The Artist's Lunch by Alice McCormick and Sarah Rhodes

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By Robyn Lewis
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The Artist's Lunch by Sarah Rhodes and Alice McCormick, published by Murdoch Books

The Artist's Lunch by Sarah Rhodes and Alice McCormick, published by Murdoch Books [©Murdoch Books]

'Food can be nothing, and everything. It can be fast, a culinary one-night stand, evanescent as a drunken midnight feast. Or it can be slow, slower than paint: that special bottle cellared for so long it's older than your grandchild.'

So writes the author Alice McCormick in her introduction to The Artist's Lunch. And it just gets better. What a fabulous idea for a book - interviewing great Australian artists over lunch in their homes, watching them paint or discoursing the finer points of food, wine and art over the artist's interpretation of a meal.

I can hardly imagine anything more enjoyable - why didn't I think of doing this? But I am truly glad Alice did, and took along with her talented Sydney-based freelance photographer Sarah Rhodes.

Eighteen artists, eighteen different lunches, from Paris to Tasmania, in their studios or their kitchens, 'their secret sensory worlds', ranging from a langurous afternoon with Michael Zafros, to a bite with Margaret Olley who was determined to scarcely stop work at all.

'Cornucopia of fruit and flowers, still lives of pheasant and hare, idyllic picnics of bread, wine and cheese - what is it about artists and food? ... Writers and liquor are a natural combination. Artists though seem to have a thing for food.. . is it just this: artists know how to have a good time, and eating and cooking promise the very best of good times? .... Let me assure you that you want to dine with artists; artists do it better.' Researching The Artist's Lunch must have been tough work indeed.

Margaret Olley has picnics on her half-cleared kitchen table, perhaps too cognisant of the many paintings in her head still awaiting expression to host her two-day dinner parties of the past. Her ideal guest is Barry Humphries.

Luke Sciberras loves game, learnt to cook from his grandmothers, and finds cooking like painting - drawing on knowledge and experience, then 'letting the hand, the eye and the soul go to work'.

Artists from Tim Storrier and John Olsen, to Dorothy Napangardi and Mirka Mora, express in their own words how food influences their work, then go on to reveal their personalities, beliefs and the processes and philosophies that underpin their art-making. The Artist's Lunch explores what fuels an artist's creativity.

They also share their recipes: Luke Sciberras for a spring pasta 'that should be eaten in the garden - never indoors', John Olsen passes on the recipe for a Mediterranean chicken dish created by Camille Renault for Pablo Picasso, who used to frequent his restaurant; there's another version of poulet with vermouth by Jeffrey Smart.

May I please dine on mud crab lasagne with Jason Benjamin at his Dinner Party for Eight? Whilst giving explicit details, Tim Maguire insists that his oyster risotto is 'a concept' - it is the visual metaphor that is important, the comfort of risotto and the sensuality of the oysters, not whether it is good or not (he can't remember; it is immaterial).

Lovers of tripe (count me out) can grapple with Allen Mitelman's Flaki Wolowe, which in his words 'is time consuming and involves a disagreeable amount of hard-to-grasp tripe... which should be scalded and cleaned. Set to playing Wladyslaw Dombkowski's 1932 recording of 'In the beanfield' and clean again, with salt, knives and coarse brushes.' Eight hours of cooking follows.

Anna Zahalka's recipes are from her Czech great-grandmother, and were saved from her grandmother Margarette's house when she died in a concentration camp. The treasured exercise book was brought to Australia, and her baked duck with caraway seeds may soon find a place on my table.

Mirka Mora? Simple. 'Eat caviar by the spoonful with fresh lemon juice and maybe fresh white bread and butter, along with food conversation, of course'.

But the recipes are almost an afterthought. The Artist's Lunch is a true exploration of each artist's unique creative processes. The cover illustration is a painting by one of Australia's most successful young artists, Michael Zavros, White Onagadori, the most aesthetically presented chicken I have ever seen. He cooks as measuredly as he paints, and is inspired by the imagery of the finished dish as much as by the imagined taste.

Each brings of their own environments, from Phillip Wolfhagen's hawthorn-hedges of bucolic Longford, to Savanhdary Vongpoothorn's childhood in Laos, and the book is full of their sumptuous illustrations and photographs by Sarah Rhodes, as varied as their styles.

The Artist's Lunch is a must for anyone interested in modern Australian art, its directions and inspirations, and of course in food, wine and living life to the full.

Viva the long lunch, and creativity in the companionship of good friends, good wine and good food.


The Artist's Lunch by Alice McCormick and Sarah Rhodes is published in Australia by Murdoch Books (Sydney, 2008; hc) and retails in Australia for RRP A$59.95. 

 It can be purchased online from here »





  • Sydney (NSW)

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March 15th, 2009
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