“We all eat with our eyes,” says Athena Calderone, the home chef and lifestyle force whose first book, “Cook Beautiful,” launches in October. In it, Calderone distills her philosophy—that the eyes are the gatekeeper to all the senses. It is through Calderone’s artful filter, however, that aesthetes of all stripes flock for inspiration. Eye Swoon, the website that led Calderone to her book deal, expounds on food, fashion, interiors and entertaining—an expansive number of topics to cover—but her sensual, simple, and beautifully photographed style binds them into something both inspiring and approachable.
“I have always been highly visual, but I just couldn’t figure out what I was meant to offer the world,” admits Calderone. “In college, I studied dance, then I modeled, acted, sang, then I took lots of classes at Parsons, and then culinary classes. I was embarrassed by it, to be honest. I really believed you needed to be just one thing to define yourself as successful; but in fact, those roles were all feeding who I was becoming.”
To say Calderone took a non-linear path to becoming the lifestyle sage she is now, is an understatement. “Everything I believed in developed in the home and kitchen, inviting friends over and gathering really intimately. I began to realize I approach food and food styling in the same ways I design a space—looking for the unexpected element that will shock the palate, like mixing periods in an interior,” she says.
Her approach, whether cooking a one-pan roast chicken with Jason Wu (which she wrote about on her site in a post titled “Changing Lanes,” alluding to the ongoing interdisciplinary theme of her passions) or setting an earthy subdued tablescape, Calderone’s aesthetic has captivated a wide-ranging audience. Eye Swoon boasts a following of nearly 100,000 on Instagram and Calderone has become a social fixture in a cross current of industries—fashion shows, design events and foodie cognoscenti launches.
“Cook Beautiful,” which she signed as part of a two-book deal with Abrams (the second book will focus on interiors), was formulated as a didactic visual feast, first and foremost. “Even before I could create a single recipe, I had to know how it was going to layout visually,” Calderone says. The fil rouge she found was seasonality. “Every season offers a different hue and mother nature informs the quality of the gatherings, whether it’s a plate on the lap in the summertime or a highly considered table in the winter.” Calderone pairs the visual zeitgeist of the season with practical recipes, complemented by tips to make food look as good as it tastes (like shocking sugar snap peas to retain their vivid, verdant green allure on a plate).
In the midst of producing “Cook Beautiful,” Calderone has undertaken a late-1800s Greek Revival townhouse renovation in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. “It’s psychotic to be doing a townhouse and cookbook at precisely the same time,” laughs Calderone, who, in a past life had founded a design practice with John Rawlins. Her new home, which she shares with her husband, DJ Victor Calderone, and son, Jivan, will be the apotheosis of her wandering eye. “A bit of Paris meets Scandinavia, minimal, taking down walls but adding crown moulding and paneling, juxtaposing modern elements while adding historical details, ‘50s Italian lighting and pieces by Apparatus,” she says, with a dose of inspiration from Joseph Dirand thrown in for good measure, and of course, a huge kitchen. “The home has always been the nexus point for me.”