The MoMA Cookbook: Vintage Recipes and Reflections on Food by Salvador Dalí, Louise Bourgeois, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, and Other Great Artists
By Maria Popova
“Art is a form of nourishment,” Susan Sontag wrote in her diary. This, perhaps, is why the relationship between art and nourishment has such a long history of transcending the metaphorical, from the cuisine of Futurism to Liberace’s cookbook to the meals of famous fiction.
In 1977, decades before The Modern Art Cookbook made its debut, a pair of art and cuisine enthusiasts, Madeleine Conway and Nancy Kirk, collaborated with New York’s MoMA on The Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Cookbook (public library) — a marvelous compendium of favorite recipes and reflections on food by thirty of the era’s most prominent artists, including Salvador Dalí, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Indiana, Will Barnett, Larry Rivers, Andy Warhol, and Willem de Kooning.
Salvador Dalí, who had published his own elaborate erotic cookbook four years earlier, tells Conway and Kirk:
It is important to me to eat only everything that is in season.
The editors explain:
Dalí works every day in the year. He does not have time to entertain as much as he would like, but when he does, he has dinners for twenty to twenty-five friends. His table is always exquisitely presented and always white — white porcelain, white damask, and white flowers in crystal vases.
Onto this pristine canvas Dalí serves splashes of edible color:
Serves 4 for lunch, or 8 as a first course
8 ounces red beets, diced
8 ounces smoked tongue, diced
12 ounces red cabbage, finely grated
5 tablespoons heavy cream, chilled
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 shallot, sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
cayenne pepper to taste
salt to taste
Iceberg lettuce leaves
Combine cream, tomato paste, sugar, shallot, and pepper. beat with a whisk until mixture is light and foamy, about 3 minutes. Slowly beat in lemon juice. Place beets, cabbage, and tongue in a bowl. Add dressing and mix well. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours. Add sat and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of lettuce.
Note: Serve with hot French bread and a light red wine on the day it is made.
Louise Bourgeois, who was to have her first retrospective at the MoMA five years later but was already one of the most acclaimed and influential artists of the twentieth century, reminds us of how intertwined the history of food is with the history of gender inequality:
I was told as a child in France that cooking is the way to a man’s heart. Today I know that the notion is absurd, but I believed it for a very long time. My mother was in delicate health and could not cope with long hours of work in the kitchen. To please her I took on the responsibility of seeing to it that my father had dinner. It wasn’t easy. He often came home very late. I wanted for hours to make sure that the food stayed hot and fresh — and I became expert at just that. When my father appeared and wanted a steak, I cooked it for him. In those days a man had the right to have his food ready for him at all times. During my student years I did not cook at all. The memory of those many wasted hours lingered. I subsisted on yogurt, honey, and pumpernickel bread. I still eat the same foods today.
And yet Bourgeois didn’t give up cooking altogether — far from it. Boasting that she owns eight pressure cookers and is “prepared to feed as many as fifteen people at a moment’s notice,” she tells Conway and Kirk that she holds elaborate dinners for her friends on Saturday nights, in the lull between the time art galleries close and the time the jazz clubs open.
Among her favorite recipes is this simple, inventive delight, which Bourgeois serves as a first course with hot French bread:
FRENCH CUCUMBER SALAD
6 cucumbers, peeled
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 ½ tablespoons tarragon vinegar
½ teaspoon tarragon
salt and pepper
chopped chives or green scallions
Peel cucumbers lengthwise with carrot peeler. Place a layer of cucumber slivers in a small bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Repeat until all slivers are used. Add a final layer of salt. Cover and refrigerate 12 hours. Drain and wash under cold running water. Dry on towels. Make dressing. Beat oil, vinegar, tarragon, salt, and pepper with a whisk. Pour over cucumbers. Toss. Sprinkle with chives or scallions and serve.
Andy Warhol, who had collaborated with his mother on a little-known and lovely cookbook eighteen years earlier, tells Conway and Kirk that he no longer eats anything out of a can but — a statement that comically dates the book and tragically reminds us of a culinary downturn — believes that “airplane food is the best food.”
In a confession that reminds us just how much Warhol blurred the line between person and persona, just how deliberate he was about the construction of his own myth — this, after all, is such a thoroughly Andy Warhol thing to say — he tells the editors:
I always thought cereals like corn flakes and Rice Krispies were a natural thing — that they came from a cereal bush.
He shares a befittingly on-brand recipe:
CAMPBELL’S MILK OF TOMATO SOUP
a 10 ¾ can Campbell’s condensed tomato soup
2 cans milk
In a saucepan bring soup and two cans milk to a boil; stir. Serve.
Willem de Kooning, in his early seventies at the time, looks back on how his formative years in Holland and his immigrant experience shaped his relationship to food:
It was hard to overeat when I was a boy because when you had dinner, it was always brown beans. We were poor. When I came to America I had never seen so much food in my life! I came to America as stowaway. When I was discovered among the pipes, I became a kind of cabin boy and washed the decks. I got off when we landed in Boston and took a train to New York. I went right to Wall Street. I recognized from the silent movies where the Stock Exchange was.
We went to Hoboken because it was a Dutch, Italian, and German settlement. I got a room, and I got a job as a house painter; America seems to be a land of wonder because, you see, I worked and I made six dollars a day. Then I made nine dollars. In one week I could buy a suit, Thom McAn shoes, sets of underwear. Socks were ten cents a pair and it almost didn’t pay to wash them. You could throw them away! This was such a revelation, such an overflow! Here, everything was so big and had such a style I said, “Oh, hallelujah, here I come.”
The first food I remember eating? A hamburger. Lunchtime I went to a place on River Street and I saw on the bill of fare that I could read “Hamburger,” so I said, “Hamburger. The next day I took a hamburger and on the following day I took a hamburger, and then I thought I change and ordered a sirloin of beef and I tried to say it but the waiter gave me hamburger anyway.
Even as he rose to fame in the art world, De Kooning retained this capacity for delight in the simplest of things and cared little for the snobbish charade of sophistication that all too often bedevils high society. More than half a century after the hamburger experience, he shares his favorite unfussy dressing for cold shrimp, lobster, or crabmeat, made with ingredients one could buy at the most rudimentary convenience store:
KOO’S SEAFOOD SAUCE
Makes 2 ½ cups
8 ounces heavy cream, whipped until stiff
8 ounces mayonnaise
1 ounce cognac
1 ounce sherry
4 tablespoons ketchup
salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl fold mayonnaise gently into the whipped cream with a whisk. Add remaining ingredients and refrigerate for 1 hour. Serve.
Complement The Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Cookbook with Patti Smith’s lettuce soup recipe for starving artists, another out-of-print vintage treat titled The Artists & Writers Cookbook, and these delectable modern art desserts inspired by some of humanity’s greatest artists.
Published January 29, 2016