Meet The Chef Turned Illustrator Putting The Fun Back Into Food

***Rachel Khoo would like to thank all the inspiring people who helped make the Khoollect studio a hive of creativity. Although the Khoollect studio’s doors have now closed, you can keep up with Rachel’s newest adventures on and on Rachel’s Instagram and Facebook pages – and, continue to enjoy the Khoollect website’s stories and recipes, which will remain available.***

We’re all about finding the joy in food here at Khoollect, so when we came across the pun-filled food illustrations of Letitia Clark, we knew we’d found a lifelong creative crush.

At only 30 years old she’s had the kind of career any foodie craves. As a once full-time, Leith’s-trained chef  Letitia worked for the likes of Spring, The Dock Kitchen and Morito, helped edit the latest edition of The Oxford Companion To Food (in her publishing days) and now lives in Sardinia with her own business sending gorgeous pun-filled cards and commissions across Europe – when not helping out her cheese-maker boyfriend that is.

Think it’s safe to say she’s got our life.

We popped over to her East London flat to talk all things food, Sardinian gems and her eclectic cookbook collection whilst staring enviably at her gorgeous interior details and illustrations. It’s time to find out more about the founder of Puns and Buns.

In Conversations With Letitia Clark of Puns and Buns:

Tell us some more about Puns and Buns and how it came about?
“I just felt like a lot of the food media at the moment is quite intimidating and unapproachable for a lot of people. I wanted to set up something more joyful and a bit irreverent that makes people smile because ultimately that’s what food should be about – joy and pleasure.”

“With the puns – I’d always kept little notes of food that I thought was interesting or had a silly name and I love words and word play so it just seemed kind of perfect to start drawing that. Then at the same time I started making iced buns and selling them on Druid Street Market. I used to love ice buns when I was a child – I still do – and no-one really seemed to be selling them other than supermarkets and I though ‘OK I’d like to do a really *good* version of an iced bun’. So while I was doing that this summer I started to turn the drawings into cards to sell on the stall – so puns and buns. Unfortunately I stopped making the buns because Druid Street closed and we’ve now moved to Sardinia, so I’m just selling the cards online and also turning them into prints.

“Eventually I want to do little book of food nonsense that would be a little gift or Christmas gift which people could keep in their loos or give to their mum’s in their stocking, so I’m working towards putting together enough drawings to eventually do that. Then just trying to keep up with commissions and putting together a book about Sardinian food too…”

What or who is your inspiration?
“In terms of food, I think it’s really great that the industry has finally cottoned on to this female contingent and they definitely need to be promoted and encouraged. Olia Hercules has done amazing things plus people like Maxi [Polka Pants]  – who’s promoting women looking and feeling good in kitchens – I so admire people like that. In terms of artwork, I’m quite inspired by old-school, silly sort of things. I really like Edward Lear’s limericks and nonsense and Quentin Blake and all of the children’s illustrators, who are just brilliant. There’s also a French cartoonist I love called Jean-Jacques Sempé who does really funny line drawings. Then writers – every food writer. Nigella is brilliant, I mean she’s really over the top but I think that’s the joy of her. She also believes in the pleasure of food and obviously works really hard and cares about it and her recipes are always good. Then I also love Nigel Slater because he writes so beautifully.”

What’s your favourite cookbook?
“That’s a hard one! I love Patience Gray’s Honey From A Weed, which is a really strange cookbook full of illustrations, stories and history, because it’s so unusual. I really like Elizabeth David’s’ Italian Food because that was my biggest inspiration when I moved to Sardinia and my granny gave me a really lovely Folio society copy, which also has beautiful illustrations in it. I also have my great, great granny’s 17th-century cookbook, which I think is my favourite item. Though I don’t think I can call it a cookbook because I’d never cook from it; it’s full of recipes for things like a cough syrup containing calf’s liver…”

What’s your go-to comfort foods?
“I love any white or beige foods so anything with cheese is up there. My boyfriend is actually becoming a cheesemaker back in Sardinia, so now we have cheese coming out of our eyeballs. Actually part of the reason I want to write about Sardinia’s food is to write a load of recipes using their cheese, in particular ricotta because it’s actually a by-product of the cheese production process. For example, when my boyfriend makes 20 cheeses he’ll have 13 ricottas left; so I want to come up with recipes to use it, especially in cakes and bakes and ice creams. I also have a real love of béchamel, it’s like total nostalgia for me – my mum will always make it for me when I go home. Plus the Italians have a great love for béchamel so it feels like home from home. Then I love pasta, even just plain or with just butter or olive oil. I love bread; God I love bread more than anything and I love butter. So bread, cheese, butter, béchamel, pasta…and ice cream.”

puns and buns illustrations

The ingredients you can’t live without?
“In every kitchen I’ve worked I’ve been trained to use Maldon salt and now I can’t cook without it. I know it’s a little more expensive than normal salt but for flavour and the way it’s produced it’s just so worth it. Definitely lemons, I’d be totally lost cooking without them; I put the juice in every sauce and the zest in every salad, which is something that Skye at Spring taught me. Also really good butter. I like to buy unsalted butter and then put extra salt on top because it’s nicer that way – and you really get that crunch. Then really good olive oil, again I know it’s been said a million times but it really makes a difference! Really it’s just the simple things, as long as they’re good quality you can’t really go wrong.”

So how do you stay motivated being freelance and working for yourself now? Especially after the intensity of being a chef?
“I’m not going to lie – and this is the trouble with Instagram etc. everything always seems so perfect and easy – but it’s really, really hard. I’d had someone telling me where to go and what to do for my entire life in a kitchen and to then suddenly not have that, I felt like I was floating on an island of time and had no idea what to do…

“Luckily my older brother is a freelance journalist and I spoke to him in the beginning when I was struggling and he said ‘you NEED to have a routine’. ‘Use social media for half an hour in the morning to engage and then disengage and carry on working. You need to exercise. You need to have set meal times. You need to get dressed in the morning’ – which I still struggle with – ‘and you just need to have the same kind of routine you have if you have a normal, everyday job,’ which was so helpful. For me, exercise is a major part of it but I loathe the gym and refuse to pay for the misery of having to go so I just have to run because it’s free and it’s easy. I can’t say I’m a runner, or that I enjoy it when I’m doing it but when I finish, I feel a million times better and it’s totally necessary for me to maintain any kind of sanity.”

What would you say has been a highlight of the past year?
“The Evening Standard mentioned in one of their ‘Instagram accounts to follow’, which was amazing since I’m a total technological dinosaur and I’d only done about 80 posts by that point (laughing). Then I found Emiko Davies on Instagram and she messaged me to say that she loved my illustrations which was really, really encouraging because I love her work. Mainly it’s just whenever people say positive things about my drawings because sometimes you are just sat there drawing a pear holding a briefcase thinking ‘what am I doing with my life – I quit a paid job to do this.’”

Looking back over the last year, what would you say to do differently now?
“Stop thinking about it and just do it. I spent so long sitting around agonising about things that were totally ridiculous when I could have been doing something constructive.”

Where do you call home?
“I think  Sardinia is home for the near future. I’m really excited about the book I’m writing about food there and then the drawings I can fit in wherever – I’ve been sending commissions all summer from Sardinia and it’s all worked out fine. Although I’m going to be renting out my room in my East London flat, I will keep my study so I can still have somewhere over here because the truth is – I’d love to be involved in pop-ups and dinners and events in London too. Maxi [Polka Pants] and I are always talking about doing something together so really I’d like to be able to come back and cook here and flit between the two – in a perfect world (laughs).”

Your favourite restaurant recommendations?
“There’s a really, really beautiful restaurant in Sardinia which is quite close to us called Darenzo, which is like the River Cafe but in Sardinia. It’s so big and airy and light and has a beautiful, very expensive hotel. I’ve only been once when Luca’s friends took us out for a thank you dinner but it was beautiful. Plus, the man who owns it produces a load of things to export abroad like fregola and a couple of the Sardinian pastas, so I’d recommend that place. Over here I really like simple, homely style food I guess, so places like Trullo or Rochelle Canteen.”

Your favourite green space in the city? 

“I walk to Hackney Downs and Walthamstow Marshes quite a lot, and even further on it’s Leyton and you almost feel like you’re in the countryside. Then Victoria Park is really lovely as well, plus being so close to the canal is a real dream. I also try and go back to Devon because we live in the middle of nowhere down there and there’s so much green space.”

Any favourite restaurants from down there?
“Yes! There’s a place called The Sea Horse – I think Giles Coren called it his perfect restaurant, not that I want to endorse Giles Coren – but him aside, it’s amazing. It’s run by a guy called Mitch Tonks who’s a big advocate for sustainable fishing and has a couple of chains of fish restaurants and books but this is his pet project. It has things like its own branded rose and the interior is classic old school beautiful – the salt dish is polished silver scallop – and food and quality of the fish is just really, really sensational.”

Describe your perfect Sunday off?
“Weekends don’t exist anymore, which is quite strange but for me a perfect Sunday would be getting the papers in the morning with an almond croissant, going to a really nice farmers market and getting few things to cook and having a slow, lazy lunch at about 3pm. My favourite roast lunch is roast chicken with anchovy, rosemary and lemon butter with a really sharp salad so you don’t feel quite so guilty for eating an entire pat of butter… Then getting a film, going to the cinema or watching a box-set of old school period drama like Pride and Prejudice or The Jewel In The Crown.”

What do you khoollect?
“Oh god I hoard everything, I’m a total squirrel. I’m a total nature freak so anything natural like stones and feathers when I’m outside and when I’m shopping it’s vintage kitchenware like old ceramics and nice plates. I love Skye Corewijn of Lazy Eye Ceramics too, she’s really talented so I like supporting her when I can, though she’s always got so many orders she barely has time to make. I’m also a serial collector of books.”

Who would be your dream dinner party guests?
“I’d have Elizabeth Davis because I think she’d be horribly rude about everything and everyone and sit in the corner smoking [laughs]. I’d love to have Patience Gray because she’s fascinating and unusual and totally anti-establishment, which I think would be really interesting. I’d have Tom Jaine (my old boss) because he’s totally mad and eccentric and great for a laugh – plus he actually knew a lot of those people so he’d be in great company. Then Nigella to shake it up a bit. I really love Jeanette Winterson too. I’ve just read a few of her books and I think she’s the most brilliant writer and fascinating character and I like everything she says in public on current affairs. So that would be it!”

What would be your life advice for your younger self?
“Just stop worrying about everything all the time! I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about how I look, sound, weigh and turning 30 this year I’ve finally got to the point where I don’t care anymore. My grandma, who is my total heroine and inspiration, wrote me a list when I was about 13 which was a hilarious ‘life advice for the future’ essay that she’d typed with points like ‘never shave your legs, waxing’s better and I’ll take you’ – and I wish I’d listened to all of those things!”

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