Cooking with Calliope

Palisadian Artist Unveils Latest Cookbook

By TRILBY BERESFORD | Reporter

When the Palisadian-Post asked Calliope Babu-khan if she cooks regularly, it was more of a rhetorical question, since she had come to the office to discuss “My Sketchbook of Greek Cooking,” which is, undeniably, a cookbook. 

Her response of “no” prompted a gentle burst of laughter.

“But I decorate.” 

Babu-khan flipped to a recipe for Fish Mayonnaise Decoration and pointed to her drawing of a fish covered in a floral arrangement, explaining that she carves carrots to resemble flower petals and places olives in the center. (The result is a visually pleasing and convincing representation of plant life.)

Moments later, I was able to decipher a passing thought said out loud: Babu-khan sometimes enjoys cooking the food from her heritage. I knew it.

“My Sketchbook of Greek Cooking” is a deep dive into Greek history, with every ink sketch and recipe created by Babu-khan, a prolific artist; petite in stature, though her exuberant personality makes a roaring impression.  

Born in Athens in 1928, she has traveled the world in pursuit of scenes to draw and paint, often inspired by mythological themes, language and the human form. 

The book begins with a sketch of an ancient Greek coin, the owl of Athena staring back at the viewer. “Bon Appetit!” it proclaims, the page leading to a table of contents that includes everything necessary to put together a stellar dinner party. 

Each recipe is short and easy to follow, the dishes ranging from Roasted Leg of Lamb with Potatoes and Chicken Stuffed with Spinach and Feta Cheese to Custard Pie with Plyllo Dough, Baked Macaroni with Ground Meat and traditional Cheese Pie. 

(As a casual cook who has never been to Greece, it made my mouth water.)

The book is filled with delicate touches such as “The Little Parisienne” who looks inward at the pages, her wide eyes and raised eyebrow anticipating the goods to come.

“She’s so sophisticated,” Babu-khan said, exhibiting her own sophistication and poise. 

Illustrations accompany every page; women in Crete, glimpses of old Athens, the acropolis, glorious churches, cobblestone roads, rolling hills and bustling café scenes of distant figures by the seaside. 

“[It] will revive nostalgic memories for those who have visited Greece, and will arise curiosity for those who haven’t, by giving them an opportunity to get acquainted,” the book’s introductory paragraph states. 

Quizzed about how she discovered her love of art, the rather private Babu-khan said simply, “My parents loved art,” adding that her mother would draw figures. “She could have been an artist, but there was no opportunity.” Babu-khan’s father appreciated art and was also very encouraging of her artistry.

To conclude the book, Dionysus, the God of wine, glances backward at the adventure we have enjoyed together.  

My meeting with Babu-khan was also an adventure; short, though an inspiring reminder to keep on creating. The exact outcome doesn’t have to be determined right from the get-go—it wasn’t with this book—rather the vision came together over time, as the result of an accumulation of work under a common theme and desire to share oneself. 

Visit calliopebabukhan.com to view Babu-khan’s portfolio, which includes still life, abstract, nudes, linocuts and visual biographies. Culinary enthusiasts may call
Babu-khan on 310-454-4151 to arrange for purchase of her book.