Canteen: Great British Food – Cass Titcombe, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton-Malone


Canteen: Great British Food
Cass Titcombe, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton-Malone

Published by Ebury Press, 2010 (Hardback)
Graphic Design: Hudson-Powell
Photography: Angela Moore
Styling: Sarah May
Additional photographs: Vanessa Lewis and Steve Theodorou

At first glance, this book appears as a pastiche of wartime design: the cover references the now famous poster ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ which taps into an idea of stoical, sensible Britishness that is able to laugh while finding practical solutions to adversity. However, on closer inspection, the design reveals itself to be less traditional than it first appears: there is a quirkiness to the typography of the book that positions the design, despite the nods to tradition, in the contemporary. The design very cleverly appeals to an audience who are seeking familiarity and comfort but who are also design aware, citing the Festival of Britain as one of the pivotal moments in British design history. I would also suggest that this is a book that is aimed at men: there is an understated masculinity inherent in the design of the book and a simplicity in the layout of the recipes that addresses a particular kind of solid ‘no-nonsense’ British masculinity that is enjoying a revival at the present time.

The photographs in the book amplify this mood: the use of stuffed wild animals and the locating of some photographs in the British countryside; and the choice of crockery, cutlery and utensils that denote the Festival of Britain along with Formica tabletops that have connotations of the British greasy spoon all place this book in a moment in British history that possibly never existed. Like the design of the book the photographs have connotations of solid, dependable British masculinity but are tempered by an eccentricity and sensitivity by the use of flowers and the aforementioned stuffed animals. In many ways, this book is a distillation of what designers such as Paul Smith and Margaret Howell have been presenting to the public for decades: an idea of classic Britishness with a twist.

The book functions extremely well as a practical book with well-designed recipes that are extremely easy to follow - boldly numbered stages within the method are an excellent idea; the book is easy to navigate with strong running heads and a useful,contents page and index - these are all achieved with minimal means. The book also functions well in amplifying the Canteen brand - it is a perfect embodiment of the ethos of the restaurant and the design, typography and photographs makes the reader want to cook the recipes contained within it.

Front cover
The cover is purely typographic: the title of the book is the dominant element on the cover, it is set in uppercase ITC Johnston bold and is foil-embossed in shiny black on a buff uncoated paper that is the colour of manilla envelopes. The title is centred, arranged over three lines with open linespacing, and appears in the centre of the cover. Above the title, close to the top edge of the cover, is the word ‘Canteen’, set in uppercase ITC Johnston Bold and foil embossed in shiny black at a much smaller point size than the title. At the bottom edge of the cover are the names of the authors which are set over two lines in centred titlecase Garamond and foil embossed in shiny black.

The deceptively simple cover is rich with connotations. The choice of an uncoated paper for the cover gives the book a tactile quality which invites the bookshop browser to pick up the book and the manilla colour has connotations of the stationery cupboard; of envelopes, folders and shorthand notebooks suggesting a no-nonsense functionality. Of course, you could argue that an uncoated paper is not a functional choice for a book that will sit on the kitchen worktop getting splashed with oil, but a further connotation of the material is of baking parchment, which suggests that this book would be well placed in the kitchen.

The choice of typeface has connotations of Britishness: Johnston is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed by Edward Johnston in 1916, it is familiar to most people as the typeface for the London Underground and carries with it a slightly old-fashioned but comfortable and familiar idea of Britishness. This sense of Britishness is important: the Canteen restaurant and the book, are built on an idea of traditional - and somewhat old-fashioned - British dishes: pies, stews and puddings.

The cover also has echoes of the morale-boosting ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster produced by the Ministry of Information in 1939, during the second world war. The poster itself is set in Gill sans but the layout is strikingly similar. By referencing this poster, the design of the book taps into the nostalgia, amongst certain people, for aspects of the British character that was seen as at its best during wartime: a stoical, stiff-upper-lipped outlook that sang its way through the blitz. This nostalgia for a mythical British past can be seen in the middle classes’ embracing of retro items such as the Roberts Revival RD60 radio and Cath Kidston’s chintz teacups - the design of the Canteen restaurants taps into this nostalgia adding a contemporary design twist.

A further connotation, created by the reference to the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster, is of wartime identity cards and ration books; a time of great hardship but paradoxically, a time that the population of the UK was fit and healthy on a restricted diet that largely consisted of home-grown seasonal vegetables. This practical and sensible approach to eating, brought on by adversity, reflects the ethos of the book and of the restaurant: simple, unfussy dishes made from seasonal British food; an idea that is perhaps, like the poster itself, perfect for a time of recession when the population are not only tightening their belts but are seeking comfort and familiarity of the past.


Inside Pages
The book is 16 cm by 22 cm and is printed full colour on recycled grey uncoated paper. Like many recycled papers, the choice of paper here has a tactile quality and contains small flecks and inconsistencies: this echoes the choice of paper for the cover and gives the book both visual and physical interest and appeal. The layout has a clean, crisp simplicity, it is based on a grid of two equal-sized columns with a narrow inside margin, a wider outside margin and a shallow top margin containing running heads and pagination. Body text is ranged left with a ragged right.

The book uses the two typefaces used on the cover: Garamond and ITC Johnston. One size and weight of Garamond, in Roman and italic is used throughout the book. Three sizes and one weight of ITC Johnston are used: recipes are set in uppercase, ranged left and indented from the body text; recipe titles are centred, slightly larger than the body text; running heads are the same size as the body text and are set in uppercase and placed towards the central gutter; chapter openings are centred uppercase in a slightly smaller size than on the cover. The hierarchy of the different types of information is created in a fairly traditional manner that will be familiar and comfortable to most readers - the design maintains a contemporary feel by hanging all of the body text from the top of the page under a printed line that divides the pagination and body text with unequal column lengths creating a varied space along the bottom edge that is pleasing to the eye; this small detail also very cleverly stops the book feeling too retro.

One slightly jarring typographic note is the use of old style/aligning numerals: old style ITC Johnston numerals are used for quantities in the ingredients list which look odd because the list is set in uppercase and the numerals appear at the start of each line; elsewhere ITC Johnston aligning numerals are used within the method to number each part of the process; in the method itself, aligning Garamond numerals are used which is surprising, given that Garamond has a very elegant set of old style numerals. I suspect that this perhaps unconventional use of numerals is an attempt to make the design feel less traditional, creating a contemporary feel by using these awkward quirks.

The book is divided into chapters that cover different meals: Breakfast and All Day; Starters, Small Dishes and Soups; Mains; Puddings and Deserts; etc. The Mains chapter is divided into sections that deal with types of main courses: Pies; Stews; Roasts and Grills; etc. The chapter and section openings are designed in the same style as the front cover and generally appear on the verso. This is an easy book to navigate: running heads indicate the reader’s position in the book; a contents page with a well-considered typographic hierarchy clearly shows the contents; and a simply designed index allows the reader to locate specifics within the book.

Colour photography is used to both illustrate the finished dishes and in a more documentary manner showing food being prepared and served in the Canteen restaurant. In addition, there are photographs of still-lifes that show faintly surreal tableaus of food within the natural environment; in some of the images, stuffed animals - chickens, hares, deer and hedgehogs are placed alongside the food. This is quite disconcerting and, in a couple of images, which juxtapose large mice with English cheeses, just seems wrong and sends out confusing messages about the standards of hygiene in the restaurant. Most of the photographs, with or without wild animals, are heavily styled: a jug of cream is arranged on a pile of crockery, its contents pouring onto a steamed syrup pudding - and all over the tabletop; elsewhere, a Christmas pudding is precariously balanced on a skewed pile of pastel-coloured plates. Despite these theatrics, the food generally takes centre stage and is presented on a collection of crockery, glasses and cutlery that channel the forward-thinking but comfortable design of the Festival of Britain, however, the viewer is likely to be distracted by the sometimes odd choice and placing of accessories - flowers stuck in a bowl of mustard or in a pepperpot, or a thrush about to land on a soused herring for example.

Photographs are generally shown full bleed - usually on a single page but with some double page spreads. The food is photographed in a variety of ways but unity is achieved by consistent lighting and colour: the photographs have heightened natural colour, they are rich and saturated with golden browns, dark greens, rich reds and warm oranges dominating; the photographs have been shot in a diffused light with few shadows - despite many of the photographs being shot outdoors, the diffused shadows and even light suggest that artificial light was used.

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