That’s me, Jo Richardson, long-standing freelance book editor-cum-writer specializing in food and drink – a subject I hold dear personally just as much as professionally. And I’ve had the good fortune to work on the content of some of the most accomplished food writers, bloggers and producers; cooks, home economists and chefs of the contemporary scene.
Another great love of mine is the Isle of Wight, first smitten many years ago now in a bid to escape the dust and throng of London one sunny-forecast weekend. It struck me how accessible the Island was and yet a world apart in its essential nature – distinct and distinctive. And so I, with my husband Paul (the greatest love of my life), set about planning and plotting over the next few years to decamp to the Island permanently, from where we have barely glanced back for the last decade and a half.
I have always cooked, largely making it up as I go along but drawing inspiration from cooking concepts and trends current and past, often in a quest to eat more healthily but not worthily. Set free in spirit on the Island, I felt moved to develop recipes in earnest and methodically, and I soon discovered the wealth of amazing food and drink products available right on my doorstep.
The next move was obvious – to bring my (and Paul’s) book publishing expertise to bear on my (our) joint passions for food and the Isle of Wight and deliver this labour of love.
What I’ve created is not a book of favourite recipes from celebrity foodies. It’s a culinary odyssey by an everyday yet enthusiastic investigative cook, exploring and learning as I go. It’s my kind of achievable and joyful cooking for Island dwellers and lovers, including those self-catering or planning to take a taste of the Wight back home with them.
It proved both portentous and fortuitous that, soon after my husband Paul and I moved to the Isle of Wight some 15 years ago, I ran into my former work colleague back in the day Ben Wood, he having since earned considerable renown as a photographer. I was then fascinated to chart at close hand his further creative ventures, not least into illustrating and writing his own books, first in the form of The Island, a personal, largely photographic portrait of the Wight’s landscape and life, and more recently a high-spec tome on the classic sailing yacht Mariquita.
So when I experienced my own rush of blood to the head and hatched the idea for The Isle of Wight Feast of Food and Drink, I couldn’t have wished for anyone better qualified and placed to translate my vision into a reality than Ben. The only question was, would he be prepared to take on the commission? My madcap notion not only to photograph every dish – a rarity in cookbooks these days – but in a particular setting and as much as possible plein air presented technical challenges that most photographers would have baulked at. Yet instead, Ben seemed to relish the prospect, and his zeal, confidence and consummate skill shine through in the vibrancy and quality of the resulting images.
Then there were the uphill logistical challenges for me, too, such as when it came to precooking and transporting some of the more delicate items to the location intact, or finish-cooking on a camping stove on site so that the food looked – and indeed was in reality – good enough to eat. While for Ben Steephill Cove looms large in the memory, for me it was the mighty St Boniface Down where we staged our picnic that very nearly felled me, literally. Heavy rain the night before had temporarily rendered the short but steep stretch of exposed chalk path down to our chosen panoramic spot as slippery as ice. So making like the goats that inhabit St Boniface, we had to pick our way pluckily down the path while pack-horsing all the necessary items of kit such as props various, photographic equipment and, not to be forgotten, the picnic grub itself. I was clutching the pastry plait pie sitting lovingly wrapped on my trusty wooden chopping board ready to be immortalized, and though designed to be portable enough, wasn’t going to survive the tumble I started to take as I suddenly lost adhesion on the slope. A hand from high – or was it Esther’s? – miraculously intervened to stop me falling flat, pie in face. Not a good look for either party.
In this way, we sought to make a virtue out of necessity in our approach to the food photography, choosing integrity, immediacy and accessibility over pristine presentation. Which is just a fancy way of saying ‘warts and all’.
One unexpected added joy of doing the shoots, and indeed putting together the book as a whole, has been to experience the generosity of so many folk, some of whom have continued to remain behind the scenes, in terms of their time and creative and/or practical input. Though I have named names and conveyed my deepest thanks in the book’s Acknowledgements, that doesn’t express the sheer pleasure and boost to my spirits that I got from their company and enthusiastic support when it really counted. In the end, it’s always the team effort that wins the day and is all the more rewarding and memorable in the process.