Down the rabbit hole with Julie Van Rosendaal and Pierre A. Lamielle

At first glance the new book by Julie Van Rosendaal and Pierre A. Lamielle appears a bit strange and potentially wonderful — like Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole.

It’s a storybook with recipes and a cookbook with a story. Or maybe it’s a happy combination of both.

Alice Eats: A Wonderland Cookbook is a beautifully illustrated book containing the original Alice in Wonderland story by Lewis Carroll along with recipes and photos for the various foods Alice encounters during her journey — from Alice’s Homemade Crumpets with Bittersweet Orange Marmalade to The Cook’s Pork and Pepper Soup to the infamous Queen of Hearts’ Jam Tarts. And of course a full spread for the Mad Hatter’s tea party including a tea a scone a savoury and a sweet for each guest. This is a book that you can snack on reading and cooking from one chapter at a time. Or you could devour it all from cover to cover in one sitting then go back to try the recipes.

During an interview with Lamielle and Van Rosendaal their conversation is an entertaining back-and-forth of genuine mutual admiration peppered with jokes. Over a basket of homemade scones still warm from the oven I learn that Lamielle did extensive research on tea including its history and traditions. “There’s a lot of rituals surrounding tea” he says.

I also learn that Van Rosendaal may have provided the inspiration for Michael Smith’s new home-style cookbook after the celebrity chef was stunned to learn how many cookbooks she’s sold with her authentic home-cooking approach. “The bestselling cookbooks in Canada aren’t celebrities” says Lamielle noting examples like the Best of Bridge and Company’s Coming . “They’re all home cooks.”

Van Rosendaal herself is the author or co-author of six cookbooks including the most recent Spilling the Beans and writes a popular blog ( dinnerwithjulie.com ) has a weekly segment on CBC Radio One’s Calgary Eyeopener and appears on TV and in numerous magazines. Lamielle is also an accomplished cook — he trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York City has his own cookbook ( Kitchen Scraps ) and teaches cooking classes. A graduate of the graphic design and illustration program at Capilano College he often combines his creative talents in his cookbooks and magazine articles as well as his food T-shirts ( foodonyourshirt.com ).

The original idea for the book came from Lamielle. He says he has been wanting to do an Alice in Wonderland cookbook since before the movie starrring Johnny Depp came out in 2010 but it was proving to be too much work on his own so he called on his friend Van Rosendaal for help. “I was throwing in the towel — the tea towel” he jokes. “Julie came over and we had crumpets.”

Van Rosendaal says she loved the idea and was happy to be a part of it. “I’ve always wanted to do a book that incorporates recipes into the storyline” she says adding that she also felt it would be a good way to introduce children to cooking.

After that meeting the project took off. The pair came up with the concepts for the recipes together then Van Rosendaal tested them and took multiple photographs. The result is entirely unique from the quirky drawings of Alice and co. to the array of tempting food. (Lamielle volunteers that his favourite is Ginger Carrot Sandwiches while Van Rosendaal eventually settles on the Sunken Dark Chocolate Cake.)

Once the book was finished they faced another hurdle when they took it to publishers who weren’t sure what to do with it. Was it a children’s book or a cookbook? How would they market it? Which shelf would the bookstores put it on? “It’s been like an adventure in Wonderland” jokes Lamielle.

In the end a publisher who has worked with Van Rosendaal before took the project on and the result is now on the shelf in bookstores — whatever shelf that might be. “I like the fact it’s different” says Van Rosendaal. “There’s so many cookbooks out there.”

Lamielle and Van Rosendaal will host a tea party and book signing at the Calgary Farmers’ Market on Saturday December 7.

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