THE READER: Cateringa & Kompanen

Alexander Geijzendorffer and Odrada Burghoorn are members of Cateringa & Kompanen – a Dutch artist collective of makers with a specific interest in mixing food, art and the interaction between people. They find food and its context to be an artistic material like copper, clay or pain. Yet it offers so much more in terms of how its perceived. What is “good”? What is “normal”? What is “health”? What beholds the future? They challenge and investigate these concepts in various forms, from performance and installations to interactive buffets and experimental film nights.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Ai. You caught us at just after a massive book binge. I’m trying to read nine books at the same time to prepare our research for next year. Ahem… Let’s say the main two today are Ingredients by Dwight Eschliman and Steve Ettlinger and Chemistry for Dummies by John T. Moore. The first is “a visual exploration of 75 food additives & 25 food products”. It’s my breakfast and coffee book. Page after page of glossy photos with whitish powders or translucent liquids. The second helps me to bring back the fundamentals on food chemistry that I realise I lack for fully understanding the other seven books.

How do you decide what to read next?

A: Often friends and fellow artists/chefs will advise me books on a topic we are discussing. Occasionally I realise that internet offers mostly superficial snippets and I need something thorough and real.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

A: Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I realised all adults have gone through a phase of existentialism and somehow decided it was worth living anyway. This blew my mind.

O: Still love John Seymour’s The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. It covers everything from building a compost toilet to how to see if a chicken egg is fertilised to harvesting and storing your crop. when our modern world collapses you can use this book to stay alive 🙂 

Do you read on tablet, Kindle, paper or all three?

O: Tablet and paper. Tablet while travelling because paper tends to be heavy to bring, but i prefer paper at home. When I love something i want to own it on paper.

A: Almost only paper. I loathe all the screen work I have to do and prefer to jump around and do stuff. Paper books are kind of between.

What were your favourite books as a child?

A: Oh! The Witches’ Handbook by Malcolm Bird. An illustrated guide to be a witch, including recipes for worm soup, how to spoil your neighbours’ harvest and useful career suggestions.

O: Meester van de zwarte molen by Otfried Preußler (which in English mean “the satanic mill”) has a fairy-tale quality, magic and a romantic plot and it plays in a mill (yay, bread!).

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

A: Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter. A typical engineer who decided cooking would mix well with graphs and screwdrivers. I’m about to give it as a gift to a friend of mine who never liked cooking till it became difficult. I believe in borrowing books.

O: for my sister one of Ottolenghi’s beautiful books for her birthday.

What’s the last thing you read that made you laugh?

A: Many things. Yesterday I read a comparison of how electrons around the core of an atom try to keep as much distance from each other as they can are very similar to you and another person in the same cocktail dress on a fancy gala. I don’t know which one took more imagination.

O: I stumbled upon the columns by Renske de Greef last week and found them hilarious.

Which book have you never been able to finish reading?

Ulysses by James Joyce. My interest in novels has diminished over the years to make space for more informative books. This mindboggling stream of words was the first victim to fall.

O: I am OCD about reading books, I have to absorb every word, read a page again when I find myself drifting away, and it is impossible to not finish a book that I have read halfway. And I actually read Ulysses, Alex. 😉

What book do you turn to for advice?

A: Ehm. Heukels’ Flora van Nederland by R. van der Meijden. The biologists’ handbook for determining exactly which wild plant is about to kill you for trying to eat it. The SAS Survival Guide offers some basics on that too.

O: I have a copy of the I Tjing lying around somewhere that I used in a playful manner with my friends to advise us on the important questions in life. That was fun for a while.

The best food magazine?

A: Ai ai ai. I’m afraid I don’t read any magazines. I might follow up on interesting articles that pass by on my Facebook feed from various online magazines.

O: No magazines, but food blogs, I like the dessert recipes of Chocolate Covered Katie.

The recipe book you use the most?

A: Ottolenghi’s Plenty More. I live in a communal house with six other entrepreneurs that love cooking in their spare time. It’s actually a luxury with which I never have to buy recipe books myself. Ottelenghi has an interesting non-dogmatic view on cooking with vegetables (“this would be great with a piece of lamb”), that I much

appreciate. Every kitchen, from raw to vegan to African to molecular has interesting features, but I take open mindedness as the healthiest approach to life.

Favourite book about food?

A: Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking. Great and almost too-thorough bible of the scientific processes that happen in food cooking. A must-read. Maybe prep up on your chemistry basics though.

If you could cook dinner for a dead writer, who which writer would it be, where would you eat with them, and what would you make them?

A: Roald Dahl, whom I feel would appreciate anything cooked with enthusiasm. He would be more than welcome to join us at my house and dig into whatever has been created by whoever that day. Home cooking is as much about informal ambience as it is about the freedom to try new things.

Geijzendorffer and Burghoorn will be speaking in Joburg at the Spier Secret Festival on Sunday, 6 November 2016. Book your tickets here.

POEM: Masala

BY NAVLIKA RAMJEE

My fingers stink for days after
and I dare not touch my face
chillies garlic ginger masala

I sat crosslegged on a mat
in a shady part of the hot yard
with a knife and bowls full of burning

Children came knocking at the door
‘Mommy wants sixpence masala’
tonight’s food will be hot and spicy

It was a girl’s work to learn
the proportions for family potions
boys cleaned gutters and cars

Now I can enjoy the ritual
the cleaning of these fruits
of these bulbs and roots

Today I am making masala
I do not remember a time
when I did not make masala

POEM: Trial and error

BY FRANCINE SIMON

Knead me down
divide me thirty
palms of dough
your fingers sting
yet you know:
take your time

lay me turn
me with fingertips
use the curl of your hands
making me
a circle

each time you rolled
and pressed
I grew more round
each one of me
ready to be
pan oiled

then suddenly stop
you come to
a standstill

oh

my mother never told me
it comes with practice.

I never told you either.

THE READER: Andrea Burgener

Andrea Burgener is a self-taught chef and the owner of The Leopard restaurant in the Joburg suburb of Melville. She writes about food for several publications, including a weekly column for The Times, and has authored a cookbook, Lampedusa Pie.

What are you reading at the moment?

I read many things at the same time and often don’t finish them, because my life is somewhat chaotic and my free time appears in tiny little patches. I’ve just started Craig Higginson’s The Dream House which I’m loving and suspect I will finish, then next to my bed is Red Rackham’s Treasure which I’m re-reading for the 50th time (Tintin books are like therapy for me). In my bag I have The Great Cholesterol Scam by brilliant Scottish doctor Malcolm Kendrick, which I read if waiting or bored etc. when out and about. I am, perhaps unreasonably, obsessed with the topic. Anyone taking statin drugs (which I wouldn’t for love or money) should read this post-haste.

How do you decide what to read next?

Sometimes I just grab old books from our shelves; sometimes it’s through browsing (the best place to do this is Love Books in Melville which has been so intelligently curated that you can pretty much grab anything from a shelf with your eyes closed and be satisfied); sometimes I order specific books online because of some interest or other. The most recent order I’m awaiting is Rome Tales by Helen Constantine, a collection of short stories about Rome, my favourite city in the world.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

No single book.

What is your favourite novel of all-time?

Impossible to answer. I think it’s probably a tie between The Go-Between, To Kill a Mockingbird (my son narrowly escaped being called Atticus), Catch-22, Things Fall Apart, Laughter in the Dark, and The Magic Mountain. And though they are not novels, I love everything written by Florence King, especially her Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady. Her books are some of the funniest in existence.

What were your favourite books as a child?

So many! I think these are at the top of the list: Rebecca, Watership Down, The Secret Garden, the William books (which I still love to read now), Beano comics, Barbar the Elephant and Dr Seuss’s The Lorax.  Then too of course, all the Tintin books. I’ve tried so hard – clearly too hard – to engender a love of these in my children, yet they all remain inexplicably lukewarm.

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

I gave my husband a book on charcuterie for Christmas. He is obsessed with transforming pigs into gastronomic delights, and is very good at it.

Which book have you never been able to finish?

The Lord of the Rings. I tried so hard, because I felt I SHOULD like it, but I was bored to tears from the moment I started, and only got to about eighth of the way through (even that I consider a monumental feat). Tried again years later, but gave up even quicker.

What book do you turn to for advice?

For cooking advice, I have hundreds of recipe books that I go to; for other advice, I’m more likely to ask an actual person.

Do you read mostly paper books? On your iPad? Kindle? All three?

Paper books. I’m not very digital, generally; I don’t do Twitter, Instagram and so on. The online reading I do is of the newspaper article sort, recipes and so on, but never whole books. I like books as physical objects and can’t imagine doing away with that.

Your favourite cookbook?

Impossible to answer. But three of my (dozens of) favourites are: Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, Braam Kruger’s Provocative Cuisine (I love the food but it’s also a favourite for nostalgic reasons: he was a close friend and huge influence on my cooking), and Jacob Kennedy’s Bocca. Bocca is named after Kennedy’s award winning Italian restaurant in London; it’s a beautiful evocative tome with often unusual recipes from all over Italy. The meatballs cooked with lemon slices are my best thing in the book.

If you could cook dinner for a dead writer, who would you cook dinner for, where would you eat with them, and what would you make them?

I would cook dinner for my cousin Roly. He was a scriptwriter living in Los Angeles, whom I adored. He introduced me to the book Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and the timbale within, eaten at a banquet. We called it Lampedusa Pie. We always talked about getting the right recipe for the dish, and he eventually sent my mother a version in a letter. I would cook the perfect Lampedusa Pie for him, and we’d be eating it in Sicily, where the book is set. On the table would be the small vintage painted-plaster leopard which I found in a junk shop and meant to send to him and never did. My children broke its paw off, but it’s still beautiful. Anyway, in this scenario, where I can make dead people come to life, the paw would be fixed.

Lampedusa Pie is published by Bookstorm.