How Does Ed Ruscha Make an Omelette?
This new book is a secret portal into the kitchens of 76 contemporary artists.
You certainly don’t have to be a foodie or a contemporary art lover to appreciate Natalie Eve Garrett’s new gem of a book, The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, but it doesn’t hurt. Accompanied by charming illustrations by Amy Jean Porter, the book bills itself as “a secret portal into the kitchens of 76 contemporary artists and writers.”
In her short but engrossing introduction, Garrett concedes that the idea came from “a cookbook that’s older than I am. The original Artists & Writers Cookbook.” Published in 1961, that tome included submissions from artists like Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Marianne Moore, and Harper Lee. “I felt like I was sharing food and swapping stories with [the] artists and writers. It seemed so intimate and unexpected and—okay, let’s be honest—a little bit crazy,” Garrett reminisces.
The new book follows this quirky formula, and does so with great success. It is divided into sections including Breakfast, Soups & Salads, Sandwiches & Pizza, the Main Dish, Snacks, and Sweets.
The recipes themselves range from the most casual and slapdash (James Franco offers a recipe for a “utilitarian, American-style” peanut butter and jelly sandwich with pickles on the side that he calls “an artist’s best friend”) to straightforward nutrition-focused plates (April Gornik offers a salad based on her discovery of the latest “super-nutritious comfort food,” that is, dandelion greens), to schemes to feed the masses (Swoon and her friend cook ratatouille on the Mississippi for a crowd of up to 35).
But what makes the book especially endearing are the common themes that run through recipes, from happy and sad memories of childhood, to the comforts of home and family, to reflections on romance, heartbreak, grief, and even disaster. The latter includes some comically surreal dishes, such as when Marina Abramović offers “spirit cooking” suggestions that call for breast milk and sperm milk, and require one to be atop a volcano.
Of the original 1961 book, Garrett said, “It’s a deceptively plain-looking book; as soon as I got hold of my own copy, I couldn’t put it down. I knew right away it would be a thrill to create a modern version.” Here are just a few of its many savory tidbits:
John and Rachel’s Eat-Cute
Rachel Feinstein recounts the first meal she ever made for her now-husband, painter John Currin: “scrambled eggs with garlic and onions, and he gobbled up every last bite. Back then he was so in love with me, he didn’t dare say anything. Little did I know that he despises garlic and onions—it wasn’t until years later that he told me that the dish actually made him sick.”
Tavares’s Nostalgia Pie
Growing up in the Bahamas, Tavares Strachan says each Sunday, all 13 of his aunts and uncles, along with dozens of cousins, would gather at his grandmother’s house. “If you were very lucky, you ended one of those Sunday dinners with a sliver of my grandmother’s coconut pie: a creamy yellow moon of a pie, flecked bronze in the heat of the oven, the custard laden with fresh, hand-grated coconut and rising from a butter crust.” Years later, as a graduate student in New Haven, Strachan says he experienced such an “urgent longing” for the pie that he called his grandmother for the recipe, something she was normally secretive about. “As per her instructions, I broke my supermarket coconut on the pavement in front of the apartment building, and grated the shards of white flesh down to nubs, just as she described.”
Ed’s Truly Moving Dining Experience
Ed Ruscha prescribes a “cactus omelet” that he declares fit for “morning, noon, or night.” Says Ruscha: “To me, the idea of eating cactus suggests saving yourself at the last minute in the desert at a time of doom.” The recipe formed the basis for a contribution to fellow Californian artist Doug Aitken’s “Station to Station” project. “Food-on-a-train came to mind and I had visions of rolling through the desert in a Super Chief dining car. Cactus omelettes on a choo-choo train seemed to be more than compatible,” said Ruscha.
Laurel and Rick’s Anti-Foodie Food Tips
Author Rick Moody says he and his wife, artist Laurel Nakadate, “can’t cook worth a shit,” but he reveals his preference for carrot/parsnip soup and suggests pairing it with her simple pizza bread “boats.” Special ingredient: Newman’s “Sockarooni” marinara sauce.
Walter’s Reformed Ways
In his wistful section, labeled “Desire,” artist and critic Walter Robinson (currently with a major show at the new Deitch Projects) gets personal, recounting the abandon with which he embraced and consumed any food he wished during his younger, hyperactive days, contrasting this with the much simpler diet he adheres to nowadays: oatmeal with fruit.
Liza’s “Feminist Popcorn”
In a brief but multi-layered entry, Liza Lou described how her father “flew the coop and offered no child support” when she was young. Her mother regained her sense of independence in part by putting herself through school and learning to drive a car for the first time. “She did everything, but one thing she stopped doing with joy was cooking,” writes Lou. Just about the only thing the family continued making was popcorn, and they had many different machines for doing so, including the “As Seen on TV model.” The artist then leaps from a detailed description about their cache of popcorn-making appliances to grander reflections: “The Iroquois are said to have believed that there is a soul living inside every kernel of popcorn, and maybe they were right, maybe there is a soul living inside absolutely everything, just waiting for the right amount of distress and friction to make it transform into something else.”
Joyce’s Recipe Reverie
Author Joyce Carol Oates “Recipe in Defiance of Grief” recounts a last meal, presumably with a lover, while pondering in the second person whether or not there is enough emotional strength for recreating the meal when the time comes: “and so you are thinking that possibly you can’t prepare the simple meal that had been one of your customs, for it’s too soon, and you aren’t ready; you aren’t strong enough; a recipe in defiance of grief is one of those gestures thrilling in poetry but unrealizable in life because in life we are often not strong enough to execute the wishes we have set for ourselves though these are laudable wishes.”
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