Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts book launch

November 15, 2014
  • Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford interviewed by Megan Sallabedra

    On the occasion of the book launch for Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts at Twooga Booga / 356 Mission, Megan Sallabedra interviewed Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford, designers of the book.


    Megan Sallabedra: You work a lot with food. Tamara, you grew up in your family’s restaurant. Together with Jason you’ve collaborated on illustrating a food column for the New York Times magazine. You also worked together to design Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. What is the relationship at play between food and your approach to designing?

    Tamara Shopsin: My work is always about concept, and the medium changes based on the subject matter. So food is just one element in these projects. In the NYT series, “Cooking with Dexter”, we had the food play the classic “straight man” in relation to the drawing over top which was a sort of mischievous character. In Eat Me, each of the recipes has a history with family memories attached, so we tried to have the images capture some of that. 

    MS: The work you guys produce has a very specific aesthetic. How did you develop the aesthetic narrative for this book in particular, and how would you describe that narrative?

    Jason Fulford + Tamara Shopsin: In early conversations with Brooks, we all brought a lot of reference, including things like RE/SEARCH magazine, a book about the band LiLiPUT, and Punk Press. We talked about it together, and the aesthetic of the book just evolved from that. 

    The book, for us, always had two main elements: high-end food and punk. For the high-end part, we left a lot of white space in the layouts and used a classic font (Caslon). For the punk theme, we limited the color scheme to black, white and red. Originally we wanted to make the whole book black and white, but the publisher didn’t go for that. So we decided to shoot everything on either white or red, and have the color come from the food.

    It’s important for the ideas to remain in the foreground, so we don’t like to over-labor the production. We also find beauty in simplicity, and that resonates with Brooks’ ideas about ingredients. We did eight different shoots over the course of a year, partly because we had to wait for seasonal fruits and vegetables.

    MS: Brooks has a recipe called “Error Carrot Cake.” He says, “Perfection is overrated. A little sloppiness is reality. It shows vulnerability.” (p. 75) Your work in general, and in this book, feels very casual and playful to me. Are there instances in which the images we see on the page were initially unintentional?

    JF+TS: Not really. We brainstormed hardcore before each shoot, and that part was very playful and full of accidents. But when it came time to shoot, we all worked together like a machine. We shot everything at Del Posto, in a back room, and Brooks was always on the clock, so we had to be organized. Sometimes though, Brooks would bring out a dish or a seven-inch or an old t-shirt and say “what about this?” He was amazing to work with—a total pro, but also humble and funny and with good ideas.

    MS: A New York Times review of your book Mumbai, New York, Scranton, notes how in that book you use Jason’s photography to “build a larger world through association.”  I feel that a lot in Fancy Desserts. The photograph of a mixtape on page 82 faces the page for Red Pepper Jelly, and the photo’s caption, “See page 122.” takes us to the recipe for Sbrisolona. What associations are you teasing out in Fancy Desserts?

    JF+TS: On one level, the book plays out very straight-forward. But there are also hidden puzzles that you’ll find on a closer read. With the “see page” images, you see a picture out of context first. Maybe it’s confusing or funny or absurd, and then later you find the context and it has more meaning. Hopefully these little games make the book richer for people who spend time with it.

    MS: I’m really interested in the relationship between a cookbook as an object or manual, and the resulting food that’s produced through its contents. Did you make any of the recipes before conceptualizing the book’s design? Have you made any since designing the book?

    JF+TS: We normally don’t eat desserts. (Although we did eat everything we shot.) But we did try to make the Brutally Italian Almond Cake using an early recipe, and it kept failing. It tasted amazing, but turned out dense like a cookie. Then Brooks told us that the ratio of batter to pan size had been wrong. It was updated before the book went to press.


    Megan Sallabedra is an employee of Ooga Booga

  • OLDEST in concert

    OLDEST is Mick Barr and Brooks Headley
    this performance was part of the book launch for Fancy Desserts by Brooks Headley at 356 Mission
    November 15, 2014

  • Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts

    Book launch + more


    – a performance by OLDEST (Brooks Headley & Mick Barr)

    – foods by Brooks and Jessica Koslow (Sqirl)

    – a screening of Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts starring Ian Svenonius and directed by Eric Wareheim

    – DJ set by Andy Coronado

    Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 7 PM

    Twooga Booga / 356 S. Mission Road

    Tags: Andy Coronado, Brooks Headley, Eric Wareheim, Ian Svenonius, Jessica Koslow, Mick Barr, OLDEST