Creativity is, of course, nothing new in the kitchen. But it’s rare that crayons get to mingle with cleavers, pastry bags and the oft-tattooed arms of celebrity chefs, as they do in Brooklyn-resident André Mack’s self-designed coloring book, Small Thyme Cooks.
You might know André Mack’s name as that of a sommelier (he’s an alum of The French Laundry and Per Se) and winemaker (he launched his own wine company, Mouton Noir, in 2007), but you may not have known that he’s also a talented, witty and self-taught designer. “The whole idea actually came from Easter eggs,” he said. “In wine right now, the ‘in’ thing over the last 5 years is these concrete eggs — you ferment the wines in a concrete egg, and inside, it has a vortex so that nothing really settles on bottom. (Usually when you put wine in a vessel, all the dead yeast cells fall to the bottom of the vessel.) I’ve always seen these eggs and thought, wouldn’t it be fun if we just decorated these big eggs like Easter eggs, with chalk or something? That’s kind of just how I see the world.”
So, letting his imagination run, Mack designed some Easter-egg-wine-egg coloring pages and passed them over to his kids. “And then I thought, man, this is a great idea. I should create a coloring book for wine people.” That was about three years ago, and until this past November, his idea for a wine lover’s activity book was a creative fantasy. “It was one of those things where I was like, wouldn’t it be cool if this existed? Whatever ‘this’ is?” he said. But in November, following the passing of chef Charlie Trotter, in whose wine department Mack staged, Mack was inspired to revisit the project seriously. “I realized that this shouldn’t just be a wine thing — it should be celebration of the whole industry. And why not celebrate Charlie, and get a bunch of chefs together to contribute?” Mack,who didn’t go to school for graphic design but learned it because he couldn’t afford a graphic designer for his wine labels, pulled together the book’s 52 pages in under a month, selecting chefs — many of whom he’s worked with or eaten with, and many of whom he considers friends — and designing each of their activity pages.
“For some of the chefs, the puzzles came to mind right away. Wouldn’t it be cool for someone to design a chef’s coat? Marcus Samuelsson is a pretty stylish guy. That’s his page,” said Mack. “And for Wylie Dufresne, it’s a logic problem. It’s about sous vide.” On other pages, colorers both big and small — ”This is an adult-friendly coloring book. Kids will color anything,” he said. “It’s meant for people who are into food or into restaurants, regardless of how old [they] might be.” — are invited to become acquainted with chefs like April Bloomfield, Daisuke Nakazawa and Dan Barber; “beet” box with Alice Waters; write their own James Beard Award acceptance speech; cut out a restaurant critic disguise kit; crayon tattoos onto the arms of Sam Mason; forage for mushrooms with Anthony Bourdain and test their sauce knowledge in a crossword puzzle called “Word to Your Mother Sauces.”
Some of the proceeds of Small Thyme Cooks will go to Trotter’s charitable foundation, the Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation, which helps fund Chicago-area high school students interested in pursuing culinary arts after they graduate. “I was also so inspired by the way he gave back,” said Mack of his time staging with Trotter and observing the late chef’s involvement in the community. “He would do these after-school meals, have kids come and have a free three-course meal from one of the best restaurants in the world — for free. And we had a nonalcoholic drink pairing for them.” And what better way to honor his efforts in the community than with a coloring book? “It’s a way to celebrate some of the best chefs in this country through a children’s medium,” said Mack, “which I thought was representative of the way he gave back… I don’t want it to be misconstrued as some hipster thing. It’s really about the charity. I look forward to working with some of the chefs — with charity dinners, or auctioning things off.”
Mack already has grand plans for the second volume of Small Thyme Cooks — a name he always had in his head (“Probably after Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks, which is one of my favorite movies.”) — and highlighting more chefs in the hopes of raising awareness of the work, culinary and philanthropic, that they do. The project has not only made Mack more aware about the great work chefs — especially chefs whose names aren’t yet so well known — are doing, but has also struck an entrepreneurial nerve. “You think, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if that existed?’ And sometimes you Google it and someone’s already done it. But one time it comes up and no one is doing it,” he said. “It’s this eerie feeling that comes over you and you go, ‘Oh. Am I serious about this?’ You seek to get on the other side of that — when you have the idea and there’s nothing out there, you can go and create it. That was part of the driving force, but the other part was the drive to celebrate this industry. At some point, you want to find a new way to be able to contribute to it in your own words, in your own way.”
Feature photo courtesy of Small Thyme Cooks