Greytown illustrator Giselle Clarkson with Egg and Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook, shortlisted this morning for a book award. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

Story by Tom Taylor

A cookbook with a local flavour is in the running for a national book award.

From a pool of 166 entries, 28 finalists for the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced yesterday.

Among the five finalists in the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction category was Egg and Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook, featuring recipes by Pipi Cafe owner and chef Alexandra Tylee.

Pipi was an iconic pizza stop on Greytown’s Main St until Tylee relocated the cafe to Havelock North.

The book had another Wairarapa connection in the form of freelance illustrator Giselle Clarkson.

Having only moved to Greytown about a year ago, Clarkson had never crossed paths with Tylee, and the first she heard about Pipi was when publisher Gecko Press contacted her about Egg and Spoon.

Clarkson was previously known to Gecko for her work illustrating Joy Cowley anthology The Gobbledegook Book, which was a finalist in the 2020 awards.

The publisher gave her some of Tylee’s sample recipes for which Clarkson sent back some test illustrations.

“I went back, and they said, ‘That’s great, this is going to be perfect’.”

After this initial contact came a gap of almost a year while Tylee completed her recipes.

Some of these recipes were taken directly from the cafe, such as the famous Pipi Pizza. Others were Tylee’s personal creations.

Clarkson took inspiration from the cafe for the palette of the cookbook – both the cafe and the book were swathed in a warm pink.

“The whole restaurant has its own incredible aesthetic that Alexandra has created, which is just pink – but in the best possible way,” Clarkson said. “It’s warm and cosy, like slipping into a hug.”

Many customers tended to confuse Pipi as being named after its owner, Tylee, rather its true inspiration, the pipi shell. However, for Clarkson, the story of the cafe had taken on its own life.

“You could imagine the character of Pipi being a young girl in a princess costume but also in red bands and stomping off down the paddock with a boiled egg in her pocket to eat later.”

Clarkson agreed with the suggestion that some of her work was reminiscent of Roald Dahl illustrator Sir Quentin Saxby Blake.

“Clearly, he is an influence on me. It’s not intentional that I work in that way, but it doesn’t surprise me that people see me like that.”

However, Clarkson’s style had also developed as a result of her wide-ranging experiences before becoming an illustrator.

Until about six years ago, she was working as a forestry surveyor. Before that, she had volunteered on remote islands with the Department of Conservation.

“I’m really keen on conservation and environmental stuff, so a lot of my work does go into that area.”

Clarkson’s other work involved science communication: Turning research into comics that could be distributed in schools or through social media.

However, Clarkson said the ultimate goal was always to illustrate children’s books.

“That’s exactly what I wanted, really. Ever since I decided I wanted to be an illustrator I wanted to get to the children’s books. That was the goal.”

With her illustrations for Egg and Spoon helping it reach the finals of the children’s book awards, that goal was already a reality.

Award winners will be announced at a ceremony in Wellington on August 11.



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