Aleksandra Mir

The How Not To Cookbook

By Nicola, London, September 2009

Another interesting new food publication is artist Aleksandra Mir’s How Not To Cook. Her project, a commission from Edinburgh’s Collective Gallery, is a sort of oral history of kitchen catastrophes:

Based on Aleksandra’s personal history of cooking disasters, the project invites 1000 people from all around the world to give their advice of how NOT to cook. With this volume, any reader will be more than well equipped to avoid making the same mistakes in their kitchen.

It is a lovely mixture of the head-noddingly familiar and the head-shakingly idiotic, with a tears-of-laughter-inducing tone of mournful, hard-earned wisdom. Some of my favourites:

"A cucumber is a poor substitute when making zucchini bread, no matter how similar they appear."

"Do not waste your time going through the whole process of mixing, kneading and baking bread when you do not know what lukewarm is really supposed to mean. When the water is too hot, you will kill your yeast and end up using your hard-as-rock boule as a doorstop."

"If you happen upon a large amount of fruit-and-nut-studded cheese, and you do not like it, do not try to make a cheesecake out of it by running it through a food processor with some milk and then baking it. You still will not like it."

"If you want to feed your date by cooking tomatoes mixed with eggs take into account that after adding butter and oil do not also add a jar of peanut butter. She will not feel like having sex after eating this."

I could actually just cut-and-paste the whole thing, I enjoyed it so much. Together, these tips transcend their status as funny stories to form an alternative landscape of cooking – a direct and refreshing contrast to the glossily perfect, celebrity-chef food we consume so eagerly in books, magazines, and on TV. As the book’s blurb suggests: “By making our guilty failures public we may even be creating an original and subversive form of art, rather than simply aspiring to obvious and repetitive results.”