden licking their fingers!”

The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen – Behind the Scenes. Image: Azelia Ng Wei Zhen

“I genuinely loved the evening meetings with Rahel, Flo, Azelia and Pietro,” added student Jaya. “They were always so fun and heart-warming. From scrutinising the text for spellings and punctuation, typeface testings, to the final paper selection… it felt so personal to have shared this experience.”

Favourite recipes

But when it came to their favourite recipe, no one was in agreement…

“As a student I simply love the re-birth section. It gave me quite a few quirky ideas to save those bits of food in the fridge, and yet be able to relish them without complaint or constraint,” said Jaya. “For me it was the Catalan spinach!” Azelia said. “It was one of the tastiest hot salads I’ve ever eaten. I’m not one who enjoys salads but this has totally changed my perspectives.” And for Pietro? “The Spätzle. It reminds me of the mountains back home and the fresh air in the long days spent walking to get to the refuge.”

Flo and Rahel reflected on their favourite parts of the project overall: “It is very hard to pick a specific favourite part of the project, however the most special thing to us was the dedication of the students and staff for this entire project.

“Seeing it come together like this, through everyone’s hard work and passion is something very rewarding and memorable for everyone involved.”

You can buy The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen from our online store for £18. The book is limited to 1000 copies.

The Elephant’s Secret Kitchen