Pedas: A Flavorful Journey and Empowerment Through Cuisine

Imagine a tingling tongue, a sweating body, and blurred vision—how would the experience of spiciness translate visually?

Spoons, a London-based culinary project led by Indonesian chef Rahel Stephanie, recently launched a recipe book in the form of a zine titled Pedas on December 23, 2023. The recipes in this book have accompanied Spoons' culinary journey for four years, bringing the flavors of Indonesia to London, from Jantung Pisang to Sambal Matah and various tempeh dishes. Beyond presenting a variety of Indonesian recipes, Pedas also tells the story of Rahel Stephanie's journey in reclaiming the meaning of "spicy" as an Indonesian woman.

In the creation of this zine, Rahel Stephanie collaborated with Tiny Studio, a design studio run by Nadine Hanisya and Ratta Bill. Sharing a similar aesthetic vision, Spoons invited Tiny Studio to create a zine containing Indonesian recipes and Rahel Stephanie's empowerment journey.

"Rahel came up with a really exciting idea. So, Tiny Studio just had to execute it into something visually real. When Rahel presented her writing, we instantly loved the concept of Pedas," explained Ratta Bill, Design Director of Tiny Studio.

Ratta shared that Tiny Studio was particularly intrigued by the idea of empowerment through cuisine, focusing on recipes that emphasize the experience of spicy flavors. With a strong concept from the start, visualizing Pedas became easier for Tiny Studio, translating the common human experience of spiciness into visually appealing and intriguing forms. Nadine Hanisya, Art Director at Tiny Studio, added that Rahel Stephanie's strong and vocal character helped Tiny Studio envision the final visual of the Pedas zine.

Although spiciness is a common taste in Indonesian daily cuisine, translating the experience of spiciness into visual form became a challenging playground for Tiny Studio. Artistically, Pedas visualizes the entire human body's experience when the tongue senses the burning sensation of spiciness. Ratta Bill mentioned that from the beginning, they envisioned something fiery with a dominance of warm colors like red, pink, purple, and yellow.

"Honestly, both of us (Ratta Bill and Nadine Hanisya) love spicy food. So, we really understand how it feels when you're in the midst of spiciness. From the blurred vision, shadows, distortions, it seems like all of that can be translated into visuals."

Ratta Bill, Design Director at Tiny Studio

In the zine, Tiny Studio also introduces loud and proud artistic elements, mirroring Rahel Stephanie's strong character and her constant advocacy for women's empowerment through cuisine. As readers flip through the pages of the zine, they will feel like being shouted at. In their creative process, Tiny Studio translates Rahel Stephanie's tone of voice through large and bold typography, with text even larger than the pages on some, like the cover. Instead of appearing delicate and dainty, the use of Script font, synonymous with femininity, feels incredibly strong as a response to Rahel Stephanie's empowerment journey.

"Is this a symbol that femininity can be as loud as this? Maybe," Ratta Bill emphasized.

Pedas features six spicy recipes from various regions in Indonesia, including Terong Balado, Gulai Kol, and Asinan Bumbu Kacang. Reader's curiosity about these recipes will also be satisfied with writings on local culinary culture and 12 photo interpretations of food by Tiny Studio. In the production process of these Indonesian dishes' photos, Nadine Hanisya sought references outside the context of food.

"We styled the photos in Pedas as if it were a fashion editorial, not a food editorial," explained Nadine.

Tiny Studio added feminine elements such as flowers, diamonds, and other beads to each photo to create a strong editorial fashion impression and eliminate the stereotype of food catalog photos. However, Tiny Studio did not want to leave the reality of food packaging and culinary culture in Indonesia. In the photo of Asinan Bumbu Kacang, Tiny Studio presented the food in a plastic tied with a rubber band, just like how Asinan Bumbu Kacang is commonly served in local eateries.

"We want a balance, there's romanticism, but there's also reality that we want to present. We know this book will be sold in London. Well, we want to show them how we eat in Indonesia. Surely there are many differences compared to London," said Ratta Bill.

The romanticization of the Asinan Bumbu Kacang photo is presented with floral elements accompanying the detailed portrait of the food. In addition to Asinan Bumbu Kacang, Jantung Pisang is also presented with diamond beads, which according to Nadine Hanisya, aligns with the vibe of the food. When designing the artistic concept of the Jantung Pisang photo, Nadine envisioned a yellow banana combined with various girly accents. With the addition of diamond elements, Jantung Pisang can also be presented as a unique and luxurious Indonesian dish.

Tiny Studio also added a "burning" element to the zine, such as on its cover, as one of the visual translations of spiciness. These artistic decisions successfully sparked readers' curiosity. According to Ratta Bill, many readers were curious about the "burning" process of the zine.

"People were very engaged when they saw the cover that we cut to resemble a burning effect. Some even asked, 'Did you burn each one?'" revealed Ratta Bill.

Audience interest in the artistic concept of Pedas expanded from the zine to merchandise, also designed by Tiny Studio. When hearing the word "spicy," Nadine Hanisya instantly pictured underwear as one of the merchandise sold alongside the zine. This unique decision led Tiny Studio to create underwear with the prominent text Pedas, grabbing the attention of many.

"We brought underwear with the 'Pedas' text as a statement of the empowerment Rahel wants to convey. This might be unique for many people because there hasn't been a food zine selling underwear merchandise. Surprisingly, the underwear sold well too," explained Nadine Hanisya.

Visually, from the zine to the merchandise, Tiny Studio translated "Pedas" into an artistic concept that is bold, strong, and cheeky. With just a glance, readers can feel the experience of spiciness, igniting curiosity about Rahel Stephanie's culinary creations that make the tongue burn.

About the Author

Alessandra Langit

Alessandra Langit is a writer with seven years of diverse media experience. She loves exploring the quirks of girlhood through her visual art and reposting Kafka’s diary entries at night.