What meals make you think of your childhood? What do you eat in times of celebration, or of grief? What ambitious culinary project devolved into an unwieldy disaster — or came together like magic at the eleventh hour? What do you eat when no one is watching?
If your answers are hard to come by, maybe a familiar smell will summon them: fried eggs, fresh bread, grilled cheese, melting chocolate. What we eat is emblematic of who we are, where we come from, and what matters most to us.
This is the basic and delicious premise behind The Artists' and Writers' Cookbook, published this month by powerHouse Books.
From Brillat-Savarin's aphorism "Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are," to Proust's famous madeleine, to M.F.K. Fisher's tales from Dijon, literary eaters have long inspired us to examine the relationship of the plate to identity, memory, nostalgia, and creativity. The Artists' and Writers' Cookbook expands that conversation, making room for the voices of creative eaters from outside the Western culinary tradition, and also for those whose relationship with food is colored by very modern preoccupations (diet and weight loss, food intolerance, and what's available — or not — at the supermarket).
Inspired by a 1961 cookbook of the same name, editor Natalie Eve Garrett invited each of 76 contributors to share recipes and anecdotes about dishes significant to them, requiring only that each one come with a story.
"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 explains in the book's introduction. "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 result is a diverse scrapbook of cultures and histories, with as many interpretations of Garrett's initial prompt as there are contributors to the cookbook. Marina Abramovic offers recipes for "pain" and "fire food," James Franco describes his ideal peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with a pickle on the side), Francesca Lia Block delivers an alchemical prescription for "How to Fall in Love," and Joyce Carol Oates provides a meditation on grief with a recipe for scrambled eggs, among many other highlights.
This month, we're delighted to give you a taste of The Artists' and Writers' Cookbook with four standout essays from the collection, stories that, in keeping with our theme this month, speak to the significance of a simple bowl of soup.
You'll have to purchase the cookbook to read the recipes, but we hope these excerpts will compel you to think back on the foods that have shaped and inspired you, whether you're a painter, a writer, a photographer, a filmmaker — or simply a patron of the culinary arts.