TORONTO – After years in the modelling industry, Jessica Milan has transitioned from the catwalk to the culinary world.
The Toronto-based model-turned-photographer combined her work behind the camera with a love of cooking in founding the vegan food blog Lookbook Cookbook. The term “lookbook” is widely used in fashion circles, describing the set of photos featuring a designer’s new collection, typically for marketing purposes.
“I’ve been a vegetarian for most of my life and I’ve always been really into healthy eating,” said Milan, 29.
“I think especially when you model, obviously you want to look and feel your best and still enjoy food. So, I really started getting into the cooking more … trying to create healthy meals for myself that still tasted as good and were fun to eat.”
Unlike other food-focused sites where the dish is the star attraction, Milan adopted a magazine-style flair in capturing images. Enlisting both professional models and novices, Milan showcases a diverse group of women digging into her dishes while posing for the camera.
“I just tell them really to be themselves and just go for it — just to eat.”
Milan’s recipes and photography have been featured in Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Marie Claire and Glamour, as well as fashion sites like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters.
With her new book “Lookbook Cookbook: Simple, Delicious, Gluten-Free & Vegan Dishes” (Page Street Publishing Co.), Milan has broadened beyond her dessert-focused blog to also feature snacks, salads, soups and smoothies. Milan said the 85 recipes are also soy-free, and most are also absent of refined sugar.
“I think it’s definitely always nice to own something physical. It’s easier when you’re in a kitchen to cook,” Milan said of cookbooks.
“When it’s on a blog, it’s kind of instantaneous and maybe there’s not always as much effort. The book is always the nice collection of things that’s been put together with a lot of effort,” she added, noting she had six months to create recipes, organize shoots and capture photos for “Lookbook Cookbook.”
Milan said it’s “crazy” to see how the food landscape has evolved within a short time, with a greater variety of meat-free options now widely available.
“I remember five years ago going to restaurants and they didn’t have vegetarian options on their menu,” she recalled.
Milan said people have responded positively to her novel approach to food photography. The vegan dishes themselves have also earned kudos — including from her family.
“My dad’s a carnivore, so if he gave the seal of approval, I knew it was good.”