By Patrick Sisson
Burgers with batteries. Sushi wrapped in toilet paper. Sardine smoothies.
London-based photographer Tom Lakeman may seem like an unlikely culinary artisan, and based on the preceding dishes he created, someone who should probably stay very, very far away from the kitchen. But the dedicated 31-year-old commercial photographer sees his unorthodox food photography -- a popular project that he started chronicling on the website A-La-Carte.recipes -- as just another avenue for exploring art and identity.
A manic collector, Lakeman had collected hundreds of discarded shopping lists before he decided to use them as inspiration for an art project he calls "A La Cart." He paired the handwritten notes with gorgeously composed and photographed dishes made from the random collection of ingredients they contained, no matter how inedible.
“There was some moment where I decided they weren’t shopping lists, but recipes,” he says. “It started off weird, and got weirder."
Lakeman was already versed in online promotion when he began to build a website for this project. His two other sites, here and here, set up for his artwork and commercial work, respectively, showcase and separate his different photographic endeavors.
"A La Cart" fit with his previous artistic work, which features projects such as “Unclaimed,” a series of photographs of abandoned luggage. But Lakeman decided to create a separate home for his faux food project in order to give the work its own identity, separated from preconceived notions. The 'dot-recipes' (.recipes) domain made it that much easier to stand out in search.
The cheeky name helps, but utilizing one of hundreds of new domain extensions has helped brand his project and make it easier for people to remember the correct name for the site.
“When I chose the name, it was fine from an artistic standpoint," Lakeman says. "So many names ended with 'a la carte' that it was hard to find [a URL]. Adding 'dot-recipes' made it really stand out from the rest.”
It certainly stood out with the media, as numerous publications from Vice’s Munchies to The Guardian picked up the story. The key to a good recipe and photo, as Lakeman would explain, is finding alternative uses for household items, such as using toilet paper as the layers in lasagna. He sees the images operating like good standup comedy, taking everyday situations or items and forcing you to look at them in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.
But it pays to be careful. As comical as the dishes seem, some of the recipes contain ingredients such as bleach that could end someone’s life if they drank it. This is not your obvious "recipe" site, as the ironic title of the project suggests.
As Lakeman has seen his career continue to develop -- his father was a photographer, so he grew up experimenting with camera and lens -- he’s grown to appreciate the power of chasing thoughts and exploring offbeat premises.
“This was an offshoot,” he says, “but all these little projects tend to take off. I hope one day, I’ll find an end to the journey, but in the meantime, there’s lots of offshoots and random things to try.”
Lakeman wants to publish a book about the project in 2016, and while cookbooks of inedible food are understandably a tough sell -- his crowdfunding campaign to self-fund publication fell short last year -- he’s currently in talks with publishers about releasing a book with new images. While he can discuss the presentation of the dishes, he can’t vouch for their taste, as he’s never eaten his creations. It’s a matter of finding that surreal space between what is and isn’t real and, as he said before, making viewers look at the everyday from a new angle.
“Many, like the cow’s tongue, looked a little alien, nothing like real food,” he says. “The first one I made that actually looked like something was the toilet roll sushi. I set it up and my girlfriend walked by and didn’t blink, and I thought, ‘Eureka! This will work.'”
Learn more about this project by visiting the website www.A-La-Carte.recipes.