In the original Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, published in 1961, artist Marcel Duchamp shares his recipe for steak tartare: “Let me begin by saying, ma chere, that Steak Tartare … is in no way related to tartar sauce. The steak to which I refer originated with the Cossacks in Siberia, and it can be prepared on horseback, at a swift gallop, if conditions make this a necessity.” Duchamp’s thoughts on cooking steak on horseback were featured alongside hundreds of recipes by the likes of Man Ray, Marianne Moore, John Keats, and Harper Lee. Printed in purple and avocado green ink, it was illustrated with engravings and drawings by Marcel Duchamp, Robert Osborn, and Alexandre Istrati.
When writer and artist Natalie Eve Garrett came across The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook last year, she couldn’t put it down. “As I read, I felt like I was sharing food and swapping stories with … artists and writers,” Garrett writes. So she decided to create a modern version. The new Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, published this month by powerHouse, compiles recipes and personal food-related stories from 76 contemporary artists and writers, from Swoon’s Mississippi ratatouille to Ed Ruscha’s cactus omelette and Sanford Biggers’ red drink.
When putting the project together, “I asked contributors to tell me about the last memorable dish they made or the food they eat while writing or drawing or falling in love,” Garrett writes in the book. “I asked for old hand-me-down recipes, accidental recipes, dream-recipes, unusual interpretations of the idea of a ‘recipe,’ or simply trusted standbys. The only requirement was that each recipe have a story.”
The resulting collection of short personal essays and recipes serves as a portal into the kitchens of artists and writers. Here, abridged recipes and food stories from four artists, excerpted with permission from The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook.
Liza Lou: Feminist Popcorn
“My mother told me and my sister that we should never learn to cook,” artist Liza Lou writes. “After our father flew the coop and offered no child support, my mom learned to drive a car. She put herself through school, too, so she could make a better life for us with no help from anyone. She did everything, but one thing she stopped doing with joy was cooking.” Still, they popped lots of popcorn with a variety of poppers: “The popcorn pumper that looked like an upright torpedo and the hot air popper that shot popcorn out of what looked like a public hair dryer. We also had the As-Seen-On-TV version where we watched the popcorn explode in an amber plastic dome and when it was done popping, flipped it over and ate it straight out of the plastic.” They always managed to burn microwaveable popcorn, though, so Liza Lou still uses the old school method; her recipe calls for popping 3/4 cup of popcorn kernels in a large pot with a glass lid, in butter, sea salt, and canola oil.
Sanford Biggers: Red Turn Up
“Red drinks are the official libations of soul cooking,” writes artist Sanford Biggers, known for his multimedia installations and sculptures. “As with many things African American, the roots of this drink can be traced back to Africa and/or the Caribbean, to drinks such as bissap or sorrel.” Red drinks were a staple of the Fourth of July barbecues of Biggers’ childhood in the Los Angeles neighborhood of View Park, “a black, middle-class enclave that was too ‘hood’ for my white friends and too ‘bougie’ for my black friends,” he writes. “Throughout my childhood, I saw red drinks range from red Kool-Aid to mysterious home concoctions, but the essential element was always the color itself. And yes, the flavor is red, not cherry as frequently mistaken.”
In The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, Biggers offers his “artisanal update of that Soul food classic. Think of it as something tasty to lessen the bitter taste of consistent, systematic oppression, unequal distribution of wealth and resources, aggressive gentrification, and long-term disenfranchisement throughout US history.” The ingredients for this very necessary distraction are quality mezcal, a cup of cubed watermelon, cilantro, salt and chili mixture for the rim, agave, ice, and lime.
Kamrooz Aram: The Distinctive Melancholy of Ghormeh Sabzi
“My favorite Iranian dish since childhood is called ghormeh sabzi,” writes artist Kamrooz Aram, whose style fuses traditional non-western painting with more conventional Western modernism. “For me there is something [of] melancholy in this aromatic stew. My earliest memories of it involve air raid alerts and the rumbling of Iraqi bombs echoing over the city like not-so-distant thunder. My mother would proclaim, ‘Children, it’s time for a picnic!’ and we would hurry down the cool, echoing stairwell to the basement of our building in Tehran where we would eat our ghormeh sabzi under the blaring music of Googoosh and Hayedeh, which disguised, but failed to cover up, the sounds of bombs.” When Aram’s family immigrated to the US, ghormeh sabzi came with them. Making the stew — from lamb meat, turmeric, kidney beans, leeks, dried fenugreek, onions, parsley, and sun-dried limes — is “something, like painting, that I have not really learned, but continue to pursue,” Aram writes.
Ed Ruscha’s Cactus Omelette
“To me, the idea of eating cactus suggests saving yourself at the last minute in the desert at a time of doom,” Ruscha writes. “One day, shopping in a Mexican market, I came across a jar of nopalitos that shouted out some kind of possibility. Akin to the sliminess of okra, with a subtle flavor that’s vaguely like pickles, the cactus seemed to ask to be mixed with eggs, although mixing these ingredients has probably been going on for ten centuries south of the border.” Ruscha’s recipe calls for curd cottage cheese, celery, and diced cactus (nopalitos, usually sold in jars in the international food section of grocery stores) stuffed into a two-egg omelette.
The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook by Natalie Eve Garrett is available from powerHouse books for $30.