By Hilal Isler
Dinah Fried reads some 25 books in a year and listens to a dozen more -- but no matter how riveting the plot, she's always most absorbed by what the characters eat. "I read Heidi more than 20 years ago and can still taste the toasted cheese on bread her grandfather serves her," says Fried, 33, a graphic designer. "It's comfort food. It struck a chord."
So in January 2012, when Fried, then a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design, was assigned to photograph a series of tabletops, everything clicked: She would re-create food scenes -- preparing the dishes described and curating props that fit the vibe -- from five works of fiction, starting with Moby-Dick. "'Chowder' is obviously my favorite chapter in that book," Fried says. "The characters eat the steaming hot soup in a cold seaside town, where everything is rough and crude and fishy smelling."
By the time Fried turned in the project, she was hooked: "So many more books to read and meals to make!" For Middlesex, she meticulously layered delicate phyllo for the narrator's family spanakopita; for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, she boiled sugar syrup for Turkish delight; for Gravity's Rainbow, she cooked bananas 11 ways: banana omelet, banana sandwich, banana oatmeal and then some, in homage to Captain Prentice's breakfast.
Now Fried is offering her 50 culinary exploits in a book, Fictitious Dishes -- a feast for any lit lover.