8 of the Best Artist Cookbooks of All Time—and How to Tell Which One Is Right for You
From Claude Monet to Olafur Eliasson, there's a lot of artists who are also great cooks. Which of their approaches to food is right for you?
Cooking is a visual art form just as much as it is a gustatory one—we all eat with our eyes before we take the first bite—so it should come as no surprise that many artists are drawn to applying their creativity in the kitchen as well as on the canvas. Full of color and texture, food provides an additional medium for artistic experimentation, and many notable artists have become talented chefs as well. (Many famous artists’ studios, moreover, have become known for the quality of their lunchtime cuisine.)
Publishers have taken notice, and the last few years have seen a boom of artist-written and art-themed cookbooks that pick up where Alice B. Toklas’s classic 1954 tome left off. (It doesn’t hurt that cookbooks, like art books, are among the few that don’t translate well to the e-reader format.) Today cookbooks constitute one of the most flourishing segments of the publishing industry.
By now, however, there are so many artist or art-themed cookbooks out there that it cam be hard to know which one is right for one you. Fear not! As a bona fide cookbook nut—seriously, you should see my nightstand—I went through and rounded eight of the best artist cookbooks around to help narrow it down. Remember: cookbooks also make very good gifts, and as such, I’ve also provided some guidelines to determining who in your life needs them. The answer may be you.
Which Artist Is in the Kitchen?: A good place to start, this wide-ranging compendium features recipes either written by or inspired by a variety of artists. Count on familiar names like Paul Cézanne, Frida Kahlo, and David Hockney.
Culinary Style: Eclectic! Because we’re dealing with recipes culled from such a wide range of sources—from, say, Vincent van Gogh writing to his brother about how to properly caramelize onions—expect to find a mix of differing traditions, tastes, and difficulty levels.
Star Recipe: I am quite taken with Helen Frankenthaler’s “Quick Heavenly Hors d’Oeuvres” of chilled button mushrooms stuffed with red caviar that she was said to often prepare for “unexpected cocktail guests”—which reinforces my belief that she would have been a very fun friend to have.
Any Special Ingredients or Equipment Needed?: It might take some effort to hunt down components like Russian black bread for Man Ray’s potlagel, acacia honey for Picasso’s sangria, and red caviar for the aforementioned hors d’oeuvres.
Get This Book If You: Hang art salon-style in your home, enjoy reinventing your wardrobe, always watch the Olympics, majored or minored in art history, appreciate a fine glass of cognac, or enjoy going to estate sales and getting a chance to peek inside someone else’s medicine cabinet.
Which Artist Is in the Kitchen?: None other than the legendary Georgia O’Keeffe, in all her living-in-isolation-amid-the-New-Mexico-desert glory. A passionate home cook and true Renaissance woman, O’Keeffe was an avid cookbook collector (she had hundreds) who grew food in her own garden and foraged for edible plants to spice up her cuisine.
Cooking Style: A health-conscious, desert-to-table, pre-Whole Foods approach.
Star Recipe: The “Sukhe Alu,” or potato curry, shows off the core charms of most recipes here—it’s earthy, nutritious, and draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources. (Much like the artist herself!)
Any Special Ingredients or Equipment Needed?: O’Keeffe keeps things fairly simple, but the book’s photography has me yearning for some dramatic black dinner plates to show off the bold colors of the food here.
Get This Book If You: Have spent more than $300 on a ceramic bowl, wear hats with confidence, can distinguish an oyster mushroom from a chanterelle at a glance, own perfume from Le Labo, or swear by Annie’s green goddess dressing.
Which Artist Is in the Kitchen?: The story of this book dates back to the 1970s, when the George Eastman Museum approached a bunch of renowned contemporary photographers to gather their favorite recipes and best food photographs. The resulting materials sat unpublished until 2013, when Aperture helped revive, edit, and release the project in this handsome volume—bringing the hungry eyes of such notable artists as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Imogen Cunningham to a whole new generation.
Cooking Style: It turns out that, as a group, photographers are a meat-and-potatoes sort. As a result, you’ll find plenty of Americana classics and fun recipes for eggy things, cheesy things, and boozy things.
Star Recipe: I am finding it very difficult to choose between Ed Ruscha’s cactus omelette, Ansel Adams’s eggs poached in beer, and Robert Heinecken’s “serious martini,” and so I am mentioning all three! (For the latter, Heinecken suggests pairing it with “iced shrimp dipped in cocktail sauce with lemon juice added,” which I think sounds heavenly.)
Any Special Ingredients or Equipment Needed?: You’ll need some form of brewing kit if you want to tackle Mark Klett’s “Home-Brew Beer,” but for most you’ll be able to muscle through with a sturdy cast-iron skillet and some old-fashioned bravado.
Get This Book If You: Are a recent college graduate, saw the 2014 Garry Winogrand retrospective more than once, cried when you finished A Farewell to Arms, know the best places to stay on Fire Island, have opinions about coffee, or own any kind of large-format camera.
Which Artist Is in the Kitchen?: Author Julia Sherman began the Salad for President project through conversations with her artist friends after she realized they all shared a pretty creative approach to food. In the resulting pages, you’ll find recipes contributed by art stars ranging from Tauba Auerbach to William Wegman—chic!
Cooking Style: A generous interpretation of the word “salad” where fresh, often-but-not-always-raw vegetables serve as a vehicle for unexpected flavor combinations and unusual ingredients.
Star Recipe: Are you confounded by kohlrabi? I myself never quite knew what to do with this alien-looking vegetable until I encountered the instructions for “Green Kohlrabi and Toasted Hazelnuts, Lemon Zest, and Rose Wine Vinaigrette.” The genius, here, lies in cubing the kohlrabi to roughly the same size as the hazelnuts.
Get This Book If You: own splatterware, are subscribed to a CSA you don’t know how to deal with, love Memphis design, are mildly obsessed with SQIRL, or have the time to spend leisurely afternoons gardening and harvesting a single perfect tomato to bite into like an apple.
Which Artist Is in the Kitchen?: Pablo Picasso and his Cubist buddies.
Cooking Style: Fair warning—this isn’t actually a cookbook. It’s more a compendium of Picasso’s art as it relates to food, the kitchen, and restaurants, spelled out in accompanying scholarly articles. Nevertheless, there are some recipes here! Just maybe not what you’d except.
Star Recipe: In one chapter about “Cubist Cuisine,” we are treated to a recipe for “‘Fantasio’ Steak,” which we are told should be served between the hours of 10 a.m. and noon, with the recommended accompaniment of one soup spoon of brandy in a glass of water. Instructions are as follows:
Cook a large piece of steak. Cut into thin slices, and place in a shallow bowl filled with rum. Leave the slices to soak for ten minutes, then place on heat. Beat the slices as you would for classical rum omelette. Mince some small grilled mackerel. Place on a bed of jam made with the fruit of your choice, preferably redcurrent. Serve very hot.
Any Special Ingredients or Equipment?: A well-developed sense of irony.
Get This Book If You: are very active on Twitter, own a large coffee table, think Juan Gris is underrated, are interested in Soylent products, have a framed PhD in your living room, make dad jokes, or have MoMA membership and use it.
Which Artist Is in the Kitchen?: The great Impressionist grandaddy himself, Claude Monet. His home and gardens in Giverny are almost as famous as his art, and today are preserved as historical landmarks that attract thousands of tourists each year—who can reliably be found selfie-ing away in the painter’s famous blue kitchen. It turns out that Monet was quite the gourmand and gregarious host, and so this book offers 60 recipes “inspired by Monet’s culinary journals.”
Cooking Style: Precious, floral, exceedingly Français.
Star Recipe: I am obsessed with “Eggs Orisini,” which is unlike anything I’ve attempted before: you essentially bake a stiff salty meringue with whole yolks and a sprinkling of grated cheese on top. It’s an egg-on-egg casserole of… just eggs. Eggs all the way down! I was especially delighted by the encouraging but ominous recipe note that “this simple dish is almost impossible to get wrong, but it cannot be allowed to stand.” (!!!)
Get This Book If You: are a member of your local botanical garden, wear colorful pashminas and/or Hermès scarves, enjoy Ladurée, have read Linea in Monet’s Garden 1,000 times, have a good backyard for parties, collect historical biographies, or loved Julie & Julia (aka, you are my mom).
Which Artist Is in the Kitchen?: The conceptual Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson who, along with his Berlin team of studio assistants, made lunchtime into a “daily, civilizing, and convivial ritual” that is “a central part of his studio’s ecosystem.”
Cooking Style: Elevated vegetarian, big-batch cooking with a focus on sustainability and the environment.
Star Recipe: “Lunch Box for Space Activism Marathon,” which features a careful assortment of pickled eggs, crunchy vegetables, potato croquettes, and a tomato chili sauce meant to be packed snugly in a glass container and eaten on the go. Yum! (The recipe helpfully offers ingredient conversions for either six servings or 60, depending on how many friends you are planning to have over.)
Any Special Ingredients or Equipment?: Perhaps a pleasingly sculptural tofu press?
Get This Book If You: have solar panels installed on your roof, wear Teva sandals, saw that Vivian Maier documentary in the theaters, regularly go hiking, own chrome furniture, or are looking forward to taking a sound bath in a geodesic dome.
Which Artist Is in the Kitchen?: Mina Stone isn’t herself an artist per se, but rather was the studio chef for Urs Fischer for many years, churning out healthy and seasonal lunches for his staff, as well as catering fabulous dinners for the likes of Matthew Barney, Elizabeth Peyton, and Josh Smith—all of whom have contributed drawings that can be found throughout this friendly, oversized tome.
Cooking Style: Greek and Greek-adjacent cuisine that is by and large simple, straightforward, and mercifully free of complicated techniques. In other words: you will actually use this, and not just look at it.
Star Recipe: The “‘Grilled’ Whole Fish, Greek-style” has yet to let me down. The author, considerate of city life where most of us don’t have an outdoor space but do have an oven, instructs you to simply put a whole, cleaned branzino directly under your broiler for a few minutes on each side to very convincingly recreate the nice char of grilling. You serve it with a drizzle of lemon, olive oil, and oregano, and voila! It’s been my go-to impressive-but-not-really-hard entertaining main for years.
Get This Book If You: love Milton Avery seascapes, aspire to a wardrobe full of Rachel Comey, dream of a the perfect Greek Island Airbnb, or throw a lot dinner parties where you swan around in caftans and insist your guests have another helping of the tzatziki (aka, you are me).
Nota bene: All our recommendations are independently chosen by members of the artnet News team. If you make a purchase through links in this article, artnet News will earn an affiliate commission that helps fund the art-world journalism you rely on.
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