Looking for comforting and sustainable food to enjoy? From assembling tasty salads to hunting rabbits, in this edition of Art Guide’s Kitchen Creations series, Briony Downes finds out how artists Wendy Sharpe, Kirsha Kaechele and Hannah Quinlivan have met the challenges of 2020 and how their experiences have influenced what they are cooking this summer.
In 2020 artists Wendy Sharpe and partner Bernard Ollis have divided their time between their Sydney home and the warehouse studio they share. As a keen traveller who usually spends half the year living in Paris, Sharpe deeply felt the restrictions on global movement. Throughout the course of her career Sharpe has spent time on nearly every continent, including a stint in Antarctica in 2012 for a Mawson’s Huts Foundation artist residency. Embracing the extra time at home, Sharpe has been researching Victorian-era spirit photography and learning about the extraordinary psychic abilities of her grandmother Bessie and great aunt Ann. This research has served as the foundation for Ghosts, Sharpe’s solo exhibition at Mosman Art Gallery.
Possessing a vivacious drive for creativity, when she is working towards an exhibition Sharpe is constantly on the move and says that food is not something she devotes much time to. Instead, she enjoys “chucking together” robust flavours found in simple ingredients like blue cheese, anchovies and Japanese sesame dressing.
Quickly prepared salads are often on the menu when Sharpe is in the studio. “I am not a domestic goddess,” she admits. “My partner Bernard is a fabulous cook and he does virtually all of our cooking.” If guests arrive while they are working at the studio, Sharpe says a niçoise salad often hits the mark. “A niçoise salad originates from France, but you will find it in cafes all over. When I am in Paris and I want a bit of luxury for lunch, I will almost always go for a goat’s cheese salad with a glass of Rosé. My next choice would be a niçoise salad because I do love the anchovies and tuna. It’s so easy and really delicious. It also reminds me of French cafes.”
In Hobart, self-sufficiency has been a priority for Kirsha Kaechele – artist, curator and founder of school kitchen garden program, 24 Carrot Gardens. During the pandemic, Kaechele hunkered down in the apartment she shares with partner David Walsh and daughter Sunday, located on the grounds of the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).
When the museum closed to the public, Kaechele ripped up the lawns. Taking her cue from the Second World War vegetable gardens people cultivated as a way to ease community food shortages and bolster morale, she planted a Victory Garden. “I do have an innate prepper side to me that comes out as soon as the possibility of apocalypse presents itself,” she says.
With a stockpile of lentils, grains and passatas already in her pantry, the Victory Garden provided colour to Kaechele’s personal prepper mix of gastronomic delights. “There’s part of me that loves growing a garden and it’s this challenge to reconnect to the land. When you think about being self-sufficient one of the first things you think about – aside from grains and legumes – is fresh fruit and veg. There’s a security in that. At the most basic level I was genuinely engaging in creating a sense of security.”
Addressing the environmental impact of large-scale agriculture, Kaechele also looks to rabbit over industrially farmed cattle as a sustainable source of meat. “Rabbit has a nice, honest flavour and carries with it the terroir of Tasmania,” she says. “It’s out there eating all the natural herbaceous plants as opposed to grain – it has the flavour of the land.”
Hunting and preparing the animal yourself is also encouraged. “The act of processing food yourself can be ugly and disturbing sometimes, but it is still rich, real and full of information. It means you are connected to what you are doing. I don’t choose to do this very often as I don’t really eat meat, but if I’m going to then this is a way I would do it. It’s certainly more creative and more personal. At worst it’s like a scary Renaissance painting.”
Like Kaechele, Canberra-based artist Hannah Quinlivan has found joy in extending the parameters of her garden, learning how to pave and spending time in the dirt with her young daughter. “In the few days before the lockdowns began and people were panic buying toilet paper, I went straight to the landscaping and garden shop,” she recalls.
Used to the routine of making art every day, Quinlivan instead reconnected with gardening and cooking – pastimes that have remained even now as restrictions have lifted and Quinlivan is back exhibiting work. “For me, 2020 has been a year of comfort food, and nothing is more comforting than the nostalgia of childhood food,” she says. “I think it’s fair to say that neither of my parents were excellent cooks. Growing up, our house was always crowded and full of life – lots of visitors, people needing somewhere stay, dogs, fun and chaos.”
Despite the playful nature of her home and her mother busily managing several health food stores and remote grocery retailers, Quinlivan says their family kitchen was populated with wholesome and nutritious ingredients. A dish she remembers with particular fondness is her mother’s buckwheat and tinned mushroom pie, and it serves as the inspiration for a dish she keeps coming back to as an adult. “I never had the chance to get the recipe from my mother, but for me buckwheat shepherd’s pie tastes like nostalgia.” As an intensely process driven artist, a meal like shepherd’s pie is perfect for quickly feeding her family when time is in short supply.
With a background in drawing, Quinlivan creates huge installations from steel, aluminium and LED lights which transform her renditions of line and form into intricate constructions embodying expressions of human movement, emotion and our place within the environment. Currently Quinlivan’s work is the subject of Nocturne, a solo exhibition at Melbourne’s Flinders Lane Gallery.
Wendy Sharpe’s Niçoise Salad
Small tin of tuna in brine
Cooked green beans
Hard boiled eggs
Balsamic vinegar (I love the caramelized type – sugar hit!)
1. Boil eggs and remove shells.
2. Cook potatoes and chop.
3. Steam or boil the green beans.
4. Combine all ingredients and dress with olive oil and balsamic.
Kirsha Kaechele’s Rabbit Stew
1. Hunt the rabbit yourself or enlist a friend to help.
2. Skin and gut it.
3. Segment the meat into portions.
4. Coat meat portions with egg and cover in breadcrumbs.
5. Fry in butter and stew with a mix of vegetables currently in season.
Hannah Quinlivan’s Buckwheat and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie
8 small potatoes
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 ½ cups of tasty or mozzarella cheese (grated)
2 red onions, finely chopped
300g mushrooms, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup of buckwheat
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 cup vegetable stock (stock cube is fine)
1/2 red capsicum
1/2 cup corn kernels
2 heaped teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
1. Pre-heat oven to 180 C.
2. Boil the potatoes. Mash and fold through sour cream and cheese.
3. While the potatoes are cooking, gently fry the onions and mushrooms in olive oil. Add buckwheat, a generous handful of chopped coriander, chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock, red capsicum cut into fine strips, a handful of corn kernels and paprika.
4. Simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Spoon mixture into an ovenproof baking dish and place mashed potatoes on top.
6. Cook for roughly 45 minutes.