• Tara Ward

Talking to the Team Behind Egg & Spoon

It’s October and boy do we have a treat for you! This month, Gecko Press is releasing an absolutely delectable Aotearoa title that will have your mouth watering and tastebuds tingling! Egg & Spoon, by chef and author Alexandra Tylee, and illustrator Giselle Clarkson is available for preorder now — but before you rush to buy a copy, or while you wait for it to hit the shelves of your local bookstore, read this interview with Alexandra and Giselle by the lovely Tara Ward.

Alexandra Tylee (left) and Giselle Clarkson (right) at the launch of Egg & Spoon (Photographed by Renae Monroy of Cycle Nation)

If you’re looking for a cookbook that will feed the mind and fill the heart, look no further than Egg & Spoon, the gorgeous new collaboration between chef Alexandra Tylee and illustrator Giselle Clarkson. It’s a fun collection of healthy and easy-to-make meals for children ('sometimes, all you need is an egg and spoon'), and its pages are filled with vibrant illustrations that pulse with colour and imagination.

This bright and bold cookbook celebrates the skills of both its creators. It’s unusual for authors and illustrators to work closely on a book, but Giselle and Alexandra wanted to share a similar vision for Egg & Spoon. Alexandra’s colourful Hawkes Bay restaurant Pipi was a strong influence, and before Giselle started work on the book, she stayed with Alexandra for a few days to better understand Pipi’s aesthetic.

'Pipi is like walking into a hug. It’s so pink and wonderful and warm and inviting,' Giselle explains, and opening Egg & Spoon feels exactly the same way. The pages sing with sumptuous pinks, golds and greens, and Giselle’s illustrations create a whimsical world that captures the joyful spirit of Alexandra’s words. 'We wanted a sense of faded glamour, like a princess who’s wearing a tutu with gumboots, or drinking from a dainty teacup with her pet snail. It’s the contrast,' Giselle says.

A spread from Egg & Spoon, by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)

There’s contrast, but there’s also a beautiful balance in Egg and Spoon, because Giselle and Alexandra’s work complements each other to breathe life and energy onto the page. Together, they’re taking us to a world where peacocks gobble down jam on toast, where dragonflies hover over a freshly baked chocolate cake, and where the perfect boiled egg wears a golden crown. It's a magical place that looks good enough to eat, long before you’ve started cooking.

The pages sing with sumptuous pinks, golds and greens, and Giselle’s illustrations create a whimsical world that captures the joyful spirit of Alexandra’s words.

Giselle admits to having intense food visions while she worked on Egg & Spoon, and is proud of the way she bought Alexandra’s recipes to life. 'It’s quite hard to create a cookbook without photos,' she says. 'Usually you flick through a cookbook, and you want to see something you want to eat, and then you’ll decide to make it. I have to make things look real delicious, so that people are like, oh, it’s so succulent and juicy.'

A spread from Egg & Spoon, by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)

It works a treat, because the food in Egg & Spoon does look appealing. Alexandra’s recipes cater to all tastes in the family, with simple recipes for young cooks and more complex creations for adventurous chefs. Every food occasion is covered, from breakfast to puddings to celebrations, and the recipes will appeal to adults as much as children. The ingredients are healthy and easy to source, and Alexandra includes simple swaps to make each recipe vegan, gluten free or dairy free.

Alexandra’s recipes cater to all tastes in the family, with simple recipes for young cooks and more complex creations for adventurous chefs.

Best of all, Egg & Spoon encourages kids to ignore the rules, and experiment in the kitchen. Cooking is an individual thing, Alexandra says in the book, and kids should feel confident to try things without worrying about doing it perfectly.

A page from Egg & Spoon, by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)

That’s because Egg & Spoon is about more than just the recipes, it’s about how food makes us feel. It’s about connecting to the world around us (there’s a section on foraging, which Alexandra hopes will help children understand where their food comes from) and the value of using simple ingredients. 'You remember your grandmother cooking when you were a child, and I’ve started to open my eyes to that,' Alexandra says. 'It gives you so much pleasure, and takes you back to what’s important.'

Egg & Spoon encourages kids to ignore the rules, and experiment in the kitchen.

Finding pleasure in small things is a theme that runs through Egg & Spoon, with Giselle scattering tiny surprises throughout to delight young imaginations. There’s the brown snail sliding away from the bowl of lettuce soup, the queen bee holding a spoon above a cup of honey panna cotta, and the caption under an enormous raw strawberry cheesecake that reads ‘technically, this is just one piece of cake’.

A spread from Egg & Spoon, by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)

'I never had to actually draw the food,' Giselle says of these unexpected details. 'I could pick up on one tiny thing in the recipe and use that to base my drawings around, like the taco recipe. It happens to have avocado in it, so I could go from there to drawing an alligator.' While Pipi was the main influence on Egg & Spoon, it was important that Giselle had the freedom to add her own individuality. 'She has an amazing sense of humour,' Alexandra says. 'We didn’t want to squash that, and I think it’s come through.'

Egg & Spoon is about more than just the recipes, it’s about how food makes us feel.

It’s unusual to have a cookbook without photographs, but in Egg & Spoon, it feels right. 'I think it’s a bit freer, because it’s not as personal. It leaves more to the imagination,' Alexandra says. Giselle agrees, and hopes her illustrations encourage kids to be creative. 'I did try to get a sense of being untidy and ridiculous, with spilt things – cereal overflowing a bit, a few splatters, baked beans falling off the plate and going everywhere.' Egg & Spoon knows that cooking with children can be messy and chaotic, but still fun.

A spread from Egg & Spoon, by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)

Egg & Spoon is a treasure. It’s a gem filled with colour, humour and wonder, and treats children as capable, clever humans. 'It was a big thing for me not to dumb it down,' Alexandra says of her first cookbook for children. 'Kids can cook anything, really'. Giselle agrees. 'With Egg and Spoon there’s some guidance, but it also implies confidence in kids abilities. If they don’t get it right the first time or it’s a bit untidy, who cares? It’s all part of the learning.'

Egg & spoon

by Alexandra Tylee, Illustrated by Giselle Clarkson Gecko Press

RRP: $39.99

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tara ward

Tara Ward is a New Plymouth-based freelance writer, reality TV junkie, longtime silent reader and wrangler of two small people. She writes about television for The Spinoff and promises to never stop banging on about the time she gatecrashed Dr Chris Warner’s 50th birthday party.