As many of us continue to work from home, we ask artists about the creativity they have brought to their kitchens. Read on for the latest installment in our series on Artist’s Favorite Recipes.
When Nina Katchadourian asked her aunt Nora — Nora Tour-Sarkissian, technically her father’s cousin — to teach her how to make kufteli yagene, a beloved Armenian soup, the family matriarch was not encouraging.
“She kind of metaphorically raised her eyebrows and said, ‘This is a very difficult recipe. Why not start with something simpler? ‘ Katchadourian told Artnet News.
It was 2010, and Katchadourian, who grew up in California, was interesting learning some of the recipes his father’s Armenian family brought back from Turkey, where an ethnic cleansing campaign by the Ottoman Empire killed up to to 1.5 million Armenians. between 1915 and 1917. His own great-grandfather was murdered in riots prior to the late 1800s.
The violence inflicted on the Armenian people is something the Katchadourian family always carries with them. The Armenian Genocide was officially recognized by Joe Biden in April, just days after Aunt Nora, who was 90, died of cancer.
“I wish Aunt Nora had lived for this to happen,” Katchadourian said. “She has lived an incredible life, with a lot of travel and hardship.”
This diasporic family history is also reflected in the artist’s work. “Cumulus”, Katchadourian’s current exhibition at the Pace Gallery, includes a print, Lucy’s sampler, which traces the designs of a needle embroidery made by another family member, an Armenian Genocide survivor adopted from an orphanage by Katchadorian’s grandparents.
“She became an older sister in one part, a second mother in one, a nanny in one part for my father,” Katchadourian said. “And to me, she was like a grandmother.”
Lucy made the original sampler while she was living at the orphanage. It hung on the walls of Katchadourian for years before she was inspired to use it in a work of art.
“The play is a way to pay tribute to her skills, to draw attention to the trauma in her life, but also to recognize that her lifelong job was taking care of other people,” Katchadourian said.
The show also highlights a different kind of family. The supermarket genealogy (2005–) offers a fun family tree highlighting the similarities between different mascots taken from supermarket shelves, such as the Sun-Maid Girl, the Gerber Baby and the Chef Boyardee.
For this go-around, Katchadourian added 23 new family members to the tree, which occupies an entire wall.
“It’s a lot of fantasy and matchmaking,” she said. “It’s a funny puzzle to solve. “
But these widely distributed processed foods, many of which promote convenience in the kitchen, have almost nothing to do with complex Armenian culinary traditions.
“For my Armenian family, food was a big problem. It was very social and linked to a desire to preserve our heritage, ”she said.
Despite Aunt Nora’s concerns, she agreed to host Katchadourian and a few friends for what they dubbed “Kufté University. ”Typically a term for meatballs, the dish is delicate, without meat kufté have a Bulgarian wheat shell and a butter nut filling, served in a yogurt-mint with chicken or lamb.
“When the kufté float in the soup and you cut them, they release the butter and you get that delicious explosion of buttery flavor, ”Katchadourian said.
Preparing them turned out to be a tall order.
“Making them requires great dexterity,” she explained. “You put a piece of Bulgarian wheat dough in the palm of your hand. And then, with this very particular gesture, you push your thumb into this bump and you turn it to gradually create a hollow space inside the little ball for the nut and the butter.
“If you’re an expert like Aunt Nora, you’ve got a perfectly formed ball. And if you’re like me or my friends, you create this thing that collapses in your hand, ”the artist said. “She kept shaking her head, thinking ‘wrong, wrong, wrong.'”
But after hours of work, they were able to savor a precious family recipe.
“It was really a gift to sit there, eat the soup and know how much was in it,” Katchadourian said. She sees the complexity of the dish as a reflection of an earlier era, when tedious work was expected of women in the kitchen.
A few years after the lesson with Aunt Nora, Katchadourian attempted to recreate the soup with friends in Brooklyn.
“It certainly wasn’t soup at Aunt Nora’s level,” she said. “But I responded and she was very encouraging and kind about it.”
The artist never got a written recipe.
“You don’t measure anything. It’s just done through this deep experience, ”Katchadourian recalled.
Instead, Katchadourian suggested that Artnet News share with readers a pair of videos she found on YouTube giving instructions on how to prepare the dish – a fitting tribute to the oral tradition of passing on such recipes. from generation to generation.
“Note that this soup is so complicated that it requires a second video to make the base part of the soup,” she warned.
“Nina Katchadourian: Cumulus” is on display at the Pace Gallery, 540 West 25th Street, New York, from May 13 to June 26, 2021.
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