The Corona Cookbook
Recipes from 106 self-made chefs, food artists and intermediate-snackers brought together by Markus Miessen and Lena Mahr.
Of the many routines and rituals that have been lost in the last three months, the very basic act of feeding ourselves has come to largely structure daily waking hours. Some days, Operation Nutrition is imbued with an air of religiosity: preparation, indulgence, then purification, while some days to swipe peanut butter on a rice cracker might feel better, as we cannot bear to wash another dish.
The Corona Cookbook, the first edition of a collective cookbook compiled by Markus Miessen and Lena Mahr in the early days of quarantine, provides cooking inspiration all along this spectrum, thanks to the collaborative spirit of an amazing network of friends of friends of friends of the intellectual couple (Miessen is an architect and Mahr a graphic designer). This cookbook is the first time Arts of the Working Class has dipped our toe into the culinary world, though food stands at the same political intersections as art and labour in general.
Associate editor for Issue 11 "Faux Culture", Eva Scharrer contributes a recipe for heartbreak (page 86), while contributors to our upcoming issue "2038" Matylda Krzykowski and Lukas Kubina offer a "two in one solution" for cooking with the same ingredients over multiple days (pages 49 & 46). The multiplicative force of this initiative brought us together on a playlist that both the publishers of The Corona Cookbook and AWC put together, mingling ideal tracks for an early bike ride and songs that belong to the universal repertoire of dominical feasts.
In reaching out to their community for their "favorite pandemic meal", Miessen and Mahr assembled an archive of comfort food from people in isolation. Each one of the 106 different recipes comes with a personal anecdote from the chef, whether the recipe originated in their Italian grandmother's kitchen or is the only food their kid will eat. These are recipes that celebrate tradition next to those that document the daily invention.
After Ottolenghi’s Simple, The Corona Cookbook, which will be distributed for free with a physical copy coming out later this year, shares multiple attempts of painstakingly simplified recipes, which always went awry for one reason or another. Most of Berliners don't have a food processor and gathers their ingredients from Edeka, not the shores of Mediterranean. We might have become largely uninterested in cooking beyond the familiar repertoire inspired by time constraints and efficiency.
"Regardless of whether you are the kind of person who really enjoys preparing a meal or an intermediate-level snacker, a buyer of pre-cooked or ready-made meals, a food enthusiast, a professional or of the throw some fruit & veg in the mouth of the blender persuasion-" Miessen and Mahr write in their introduction- "It is important to us that this document be a document of the NOW". Over the course of the crisis, the question "What now?" has been asked in some variation in the halls of governments, the floors of shuttered factories, and by those rubbing their eyes in the morning. The question that should come before "Have you had anything to eat?" should be “What else can we do?”
This is not the time for celebrity chefs and aiolies that require ten grams of fresh parsley- it is invariably the time to do with what we have in the pantry from the ransacked super market around the corner (see Sarah Illenberger's recipe on page 42). In Billy Wagner's postscript of the book he writes, "Cooking is never just pure food intake: with food you experience self-efficacy. You cannot influence everything that is going on around you; but you can still influence what you eat. Especially in difficult situations with special challenges, you learn to successfully master them on your own".
Miessen and Mahr and their collaborators won our enthusiasm and an unprecedented 4 Spoons (the rest are buried in the dishes piled in the sink) for their experimental cuisine. These are recipes that celebrate the mind craft of both invention and survival. Recipes for the post-pre-quarantine-limbo, but also for the world and kitchens that will be forever changed by the early spring of 2020.