Leave Me Alone With the Recipes: The Life, Art, and Cookbook of Cipe Pineles

The story of how this manuscript was found, and eventually published, is a serendipitous adventure, with many discoveries about the woman who created it, and connections with some of the people who knew her. In 2013 Sarah Rich was at an exhibition of the California International Antiquarian Book Fair in San Francisco. It was a chilly, somewhat gloomy day, and the books on display seemed to mirror that atmosphere. All the book jackets were in muted, dull color tones until, “The climactic moment of our visit to the fair could only be captured in the most brilliant hues, for the work we found that morning felt as new and bright as if the paint had been laid down yesterday. We were stopped in our tracks by a woman we’d never heard of and would never be lucky enough to meet, but would spend the next three years getting to know.” The eye-catching work was in a glass display case. It was a set of original paintings illustrating a compilation of recipes for traditional Jewish foods, in the East European style, but nothing else about the book, dated 1945, was traditional. The book had full-page, vibrant illustrations, brilliantly worked in gouache (opaque watercolor paints), accompanied by hand-written instructions in the most meticulous typeface. The layout of every page was different so that each one grabbed your attention with a glorious surprise and delight. The book’s title can be interpreted in at least two ways. Don’t bother me with recipes because I don’t need any--I know how to cook! Or, don’t bother me because I want to cook, paint, write–create! So began a quest, by Sarah Rich, Wendy McNaughton, Maria Popova and Debbie Millman to find out more about the book's creator and to get the book published.

As they would learn, she was Cipe Pineles (1908-1991), aka C. P. Pineles, the first female art director at Condé Nast Incorporated; the first independent female graphic designer in America; the first female member of the Art Directors Club; and the first woman inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. She was posthumously awarded the lifetime achievement medal from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, known as the Nobel Prize of design.  She was an innovator and pioneer in art and media, and an immigrant to the United States. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1908, and the fourth of five children, she immigrated to the United States in 1915. She was a student at Bay Ridge High School in Brooklyn and won a Tiffany Foundation Scholarship to the Pratt Institute. Beyond being a “first female” or a trailblazer in the predominantly male world of advertising, design, publishing and illustration, Cipe was an innovator in the visual and written presentation of advertising. The discovered book was evidence of her originality and unique perspective. And the four women learned that Cipe Pineles was generous in helping others--a true mentor to many who were or would become well known.

The book is arranged in chapters. The introduction and first eight chapters are written by people who worked in various professions, and shared their experiences and thoughts about the most remarkable Cipe.  The ninth chapter, “Leave Me Alone with the Recipes," is the original book. The tenth chapter, “Cipe’s Recipes Revisited,” is by Sarah Rich who adds, “I’ve attempted to repair what may be broken, update what’s no longer feasible or appropriate to our culinary moment, yet at the same time preserve the intention and integrity of the original dish.” She adds that the recipes were probably recited to Cipe by her mother. I will add that this is part of the oral tradition of food preparation, among home cooks and/or experienced chefs, who know by experience about quantities, methods of cooking and taste.

Throughout almost all of the book, including the end papers, the book is generously accompanied by the illustrations of Cipe Pineles.Those illustrations have the color and vibrancy that are reminiscent of the works of Feodor Rojankovsky, who illustrated and wrote numerous children’s books. And of the work of Eszter Haraszty, who was also an innovative woman, known for her use of vibrant colors and bold designs, as documented in the Knoll archive.  The Los Angeles Public Library owns one biography: Cipe Pineles: a life of design, which is excellent, but I think the work and contributions of Cipe Pineles deserves further research--perhaps another biography. For those interested in more of her other art work, it can be found at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Cary Graphic Arts Collection.