A side project: how Ingreedies was born

Applying a trusted approach

Since I co-founded the company in 2004, Applied Works has enjoyed working on a fascinating spread of topics for a wide and varied list of clients — from the evolution of the sauropod dinosaurs for Nature magazine to live tracking of a North Pole speed record attempt for Ben Saunders. Having a rich mixture of stories and subjects is what feeds our creativity and studio culture. The best projects often begin with a compelling problem, that is best solved by crafting and shaping the delivery of narrative content.

Capturing the drama of polar exploration with real-time expedition tracking

That approach lent itself conveniently to a problem that was presenting itself regularly at home around 2010, when my then-girlfriend Zoë Bather (now-wife), was introduced to the daily frustrations of family mealtimes with my daughters Lottie and Tia (then aged 9 and 7). Lottie was adventurous but unpredictable (she’d try frogs legs whilst on holiday in France but get home and decide she no longer liked potatoes), while Tia was the archetypal fussy eater, dissecting her food and picking out the bits.

Lottie & Tia, our guinea pigs

We weren’t sure how to crack the problem, but were committed to ensuring we always ate dinner together as a family around the dinner table, and would be eating the same dish. This ultimately meant getting them invested in the food we were cooking. We had some initial success through giving them a choice of recipes for the week, getting them to find ingredients at the supermarket, smelling a spice or asking them to give the pan a stir. We also encouraged constructive feedback — “What didn’t you like? Why didn’t you like it?” Mealtimes would often continue to be frustrating, but they began to appreciate both the time it took to cook them their dinner, and the breadth of choice they could have if they played their cards right.

Tia’s feedback for Mexican mole and borscht soup

To broaden our repertoire of family meals we began to buy as many cookery books as we could fit in the 2-bedroom flat we were all sharing (we’ve since upgraded to a larger house with metres and metres of dedicated shelving). What we couldn’t seem to find were any decent cookery books that kids would be interested in. There were loads of great family cookbooks aimed at parents, but very few aimed at kids; many followed a tired, gender-stereotyped ‘bake with mum’ format or attempted to disguise rather than celebrate the raw ingredients. The seed of an idea was being planted…

Zoë in Kerala, India

Zoë and I are both designers with a fairly insatiable appetite for discovering new food, especially on holiday. A country’s cuisine is bound up in its people, its history and its culture, and is a richly fascinating thing to explore. The girls seemed to share this fascination as it afforded them the chance to hear stories, learn about ingredients and even role play. It was this combination of being inventive with food, understanding the basic flavour combinations of different cuisines and adding interesting facts that led to the idea of a character based food brand, and a book. Once we settled on the name Ingreedies we decided to go for it, and dedicated a day a week in 2012 to making it happen.

Team Ingreedies: Joe Sharpe, Zoë Bather & Chris Dickason

After some clumsy and uninspired attempts at creating the characters ourselves we looked through the online portfolios of lots of illustrators. We were specifically looking for a style which would appeal to both kids and parents, full of humour and personality and beautifully crafted. We loved Chris Dickason’s work and when we met we instantly clicked — we shared a sense of humour and his enthusiasm for food was clear. More importantly, he completely bought into Ingreedies and became a third member of the team. There was real magic creating the characters with Chris — we had a basic premise for having a character for each food group, but each of their personalities came out of the creative process of working together.

Sketches by Chris Dickason

The MeBook led directly to a commission from Laurence King Publishing for a 64-page fully illustrated book based on our original concept, ‘Around the World With The Ingreedies — A Taste Adventure’ which went on sale this week. The book contains maps, recipes and illustrated fact spreads that take you on a journey through 13 countries, each one focusing on a specific theme such as how food is preserved in Sweden, or how the brigade system works in a French restaurant. The spread below explores the differences in ingredients and cooking in the north and south of India.

Around The World With The Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure, India spread

All the recipes we developed needed reference to a particular story, unusual ingredient or interesting fact and had to be appealing to both parents and children alike. For example in China we look at the unusual cooking utensils you’d find in a Chinese kitchen, and at the street food available in the night markets. This connects to the recipe, Dan Dan Noodles, named after the pole market vendors carry on their shoulders that have noodles at one end and broth at the other. The key ingredient is Sichuan peppercorns which can make your mouth go numb.

Around The World With The Ingreedies, China street food spread

We recipe-tested extensively before finalising each dish, going through several rounds of iterations to make them as child-friendly and simple to make as possible. Each is broken into three steps, with a specific place where kids can get involved. The Cheesy Chivey Pie recipe suggests frying onions, rolling pastry and crimping the pie lid. We also included preparation and cooking times, to help parents plan their week of meals (an essential piece of information, often missing in recipes).

Around The World With The Ingreedies, British Isles recipe spread

We believe food has the power to educate children about the world around them. Our aim is to continue to inspire kids to get excited about mealtimes through activities, events and stories, and leave them with a greater love and understanding of food. If you feel the same way, please help us by sharing this post or recommending our book – and watch this space!