The best art books for foodies

Published 28 February 2017

Rebecca Salter RA brings her artist’s palate to matters of taste, in a delicious round-up of the best books on art and food.

  • From the Spring 2017 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    There can be few assignments more enjoyable than reviewing eight art-related cookery books. I had my suspicions – proved correct – that adding art to food should result in a genuine and joyful celebration of both and avoid the fad for celebrity-led, guilt-inducing exhortations to healthy living.

    Two of these books also provide intellectual nourishment and will provoke discourse over dinner. The other six put food of varying degrees of complexity on the table, and to check that each book delivers, I decided to try a recipe from each. My choice of recipe was based on the easy availability of the ingredients, a strong desire to eat the results and a similarly strong desire to avoid eating obscure parts of animals and the completely unacceptable (I’m referring to some of your suggestions, Salvador Dalí).

  • Artists’ Recipes: Contemporary Artists and their Favourite Recipes

    Compiled by Admir Jahic and Comenius Roethlisberger, £37.50 from the Royal Academy shop, hbk

    The chief attraction of this book lies in enjoying how each artist has presented their chosen recipe and in musing on their selection. Was it nostalgia for childhood treats or an opportunity to show off their culinary prowess? The book caters for all abilities, from Sarah Oppenheim’s boiled egg to Bob and Roberta Smith RA’s roast pheasant, to be made according to his father’s recipe.

    The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories with Recipes

    By Natalie Eve Garrett, £22.99, hbk

    This update of the original 1961 edition, which included Marcel Duchamp and Harper Lee, proves the format is timeless and deserves to be revived, although the contributors may be less familiar to British than American readers. The short stories relating to each recipe are so compelling that the cooking may well have to wait.

    Dalí: Les Dîners de Gala

    By Salvador Dalí, £44.99, hbk

    When he was very young, Dalí wanted to be a cook. But it was only much later in life that he fulfilled this ambition with a book of recipes dedicated to his wife, Gala. The result was classic Dalí, and he knew it. The book opens with a warning to “calorie-counters” that the publication is “too lively and impertinent for them”. For those with a robust constitution, enjoy the wit and the visual feast – and the recipes if you feel inclined.

    The Monet Cookbook: Recipes from Giverny

    By Florence Gentner, £24.99, hbk

    It should come as no surprise that the photographs in a cookbook based on recipes from Monet’s home in Normandy simply ooze with sunshine and plenty, though I am not sure about the dishes being shot on backdrops of faux-Monet paintings. Monet was a hearty eater and favoured classic, simple dishes – which is exactly what this book offers. Who can resist a cookery book with a chapter titled “Déjeuners sur l’herbe”?

  • Studio Olafur Eliasson: The Kitchen

    By Olafur Eliasson, foreword by Alice Waters, £29.95, hbk

    If you ever needed convincing that food cements a community, then look no further than this fascinating book of over 100 vegetarian recipes used for meals served at Olafur Eliasson Hon RA’s Berlin studio. The illustrations show ingredients, completed dishes and snapshots of the creative life at the heart of the Icelandic artist’s studio, which is underpinned by cooking and eating together. The quantities in the recipes are given for either 6 or 60 people, so pay attention or you might end up using four kilos of onions by mistake.

    Rijksmuseum Cookbook

    By Jonah Freud, £48.50, pbk

    It would be unfair to review this book without mentioning its stunning design executed on semi-transparent paper that gives a witty nod to baking parchment. The typography is elegant and the format logical, with a section dedicated to each of 50 classic Dutch ingredients, including recipes lavishly illustrated with details from paintings and objects in the Rijksmuseum collection. What other institution could rustle up so many ravishing images of cabbages? A recommended recipe for the adventurous cook: kale, parsnip, white chocolate and sweetbread.

    Experimental Eating

    Edited by Thomas Howells, £16.95, pbk

    This book raises questions that many of us might never have thought to ask. It collects the work of artists who explore the unexplored nooks and crannies of gastronomy in their art. They get involved in every aspect of the food chain, from origins (Chapter I) to leftovers (Chapter IV). And just to prove that food-based artistic practice has deep roots, one essay explores a famous rant about spaghetti by the Italian Futurist Marinetti.

    Food and the Public Sphere

    By Lucy + Jorge Orta, £29.95, hbk

    As artists, the Ortas address global questions around food production, over-production and its environmental and social effects. While the preparation and consumption of food is at the core of this book, eating is also presented as a performance. The book documents many of the artist duo’s staged communal banquets, the series 70 x 7 The Meal, and illustrates the disjunction between the comfort of the food and the discomfort of the artists’ political message.

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