Cooking food and making art both require skill and imagination. In the third part of Art Guide’s Kitchen Creation series, artists Cigdem Aydemir, Ellen Dahl and Sebastian Moody share some of their favourite recipes and talk to Tracey Clement about the creativity of cooking.
Cigdem Aydemir finds that there is a direct correlation between her cooking/eating habits and her art practice: an intense all-or-nothing ethos. The artist cites her “mock fashion advertisement” series of self-portrait photographs, Veils on Veils, 2020, which feature in her solo show Like a Prayer online at Finkelstein Gallery until September, as an example. “I have a particularly dangerous relationship with food when I know that it will play an important part in my next artwork… my ability to remain measured with food intake fails miserably,” she admits. “Do I approach artmaking in the same fashion? Absolutely.”
The Sydney-based artist is second generation Turkish, and, as for many, family and cultural heritage have had a strong influence on her cooking.
“I grew up in a household that mainly spoke Turkish, and ate Turkish food. My mother’s cooking is impeccable, and I think I share her enthusiasm for it. We’re both into big adventures. When my mother cooks it’s enough to feed a neighbourhood. I also tend to err on the side of too much,” Aydemir says. “Many people I know are quick to order delivery. I’m more inclined to think about how to make something interesting with what I have; resourcefulness is also an important creative attribute.”
And this make-do attitude served Aydemir well during Sydney’s last Covid-19 lockdown, and means that she is well prepared, should another be necessary. “Me and my Turkish friends were thanking our lucky stars for our Turkish genes. It meant that we already had a 5kg bag of rice in the cupboard. Cans of tomato paste were already stacked and waiting in the pantry just in case we suddenly had to cook for 10. Pickles? Sorted. Nothing but dry ingredients? No problem,” she explains. “When I was growing up we’d call it Ottoman-woman: that tough and brave woman that cooked and cleaned like it was warfare.”
Ellen Dahl, another Sydney-based artist, says that cooking is a big part of her life, no matter where she is, or what the circumstances are.
“I consider cooking an intrinsic part of my creativity and my need to make,” she explains. “It ebbs and flows in sync with the on goings of my life. I definitely cook more in-between projects – giving me a sense of constant creative output even in the quiet times.” Dahl even cooks when she’s on holiday; she always makes sure to pack a good knife, and enjoys sourcing local ingredients.
Dahl was born and raised in Norway and cooking and eating often evoke this distant home. “My childhood memories are scattered with recollections of dishes I ate in the different regions of the country. My mother is from the arctic and my father was from the south and by the time I left home at 19, I had moved 10 times with my family across the country,” she explains. “I often reminisce about a place I’ve visited through food: both as a memory on my palate, and the people it was shared with.”
The artist, whose current show at Peacock Gallery, Field notes from the edge, features photographs from a recent trip back to Norway, points out that during her formative years in the far north fruit and vegetables were scarce and the seasons were intense. Factors which have made her an “emotional and seasonal cook.” Now that she lives somewhere much warmer Dahl says, “I really enjoy amending old recipes I’ve collected along the way to suit the produce and climate here in Australia.”
“Eating and cooking mean a lot to me,” Dahl admits, “I think about it all the time!” But constant cooking doesn’t necessarily mean complicated cooking. “Like most people, I don’t enjoy cooking when I’m time-poor and it becomes stressful. I keep a freezer full of leftovers for the days when my focus is elsewhere. I approach all my making with a certain pragmatism.”
Sebatian Moody is extremely pragmatic when it comes to cooking, a strategy the Brisbane-based artist also applies to his art practice. “As a conceptual artist my work is often made and presented in collaboration with experts outside of gallery contexts,” Moody explains, “and so I’ve approached my marinated salmon recipe in a similar way. I’m not much of a cook but I know what a Michelin star tastes like.”
Moody, whose solo show Pause opens at Onespace Gallery in August, admits that he doesn’t cook a lot.Possibly because he doesn’t need to. “My neighbour Khantong makes me Thai food almost every day,” he admits. “I have to climb off my back deck and walk over the garage roof to collect it from her kitchen. Amazing.” Nevertheless he appreciates the key social role that food plays. “There are a lot of rituals around food, so dinner tables can be ground-zero for discussing traditions, politics, ethical production, veganism, gender roles, religion, etc.”
As to his own favourite things to cook Moody says, “Seafood with white wine is my religion. But I quit drinking at the beginning of the year so I guess I’m agnostic now.” But giving up alcohol hasn’t stopped the artist learning about “the science of marination” from his friend Danny Ford. “Like hip hop and the zodiac,” he says, “marination has four elements: acid, which softens and slows the protein from binding; sugar, which protects from the pan, adding complexity and textures; oil, which protects from oxygen, and aromatics, which give flavour and character. Apparently if you follow these rules you can’t go wrong.”
Always keen on a challenge, Moody wondered, “Would fish, coffee and cherry be wild enough a combination of ingredients to collapse the system? I tried to break the matrix and failed.” Apparently his Coffee Cherry Salmon is delicious.
Recipes by Sebastian Moody, Ellen Dahl and Cigdem Aydemir are below, so you can find out for yourself!
Cigdem Aydemir’s Easy Lentil Soup
1 onion (diced)
1 potato (diced)
1 carrot (diced)
1 cup of red lentils
Optional extras: lemon and parsley
1. In a medium pot fry up the cumin seeds for a minute or two.
2. Add the diced onion and stir until it is slightly golden.
3. Add the potato and carrot and continue frying for a few minutes.
4. Add lentils, salt, and enough water so that it is sitting about 4cms above the lentil/potato mixture. Let the mixture boil for 10-15 minutes (the potato pieces will be the last to cook through). Keep tasting the soup for the right amount of salt (often it’s not enough).
5. In a separate small pot add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a small teaspoon of paprika. Mix it over medium heat until there are small bubbles and the paprika oil becomes beautifully fragrant. Make sure you keep mixing with a spoon and don’t let it burn.
6. To serve, ladle the soup into a bowl and dribble a small spoonful of the paprika oil on top. A squeeze of lemon juice gives it the perfect zing.
Ellen Dahl’s Cosy Apple Cake (lun eplekake)
125 gr plain white flour
125 gr sugar
125 gr butter
2 large eggs
1 tbs baking powder
3 – 4 green apples
handful almonds, slivered or chopped
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon powder
Mix sugar, butter, flour and baking powder in a food processor until the consistency of bread crumbs. Add in one egg at a time. This is a thick batter. Add to buttered 21cm round spring form.
Cut apples into wedges and push into batter. Sprinkle with almonds, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Bake for 30 minutes in 200C oven.
Served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Sebastian Moody’s Coffee Cherry Salmon
This recipe will yield 1 litre of marinade, more than enough to try on a range of different proteins and distribute among whoever might be game enough to try it.
300g cherries (pitted and halved)
½ cup white vinegar
300g spring onion
1. Reduce cherries, white vinegar, and spring onion in a pot for 20 mins.
2. Blend leaving some pulp.
3. Set aside to cool.
100ml white vinegar
100ml black coffee
10 pinches salt
3 splashes of lemon juice
1. Brew a pot of coffee, set aside to cool.
2. Mix cooled coffee, vinegar, salt, and lemon juice.
600ml canola oil
3 tablespoons tarragon
300g caramelised spring onion
1. Combine sugar, acid, oil and aromatics into a large mixing bowl.
2. Whisk until you have a nice consistent colour.
I’ve used salmon but you can use whatever protein you like.
1. Add one piece of fish per zip lock bag.
2. Pour just enough marinade into the bag to cover the fish. No extra.
3. Vacuum seal the fish by gently folding the air out of the bag taking care not to crease it as this will create frosting.
4. Let it marinate for a minimum of four hours. Any longer, date the bag and put it in the freezer.
5. Cook and serve as you like.