The lines between art and cooking are blurred for chef Mina Stone.
She prepares lunch three days a week for artist Urs Fischer and his staff at his Red Hook studio, serves post-opening dinners for gallerist Gavin Brown, and also cooks for well-known painter Elizabeth Peyton.
Her recent cookbook, Cooking for Artists, published under Fischer's imprint Kiito-San, includes 70 of Stone's family-style recipes inspired by her Greek heritage and passion for fresh, delicious food. Stone and Fischer sat down with us to discuss the cookbook, what takes place around the lunch table in Fischer's studio, and why even junk food can be considered "perfect food."
Where exactly did you two meet? Urs Fischer: I remember going over to Gavin's [Gavin Brown's enterprise, Fischer's gallery in New York] one day and there was Mina, cooking up a meal with a radiant smile and big, open eyes.
What's it like to experience a Mina Stone meal on both sides of the experience, as the diner and as the cook? Mina Stone: I feel happiness and a healthy sense of pressure. As a cook, it usually comes easily to me what I'd like to make—and then I think, Will it look beautiful? Can it feed meat-eaters and vegetarians alike? Will they like it?! It makes me very very happy when the studio and Urs like what I cook.
Urs Fischer: I love when she walks in with bags full of groceries. I try to spy and guess what's for lunch. Some bags look heavy; densely packed. On other days, they are light and overflow with greens. The next thing I notice is the smell of the cooked food that starts spreading through the air in our warehouse. Then comes the "ding! ding! ding!" of the lunch bell. I sit down, and like seeing a good work of art, I cannot do anything but enjoy it. At times, her meals are true masterpieces! It's like eating your favorite work of art. Shortly after, it's all gone. Like a mirage.
So what prompted a cookbook? Urs Fischer: After enjoying many years of her endless new creations for our daily lunches at my studio, I asked Mina if she would consider preserving them in a book. Recipes are like a blueprint for food. It still irritates me if someone else cooks Mina's food. My brain gets contradicting signals: Mina, but no Mina! It's crazy, but you can actually replicate it!
Mina, where do you find inspiration for creating recipes? Urs, does the act of eating inspire your art? Mina Stone: Nowadays, travel. I like discovering things on trips I would have never thought of before and trying to recreate them at home in a simple fashion. Cooking is like the art of translation (my father, who translates Greek poetry into English, would be proud of this analogy). You have to take an idea and not only have it make sense, but make it beautiful to a different group of people.
Urs Fischer: Excellence is always inspiring. If you can eat it, even better.
What is perfect food? Mina Stone: Something easy, simple, colorful, and delicious.
Urs Fischer: If you feel good eating it and you feel good after, that can be everything. It all depends on the situation, the moment. Even junk food is perfect when you're hungover.
What's it like cooking for well-known artists? Mina Stone: It's something I've always been grateful for because I have been given so much freedom to find my own voice. I've been encouraged and allowed, from the beginning, to make what inspires me. I think that has made me a stronger cook and it makes the act of cooking the most enjoyable thing!
Urs Fischer: For me, that means usually cooking for my friends. Most of them are artists…
Tell us about your favorite meal of all time: who was there, what was going on, and what was the greatest moment of the meal? Urs Fischer: There are too many to count, but the giant sum of all her meals that live on in my memory is the best thing she ever cooked. It's engrained in a very deep way. Almost as if you could make a new childhood memory.
Mina Stone: Is it possible for me to have my own favorite meal? My grandma, who has the same name as me, made me a lemony goat over potatoes I will never forget.
Thanks for speaking to us.
Cooking for Artists by Mina Stone is available through Kiito-San. Cooking for Artists presents more than seventy of Stone's family-style recipes and fresh, seasonal food.