Anyone who has ever been to one of art collector Valeria Napoleone’s famous dinner parties will have sensed that a cookbook would one day follow.
A voracious entertainer, the London-based Italian prepares all her own food, and having sampled her culinary artistry first hand, we feel it is only fair she share some of her secrets.
‘I learned my way around cooking from looking at my grandmother and mother in the kitchen when I was a child, growing up in Lombardy,’ explains Napoleone, who has filled the book's pages with generations-old family recipes. Widely respected for the way she unites London’s thriving art scene at her intimate gatherings, the collector has also called on some of her friends to collaborate. ‘Instead of getting one artist to illustrate it, I thought, why not ask all the artists I know and have connected with?’
A self-proclaimed modern day feminist, Napoleone only collects the work of female artists, a choice which is reflected in the book. Interspersed among recipes like Arrosto di vitello al latte (roast veal with milk) and Torta Pasqualina (artichoke pie) are works by 49 artists such as Turner Prize nominee Goshka Macuga, and New Zealand-born sculptor Francis Upritchard, whose creation consists of cutlery fashioned from a natural rubber-like material. ‘I think cutlery is very beautiful,’ says Upritchard. ‘Food and art comes naturally to me and I think forks are something I’d quite like to make some day.’
The artists were simply asked to respond to the idea of 'food'. Some have done so quite literally, while others' interpretations are more abstract. 'There was no pressure on how many pieces we had to make or what it was going to be,’ says Macuga, who met Napoleone at one of her get-togethers and has produced a series of collages compiled from old Russian cookbooks. ‘It is quite a nice thing when you approach artists, because everyone will interpret the book as they like'.
Published by Germany's Koenig Books and spanning 144 pages, the hardback compendium comes cased in a fabric that appears to change colour as you move it. London-based agency Åbäke, who designed the book, has also used an expressive, custom typeface to capture to capture Napoleone's personality, and the tome's pages feature essays by London restaurateur and art enthusiast Mark Hix, as well as Frieze magazine editor, Jennifer Higgie.
With a portion of its profits going to Down Syndrome Education International (a cause that has personal significance for Napoleone), the publication is a labour of love that took three years to complete, which is palpable on every page. ‘This book is very personal to me and my life,’ says Napoleone. ‘It’s a book that will age beautifully with lots of pots of oil on it.'