A small group of people, mostly NSCAD students, sit elbow to elbow around a small table, sharing the remains of a dinner in an otherwise empty hall attached to St. Matthew's Church on Barrington. They are celebrating the success of the first Recipe Exchange Project event, an art experiment designed to teach cooking to the community.
Artist Jesse Walker, who made gingery smoothies for the occasion, serves a large portion of a vegetarian enchilada onto a small plate for his father, Peter, who is a well-known artist and NSCAD faculty member. Peter makes wicked tortillas, which were used in this hot dish.
"That's a spicy quesadilla. Holy crap!" Jesse reaches over a plate of salad rolls for his smoothie glass.
"I warned you guys," laughs Jaimie Hale, a student at Acadia. "I forgot to mention in my recipe that I usually put yogurt or sour cream on it."
The Recipe Exchange Project started as an independent study for NSCAD University student Karen Hawes, under the tutelage of professor Jan Peacock. "Food as a medium is just as relevant as anything else. And making food is very performative," Hawes says. "I think how we socialize around food and interact around food is very artful. And recipes have a lot of potential."
Initially, Hawes wanted to collect other people's recipes to explore the language of instruction, but realized that she would learn more by observing people actually make food. Another layer of complexity was added when Peacock pointed out to her that "a lack of skills and experience are significant factors in food security. In these economic times, eating nutritiously is increasingly difficult for low-income individuals and nearly impossible for many families."
So Hawes expanded her idea to have more of a skill-sharing and community-service mandate. Along with fellow NSCAD student Gina Anderson, she began soliciting personal recipes through gorgeous posters and through therecipeexchangeproject.info. There were conditions: recipes should be related to meals shared with family or friends; donors must be willing to teach their recipe to others, and the recipes should be handwritten. Six out of 40 were chosen out of the first batch of recipes received---based on nutritional value, compatibility, deliciousness and cost---for this St. Matt's meal. Ingredients were donated from Atlantic Superstore, Sobey's, Hawes' parents and some farmers' market vendors, and she enlisted help from the Halifax North Library Women's Group. She then arranged for a group of 10 youth from Phoenix House to come to the church and learn how to make this meal for themselves. When only two showed up, Hawes recruited a bunch of teenagers hanging out in front of the Spring Garden library.
Although the make-up of the group changed and the library crew split quickly after one of their cellphones went off, Hawes considers the event a success. Working together in the church's comfortable kitchen, attendees shared knowledge and tips, like how to test avocados for ripeness, or how to make an overly salty guacamole right again (answer: add sugar to neutralize the taste).
Hawes plans to create a monthly event---she's applied for funds from the Halifax Peninsula Community Health Board---that would rotate the project/recipes through community groups and locations across the city. It's also been a learning experience for the young artist, researching what food-related services are already available and to "understand local issues around poverty." Hawes is still looking for new recipes, so pull out your old favourites and start cooking.
To submit a recipe for a future event, go to therecipeexchangeproject.info for a list of suggestions and drop-off locations.
Correction: In the sub-headline for last week's Food & Drink story, the Recipe Exchange Project should have been attributed to artist Karen Hawes.