Aleksandra Mir

16 Helpful Tips from 'The How Not to Cookbook'

By Emma Allen
artinfo.com, New York, September 2010

NEW YORK — The 'Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen' show currently at the Museum of Modern Art is a scholarly take on domestic cookery site's evolution over the course of the 20th century, but it pointedly ignores one aspect of the contemporary kitchen — namely that it's often a place of stomach-turning, fire-belching embarrassment. Luckily, artist Aleksandra Mir has stepped in with a reminder that even the best-designed kitchen can't protect home chefs from catastrophic cuisine with her new book The How Not to Cookbook: Lessons Learned the Hard Way, published by Rizzoli this month.

For her compendium of kitchen contretemps, Mir — an artist with a focus on social interactions who has shown at PS1, Schirn Kunsthalle, and the ICA Philadelphia — gathered 1,000 tips for avoiding culinary shame from visitors to a Web site she created. Contributors to the book come from all over the world, many offering their advice anonymously. But the index also includes such recognizable art-world characters as collector Andy Stillpass, collaborative duo Tectonic Industries, museum director Vicente Todoli, as well as artists Christian Holstad, Ellie Ga, Lisa Anne Auerbach, Julieta Aranda, Pierre Bismuth, and Paola Pivi.

Ferran Adrià, chef of famed Spanish restaurant El Bulli, contributed a blurb on the back of the book, declaring the endeavor, "The perfect example of how the worlds of cuisine and art are aligning to bear interesting fruits together." But really it's more an amalgamation of the emotionally revved-up ravings of online commenters, which can be as (or more) exhausting and grating than they are amusing. And unlike other food-based art, like the work served up by Rirkrit Tiravanija or Jennifer Rubell, The How Not to Cookbook won't help you get fed.

But while the book's advice can be plain wrong in places, or weirdly sexist, there are smatterings of moderately helpful, or at least bizarre, advice too. Who knew that microwaving plantains will make them smoke? In the spirit of being servicey, ARTINFO has culled 16 pieces of advice from the book — which Mir plans to follow up with other volumes on such subjects as romance, pets, and travel (and art) — that either made us chuckle or scratch our head.

1. "Why has no one cooked a whole egg on a barbecue? Because it transforms into an incandescent bomb that with a touch of the spoon will explode violently in your face, hurting you badly."

2. "Do not look into a glass oven too fast after opening the door. Especially while wearing mascara — it will make your eyelashes glue together."

3. "If you are five years old and your older brother is making you Ready Brek Porridge for breakfast, be prepared that instead of milk he might use fabric softener and you might die."

4. "During your student days you and your friend may decide to make some popcorn by heating a little oil in a pan, putting the dry kernels in, and then waiting for the popping to start. After the initial excitement of watching the tiny pieces burst into popcorn shapes you will be taken aback as pieces start to escape from the pan, jumping into the air. You will huddle together screaming as the pieces ricochet off the walls. Eventually, you will sweep up the dusty nuggets and feed them to your roommate."

5. "It may seem macho to use a hand whisk in place of an electric mixer, but do not be tempted, especially when the recipe says to whisk for fifteen minutes. She will not be impressed and you will look like a fool."

6. "Do not spit in the pudding. If you do, the starch will be separated from the milk."

7. "Do not ask an artist to cook for you when they are busy."

8. "Do not eat soft-boiled eggs with a silver spoon. They will stain the spoon and taste bad."

9. "Never cook naked. You will get hot fat on your chest and never know what will happen from behind."

10. "Do not use gas when drunk. There is always the assumption as a student that, no matter how much beer you have drunk, a couple of slices of toast will cure the hangover. The person most able to stand upright is usually dispatched to the kitchenette to feed the others with toast. If you are on duty, and drunkenly click the light, shouting, 'The grill seems to be broken,' the reply will most likely be, 'Keep trying, we need toast,' followed by a loud BOOM as the oven door shoots across the room into the wall. You might realize you have turned on the oven instead of the grill!"

11. "Do not barbeque in a nylon negligee for fear of sparks."

12. "Putting a lobster in a pot head first might be a problem if the lobster holds on to the edge of the pot with the claws, but no matter how difficult this seems do not try to put the tail in first with the claws pointing at you."

13. "When baking Burnt Butter Biscuits with your eighty-three-year-old grandmother, avoid using glass mixing bowls. There is every chance that she will reach to get the golden syrup out of the cupboard and knock over a bottle of tomato sauce, which will fall out of the cupboard, land upon, and smash the mixing bowl. Gravity will then take hold, propelling the broken mixing bowl from the table directly onto your foot. You may never wear high heels or kick a football again. And it all could have been avoided if the mixing bowl had been made of metal."

14. "Do not hurl a cast-iron Le Creuset casserole dish out the back door of your house onto the patio after having burned the dinner in the mistaken belief that these things are unbreakable. They are, in fact, breakable. And expensive to replace."

15. "Do not get drunk while you are cooking. Seriously, this was the subject of a whole TV public health campaign in Scotland."

16. "If you have a cat, close your kitchen door while you cook. If not, you could end up cat-less or dinner-less."