Paul Cezanne’s favourite snack was anchovies spread between slices of sautéed aubergine. He liked it so much that he set out each morning for his studio with a stash of it in his bag.
For Andy Warhol, it was chocolate stuffed between two slices of bread, a concoction he named ‘cake’, though he also said that anything with sugar in would do, and was known to serve jam sandwiches for supper.
These are just two of the culinary tips I have borrowed from artists lately, in an attempt to liven up the unremitting bore that cooking has become in lockdown. Before, I found calm in the ceremony of chopping and stirring. Now, well, spoons have been thrown.
I began with The Modern Art Cookbook by Mary Ann Caws, a scrapbook mined from the notebooks of artists who liked to cook, moving on to a 1977 Artists’ Cookbook from New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), for which artists such as Warhol and Louise Bourgeois supplied a favourite dish. From the former I learnt David Hockney’s recipe for strawberry cake; from the latter, that people in the seventies ate a lot of double cream.
When you think about it, art and food have always enjoyed a kinship. We see it in the pristine still lifes of the Dutch Golden Age, in Wayne Thiebaud’s painted rows of cakes, and in Dieter Roth’s 37 suitcases filled with cheese. More recently, Olafur Eliasson turned an entire floor of his Berlin studio into an experimental kitchen. “Even the act of peeling a potato can be an artistic act if it is consciously done,” said Joseph Beuys, who even used honey and margarine as materials.
Beuys, it turns out, was also fond of cooking, and one of several artists in the art dealer Thaddaeus Ropac’s fold to have had a recipe shared in the gallery’s lockdown email newsletter. “As artists are also confined to their home environments, for us to look to them for inspiration seems only fitting”’ Julia Peyton-Jones, Ropac’s senior global director, tells me.
Beuys’s contribution is Drakeplatz stew, a simple meat and vegetable medley, but Robert Longo’s “blood and guts” penne is the show-stopper: tomato sauce, Italian sausage, “gutted, to make it look extra lumpy”, and chopped sirloin. And I – if not my arteries – love the idea of Robert Rauschenberg’s key lime pie, made from condensed milk, lime juice, egg yolks and pastry. Rauschenberg had so many requests for the recipe that he kept a stack to give to guests. He also hosted some 200 taco festivals. Who knew?
Leonardo da Vinci
Lists of food appear often in Leonardo’s notebooks, where he also wrote that “whatever you take into you should be... of simple ingredients”. In his library was a copy of Platina (1475), thought to be the first printed cookbook. Published in Rome, its recipes focus on the dietary advantages of food as well as how to prepare it, and include: faba in frixorno (fried eggs with beans); ius in cicere rubeo (chickpea soup) and ferculum amygdalinum (almond pudding).
It won’t surprise you to learn that Dali favoured a flamboyant dish. The cookbook he published in 1973, Les diners de Gala, was intended, he says modestly in the foreword, to be ‘the quintessence of gastronomy’.
Presenting 136 recipes compiled by the artist and his wife, Gala, it is stuffed with suitably surreal illustrations and some of the most unappealing food photographs I have ever seen. As for the food – can I interest you in ox snouts in puff pastry? How about frog cream, or grilled sheep’s head (“bake cheeks up”). It was a relief to see a recipe for avocado on toast, though I’d steer clear unless you like yours mashed with lamb brain.
One only has to look at late photographs of Monet and his straining waistcoat to understand his fondness for food. Following a spartan breakfast and tea, he had his cook, Marguerite, whip up lunch for 11.30, so as not to miss the best of the light for his painting. Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet includes many alluring French staples: madeleines au citron, chicken chasseur, chestnut biscuits and eggs orsini, in which egg whites are whisked and combined with grated cheese. His favourite cake was a pistachio and marzipan brew called vert-vert.
As might be expected from the woman who was muse to the surrealist Man Ray and a celebrated war photographer in her own right, Miller’s cooking was as clever as it was stylish. Among her specialities were a guacamole that she christened ‘Green Bitch’. So “insatiably curious” was her cooking that she engaged local Sussex farmers to show her how to butcher a carcass, and the WI to teach her canning and salting. Planning a dinner could take her five hours. In 1973 she wrote a proposal for a cookbook, “a bona fide and posh guide to entertaining”, but died before it could be published. Her granddaughter, Ami, turned some of it into a quasi biography, Lee Miller: A Life with Food, Friends and Recipes.
Picasso once said that he learnt to walk by “pushing a big tin box of sweet biscuits in front of me, because I knew what was inside” and the recipes in his notebooks – Charlotte au chocolat, fruits swimming in ginger (mostly icing sugar, a few pears) – would suggest that sweet stuff remained a fixture. Even so, Picasso was obsessed with his health (he once had a bit of liver trouble but suffered mainly from hypochondria), and, in his fifties, began restricting his diet to mineral water or milk, vegetables, fish, rice pudding and grapes. It often left him in a bad mood, said his girlfriend Fernande Olivier.
For a man who once said he thought “airplane food is the best food” and whose contribution to the MoMA book was adding two cans of milk to one of Campbell’s tomato soup, it’s interesting to learn that, before he was famous, Warhol collaborated on a cookbook. Though beautifully illustrated, Wild Raspberries is mostly a gag. Chocolate balls a la Chambord sounds delicious, though he dictates it only be served with no-cal ginger ale and to “very thin people”.
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
The Italian Futurist’s 1932 cookbook is vehement about pasta, which Marinetti believed made people “heavy, brutish... sceptical, slow, pessimistic”. A low-carb diet Nostradamus, then. Among his instructions for the ideal Futurist meal are that: “Every dish must be preceded by a perfume which will be driven from the table with the help of electric fans.” Recipe-wise, it’s immortal trout (stuffed with nuts, fried in oil, wrapped in slices of calves’ liver) and dates in moonlight (pulped dates mixed with ricotta, served chilled).
Pertinently, Marinetti published the book “during a world economic crisis, which has clearly inspired a dangerous depressing panic, though its future direction remains unclear”. Sound familiar? His solution was “optimism at the table... men think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink”. Something to chew over, perhaps.
The Daily Telegraph