Transforming one of the most popular sections on her blog, “Color Studies,” into a full-on cookbook, Vibrant Food is the brainchild of color-obsessed blogger Kimberley Hasselbrink of The Year in Food. A prismatic study of a year in cooking, the book highlights peak produce in each season through a collection of recipes that morphs in hue, texture and flavor as the year unfolds. Inspired by the notion of eating with your eyes, Kimberley’s focus embraces a uniquely visual, and ultimately very nutritious, approach to eating—one in which color is the star, and creative play is highly encouraged. I caught up with the San Francisco-based blogger to discuss inspiration, shopping seasonally, and how we can all create vibrant tables in our own home.
BOOKTRIB: When did your affection for colorful produce begin?
KH: Having gone to art school, I was brought back to that place of thinking about light and color more abstractly and creatively—and thinking about produce as this beautiful thing visually, not just what tastes good and how I can cook it. So that really reinvigorated me. It was so fun to go to the market and think about color instead of just thinking what I’m going to eat for dinner.
BT: I know you don’t claim to take a nutritional approach, but you can’t argue with the fact that cooking and consuming a wide range of colorful produce is going to naturally encourage a healthier diet.
KH: I do care about eating healthy food. I just think that when we obsess too much about the nutritional data it takes some of the pleasure out of eating. So I care about both—I care about enjoying a meal, and I care about it being healthy. And the beauty about looking for colors is that you get both. If I’m eating a diet like this, it’s inherently healthier, without my having to obsess over the details.
BT: The Japanese are often credited with the practice of eating with their eyes. Would you say that this is a part of how you consume food?
KH: Yes, it is. I can’t say that I do that at every meal, but I think the core of what I’m going for is the presentation, the color, the composition, and the structure of the dish. All of it makes eating a more pleasurable experience. When I chose the word “vibrant” at the beginning of this project, I was only thinking color, but then I realized all of those other details have just as much of a role in making a vibrant dish as the color does.
BT: What tips do you have for people looking to creative more vibrant food in their own homes?
KH: I think farmer’s markets are the perfect place to begin. I know that’s not easy for everyone, but farmer’s markets are blowing up nationwide, and I think it’s really easy to go to a farmer’s market and look for color and find it. Another thing I love doing is asking the farmers or the vendors how they like to prepare the vegetables. And if you don’t have access to a farmer’s market, then I would suggest making a beeline for the produce section and going for what draws you in. Find a vegetable you’re curious about, or whose color most excites you. See what other people are doing with it and go from there.
BT: Your cookbook is so informational! What do you hope people take away from it?
KH: I hope that people will be inspired to step out of their comfort zone a bit and pick up that weird vegetable that they’ve never worked with and have fun with it. I hope to inspire people to find joy in food. Don’t feel obligated to eat kale because it’s good for you, but find a kale recipe you really love so that it’s easy for you to eat and enjoy it.
BT: Is there anything else besides color that you would classify as an essential component to a vibrant meal?
KH: Dynamic flavor. If you’re given a really colorful plate of food that tastes bland, you can’t call it vibrant. I’ve given a lot of thought to big, bold flavor pairings and I think that’s an essential component, just as much as color.
Reprinted with permission from Vibrant Food written and photographed by Kimberley Hasselbrink (TenSpeed Press, © 2014).