Image courtesy of the Red Flower Collective.

Performance, Talk

Meal #7: Eating an Archive

June 24, 2022 – June 24, 2022
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Asia Art Archive in America

23 Cranberry St. Brooklyn, NY

In collaboration with Asia Art Archive in America, Red Flower Collective hosted its seventh meal, responding to questions of the archive as they relate to food and cooking. When is the archive ephemeral? Can the archive be eaten? Is the body not an archive for the food that it chews and swallows?

AAA in A’s collection of books on food and cooking features recipes with Southeast Asian, South Asian and Chinese influences. A recent addition to the collection is The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook, edited by artist and art historian, Suresh Jayaram, who founded the 1Shanthiroad artist residency in Bangalore, India. The book comprises recipes from non-chefs, from people who passed through a space in which they resided, gathered, made work, ate with others, and exchanged various inherited and generational knowledges.

By reinterpreting some of the recipes from the Archive, Meal #7 highlighted the role of the hand, the tongue, and memory in the kitchen. The task of preparing a recipe, even if it has been written, is the task of recreating it, of retrieving it from a different context—what was it like before? The tongue commands the hand: how much? How long? Why not? The body is an archive of the gestures and smells of the kitchen and the hand reveals its memory.

On June 24, the collective prepared fourteen dishes for a sit-down meal.


Tsohil Bhatia (TB): Thank you all for coming here, and thank you for taking the COVID test. We are very happy to have so many people turn up for this dinner. Red Flower Collective started during the pandemic, when Erin came to Pittsburgh to stay with me for about 25 days, during which time we ended up cooking something very elaborate every day. That’s when we started thinking that we love doing this; we love cooking for a lot of people.

Erin Montanez (EM): It was really all we were doing at the time. If we weren’t cooking something, we were thinking about eating and cooking something.

General Audience: [Laughter]

TB: I think a lot of people were doing the same thing at that time, when we were all in lockdown. And that’s when we really started thinking about the idea. But it was only when we started sharing meals collectively that the idea began to take shape, seemed more possible, and that was when Red Flower Collective hosted its first meal. And since that first meal, we’ve hosted seven meals. Two of which were delivered during the December (Omicron) wave. These were deliveries to people who were care providers or who needed care…

EM: who were sick or isolating.

TB: That was also an amazing experience. It was a no contact door drop-off and very different from sharing a meal with people in the same space. 

EM: These meals were focused on staples of South Asian cooking. The menus we crafted at that time included foods made for comfort as well as wellness–rice, dal, rasam.

TB: We are very happy to have you here today for the seventh meal. But at some point during the process of cooking today, we were like “this is a very ambitious menu”. 

General Audience: [Laughter]

TB: Initially, it was just going to be the two of us cooking all of it, but then a lot of our friends showed up and did a lot of the work. When you are cooking ten different dishes, the last thing you want to think about is also doing the washing up. So when you have someone else taking care of that, it’s kind of amazing. At this moment, we would also like to introduce Jenna Hamed, who’s right over there, and who’s the third member of the Red Flower Collective. We are very excited to be working with Jenna (Hamed).

General Audience: [Applause]

EM: But really, throughout all the meals we’ve done so far, all six of them, everyone that has hosted the meals is also a member of Red Flower Collective. That type of support in the kitchen is essential. I also personally hate cooking alone. I would rather have somebody else in the room at all times for chopping and cleaning, for conversation and to enjoy the meal with.

TB: Someone needs to be there. 

General Audience: [Laughter]

EM: It’s true.

TB: Now, we will talk a little bit about how we put the menu together.

EM: The meal speaks for itself, but the conversation we were having when we were first putting it together had a lot to do with the absence of food in institutional art spaces. That is not to say that food hasn’t played a role in how contemporary artists have pursued food and cooking in their practices. But as we spent a lot of time in these spaces, we were struck by the occasional sterility of the commercial gallery space, for example. We are kind of interested in elevating… [looking at Tsohil] you said something like “it can’t become art when I’m thinking about it being food or something…”

TB: I can either make art or I can make food.

EM: Exactly. 

TB: Tonight’s dinner started with a particular research project going through the book collection at Asia Art Archive in America to find recipes made or mentioned by artists. As a result of our research, we have been mostly working around four different books. One is Ise’s (​​Roslisham Ismail/Ise) book Langkasuka (Langkasuka: “Cook Book”). The second book is Bastard Cookbook (Bastard Cookbook: The Odious Smell of Truth), which is Rirkrit Tiravanija and Antto Melasniemi. And the third book which is…[looking at Erin] what’s the name of the book again?

EM: 1Shanthiroad Cookbook. The majority of our recipes come from the 1Shanthiroad Cookbook.

TB: 1Shanthiroad is a residency space in Bangalore in the south of India. About a year ago, working with publishers Reliable Copy, the residency published a cookbook that contains recipes from all the residents that have passed through or have been residents over the last decade. While this cookbook can be considered part of a South Asian archive, it also contains records of people that have passed through that space who come from different parts of the world. I thought it was really important for us to include those recipes as well, recipes of people from outside of Asia or from different parts of Asia, not just South Asia. Because when we talk about an Asian archive, I think it is important to show how an Asian archive can be expansive, that it doesn’t have to be limited to Asian people, that it can include people who have spent some time in different parts of Asia as well. We wanted that idea to come through in our menu. Now, we will go through the entire menu, one dish at a time.

JD: And would you also talk a bit about how you made this [holding up the printed menu]. It is a beautiful work of art. 

EM: It’s part of an edition of 65 [looking at Tsohil].

TB: It’s an edition of 65. And the menus are printed on a letter press. [Flipping the menu over] And that is our new logo. We have a logo finally.

JD: Can we take them home?

TB: Yes, take them home. We were wondering if people are going to be eating with the menu on the table, then the menus are going to get dirty, but do it. 

EM: It’s your prerogative, if you want to keep them clean, put them in your bag or on a shelf, but you can also just leave them on the table for the duration of the meal.

TB: The first dish is a beverage, Air Bandung with Basil Seed (Malaysian iced beverage with rose syrup and evaporated milk). It’s the pink drink on the table near the kitchen. It’s the only thing on our menu that we have made in a previous meal when Molly (Grund) was hosting us. Molly is also here. Oh Molly, hi! [laughs]. The second thing on the menu is Blue Nimbu Pani, which is essentially a lemonade made with butterfly pea flower.

EM: The third thing on the menu is Dusit Thani Salad (after Rirkrit Tiravanija and Antto Melasniemi). We have included the names of the artists who published and/or wrote the recipes that we are following or using. A recipe, whether it is written down or communicated orally, is always a moment of reinterpretation. We are always trying to reconcile the way that somebody made a meal in the past with our way of making it in the present. And for this reason, the food is unlikely to taste exactly the way the original cook or writer of the original recipe made it. We are interested in that reinterpretation.

TB: That shift.

EM: Yes, and the continuity as well.

TB: And that’s why when we think about cooking, we think about the hand, the tongue, and memory as three important aspects of cooking. Many recipes sound familiar. One recipe can resemble another. It’s like when I kind of know a flavor that I want to create, I often reflect on two similar recipes when I am preparing it in the kitchen, and that is interesting to us. That’s why we say that the recipes of tonight’s dishes are “after” the artists who’ve written them, because we’ve definitely made a lot of changes. 

EM: The frame of reference we are interacting with is actually very important in the making of this particular meal, because neither of us have ever made most of the recipes on this menu. The Saaru is an example. We had made a Rasam before, which is similar, but this recipe is not the same. The ingredients are slightly different. We were coming into it, knowing a little bit about what we were doing, but also having questions and experimenting as we tried to follow the recipes. I hope you’ve been enjoying the Dusit Thani Salad, the first salad on the drink table with cherry and fresh tamarind. And next…

TB: Next is the Pineapple and Raw Mango Salad (after Suresh Jayaram) which is a spicy salad. It’s got heat. A lot of the things on the menu have a little bit of heat to them, but we’ve also got very sweet drinks out there. The salad is something I remember from Bangalore. I ate it first at the street stall and then went home to try to remake it. Because I needed to figure out how to make it. I can’t keep going back to this small food stand to eat it. And after a while, I actually dared to make it. I actually thought about it a lot before I finally made it. And it is now one of my favorite salads, and I’m happy that it’s on the menu. It is very similar to a salad made by Suresh Jayaram, who is the founder of and runs the Shanthiroad residency. So this dish is after a recipe by Suresh as well.  We’ve added things from his recipe. 

EM: Suresh was the editor of the 1Shanthiroad Cookbook. He cooks a lot. Tsohil was a resident there and from what I heard he’s the kind of person who cooks for everyone that passes through that space, whether they’re residents, or they are there for a program, or they are working there. It’s a community space. And we are attempting to follow that example in many ways. 

TB: Welcome to Paradise (after Barblina Meierhans) is a sweet and spicy salad with carrot, apple, and fresh chili…

EM: I like this recipe because I noticed today that Barblina mentions that it reminds her of a friend, so she’s reminded of the friend both in making and writing this recipe; in the notes section, she says “my friend is also here”. 

TB: Which takes us to the next dish Gauri Lankesh’s Urgent Saaru (after Pushpamala N.) is a Karnataka style warm and aromatic soup. [Pointing to the video being projected on the wall] That is a video performance of Pushpamala N. preparing the Saaru.

EM: She submitted this recipe to the 1Shanthiroad Cookbook.

TB: Pushpamala had a note for us to read out tonight.

EM: I will read it out loud now. “Pushpamala N’s live cooking performance Gauri Lankesh’s Urgent Saaru is an act of remembrance for the artist’s close friend, journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was assassinated in 2017 for her political views. Gauri Lankesh has since become an international icon of resistance. Gauri was the artist’s neighbor and a good cook who gave the artist several recipes. Urgent Saaru, which means a quick curry that is dished up for unexpected guests, was probably invented by her mother.  The performance takes off from popular TV food programs, while also referring to the Hindu prasada or offering of sacred food, and the Christian Eucharist, where red wine and bread representing the blood and flesh of Christ are distributed in remembrance of his sacrifice. This particular recipe was specifically chosen for the performance as the tomato coconut curry is deep red in color, the color of blood, and because the times are…urgent. The first version was performed at the Hyderabad Literary Festival in 2018. This performance is part of an ongoing investigation by the artist on the nature of the nation state, and the place of women in it.” This is particularly poignant and upsetting in the context of today’s news. 

Moving on, the Zucchini and Pea Soup (after Thomas and Renée Rapedius) is the outlier. It is in front of you. Feel free to have it now, while we walk you through the second half of the menu.

General Audience: [Laughter]

TB: There’s a lot. Shrimp Tom Yam Jelly (after Rirkrit Tiravanija and Antto Melasniemi) is a Tom Yam Soup that has been turned into jelly using agar. We were very excited to try this recipe, and it was one of the edgy-fun recipes on the menu. Kenyan Channa Bateta (after Ragini Bhow) is black chickpea potato stew. There’s white chickpea and there’s black chickpea. The black chickpea is much smaller and has its dark skin on and is a little more flavorful. We’ve been eating it a lot at home and were excited to introduce it to you. Next is the Vegetable Kadhi (after Aaiushi Beniwal), Kadhi is a recipe that is mostly made in Rajasthan, the north western part of India. It’s from the desert and is a stew that’s made with chickpea and gram flour and has a lot of veggies in it. So those are actually our veggie options. The veggie mains are numbers nine and ten (on the menu). 

EM: Next is the Chicken Afghani (after Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai). I think it’s the real star of this meal.

TB: It’s really good.

General Audience: [Laughter]

EM: Even if you have heart problems, you should still try it.

TB: It’s literally chicken fried in two bricks of butter, but it’s really good. And you don’t remove the butter after frying it; you let it stay there. Kashmiri Yakhni after Ayisha Abraham is a goat meat stew. It’s a dry fry of goat meat. I absolutely love goat meat. Every place I go, I look for goat meat. It’s kind of hard to find here in NY, but Jackson Heights is where you can get it.

EM: And in a pinch, the frozen section at C-Town actually.

TB: The recipe is from occupied Kashmir. It was important for us to include that recipe on the menu. Kashmir has been occupied by the Indian state since even before 1947, before the British left the country, and it continues to be occupied. Kashmir goes into lockdowns all the time. Its cuisine is highly prized. 

EM: Sri Lankan Fish Curry (after Thisath Thoradeniya), I’ve made so many fish curries. I’ve made good fish curries. I’ve made terrible fish curries. I’ve said that I would make fish curry for a group of friends, but then in the moment I asked Tsohil to do it. I’ve never made one with a specifically Sri Lankan influence. We used tuna, which is typical of fish curry from this location.

TB: And Sri Lanka is also the biggest exporter of tuna…

EM: the biggest commercial producer of tuna. The curry powder is a little different. But all of my previous fish curries, all of those dreams and failures, did inform this recipe.

TB: Blue Rice is Ise’s recipe. I have messed it up a little bit. It’s a little over cooked, but it’ll work. It’ll work with everything.

EM: It’s a beautiful color. 

General Audience: [Laughter in agreement]

TB: Puttu (after Sandeep TK) is coming down soon. You’re going to be able to identify it very easily. It’s a rice and coconut cake wrapped in banana leaf and we will bring it out shortly. It’s a very common South Indian rice cake from the state of Kerala.

EM: Moving on to the dessert section…

TB: Then there’s the Fish Sauce Ice Cream (Nam Pla ice Cream, after Rirkrit Tiravanija and Antto Melasniemi). Try it.

General Audience: [Laughter]

EM: You should try it. Barring dietary restrictions, try it.

TB: And the last one Jump and Stab (Lompat Tikam) is also after Ise, and it is the only change on the menu. The Jump and Stab is not going to be served with rice. It is just going to be coconut and pandan leaf pudding.

EM: But the pudding is made with rice flour.

TB: That dessert is vegan, gluten free and accommodates a lot of dietary restrictions.

EM: Lastly, we want to thank all of you, once again, for coming out tonight. We’re really interested in having this type of program. It’s exciting for us to have a group of people who may or may not know each other to congregate in the same room together around food. We’re going to start bringing the dishes down now, and as soon as everything is up on the table here, you can serve yourself.

TB: Also, if you don’t already follow us, we are on Instagram as Red Flower Collective. We try to do these events once a month. We would love to see you again. So come out and eat with us. There’re always at least fourteen things on the menu. Also, it’s kind of a tasting menu. There’s a lot to eat. We’ve prepared enough for everyone. So please try everything that you can. Thank you very much for being here.

General Audience: [Applause] 

Q&A after dinner

Jane DeBevoise (JD): Before Tsohil and Erin run away, I thought we could take the opportunity to ask them some questions about what we just ate. Now is an opportunity to learn more about their practice. [Holds up an item that is a part of the table arrangement] And I would like to ask the first question. What is this? 

Tsohil Bhatia (TB): Oh, that’s actually what I call a tamarind skeleton. It comes from the fresh tamarind fruit that was in the first salad.

Erin Montanez (EM): The Dusit Thani Salad

TB: Yes, the salad contains mangoes and cherries. Fresh tamarind is also in that salad.

JD: [Holds up an additional item that is a part of the table arrangement] And what is this?

TB and EM: That’s the seed of the tamarind.

JD: So, they fit together?

TB and EM: Yes..

EM: The fruit grows around that seed and forms a pod that you can pull the seeds off of.

TB: The skeleton system holds it together.

EM: It also has a hard shell that you squeeze and it cracks into a bunch of pieces to reveal the fruit.

JD: It’s very beautiful, and looks like a cicada in some ways. Okay, so other questions?

Audience Member 1 (AM1): Hi everyone. This has been amazing. Thank you. The whole menu is amazing. There is a wide selection of different ingredients across a lot of different countries in South and Southeast Asia. I’m curious about what was the preparation process, especially in NYC? What were able to get in neighborhoods in Queens or some parts of Brooklyn? I ask because I don’t think you can get all the ingredients in one supermarket. 

TB: It’s actually really hard. You want to get fresh ingredients, and the ingredients are scattered around the city, but you can’t get it on the day you are cooking. So, you are really running from one place to another trying to gather everything you can. Of course, there’s always one thing you need that you can’t find anywhere, and this time it was the banana leaf. It delayed our shopping time by three hours, just trying to find the banana leaf. A lot of it was actually found in Queens. The meats and the fish and all of it came from Flushing, Jackson Heights, mostly around there, in just one store or another. You just have to try every store until you find it. 

EM: We (Red Flower Collective) individually cook a lot of South and Southeast Asian food, so it has led to a familiarity about where to source ingredients. 

TB: There’s a lot of live kill butchers in Jackson Heights and Astoria, so you can pick what you want.

EM: Tsohil was delayed yesterday because the mutton was being cut.

TB: The guy literally had a goat on his shoulder, and I was like, “I like that.”

Asia Art Archive in America Staff 1 (AAAinA1): Could you walk us through your thought process on the fish sauce ice cream? It’s unexpected, because it doesn’t really taste like fish sauce, but knowing that it is fish sauce does make the experience of eating it a bit weird. 

General Audience: [Laughter]

AAAinA1: For me, it is such a fascinating ingredient, because it is a condiment; it’s never the main thing in a dish; it’s something you use to season a dish. To highlight something so insignificant and small is kind of interesting, so if you could talk a little bit about that.

TB: I really didn’t want it on the menu.

EM: I was excited from the start. It sounds funky and Red Flower Collective is funky.

TB: But I think it worked. I didn’t want to recipe test (experiment) with an entire ice cream, so I thought, “Okay, I kind of know how to make ice cream and this recipe just calls for fish sauce, so I’m going to try a spoonful of cream with a drop of fish sauce, to j get a sense.” I wanted to get a sense of what this might taste like before I decided to serve it. But I think I put too much fish sauce in that spoon. Even a drop of fish sauce in a spoon is very salty, so I was like I don’t want this on the menu. But I’m kind of into it right now.  

AAAinA1: And it goes really well with the pandan dessert.

General Audience: [Sound of agreement].

EM: I was just noticing the sweetness of the pandan accentuates the fish sauce in the ice cream. 

TB: The recipe is from the Bastard Cookbook. It’s by Rirkrit (Tiravanija) and Antto (Melasniemi) and they are talking about how these bastardized recipes mix up things that don’t work together. The Tom Yam Jelly is also from that book. The book has a recipe for the Tom Yam Soup, and then the book goes on to say that you can also make a jelly from it and small jelly cubes…

Audience Member 2 (AM2): I’ve been following the Asia Art Archive for a while, but this is my first in-person event and it’s amazing. Thank you. I’m curious when there are recipes or dishes you haven’t made before, how do you gauge if it’s made right? And after tasting and making these dishes, what are some discrepancies between what’s right or what’s not? And are the recipe books you used available here? 

TB: I think this is the first time we did a lot of recipe testing.

EM: It’s the very first time. 

TB: A lot of the time we cook familiar recipes, so we usually work with familiar recipes, or we work with people who know the flavors. For example, we have hosted a meal with Jenna (Hamed) and with Molly (Grund) and they knew what they were doing, so we took a step back. 

EM: They were there to gauge what the dish should actually taste like.

TB: Some of the recipe testing is as simple as adding a drop of fish sauce to a spoonful of cream. And, some of it is literally assembling a lot of open spice jars and then putting your face next to them, and being like okay, these four spices do this together. These are the hacks. And then there is actual recipe testing, which is like I think this will work, but we need to try it.

EM: But it’s definitely a difficult task. The recipes in Langkasuka, for example, are so thorough. The author in this case made drawings of the recipes as opposed to writing them out in text form, and they spent a lot of learning these recipes from other people, to perfect a right way of making them. We found that very daunting. It was really difficult to replicate these drawn recipes and their process in a manner of months, so we tried to select recipes within reach and recipes that related to our frame of reference and understanding of flavor and ingredients. All these recipes are from books on the shelves around you in this room.

Audience Member 3 (AM3): In the past I’ve attended a number of well-catered events, but I must say this has been the most delicious. It included so many delicious dishes. I am curious which recipes behind-the-scenes turned out to be more difficult than expected or required improvisation that turned out to be a wonderful learning experience? 

EM: They all required improvisation.

General Audience: [Laughing]

TB: When we do recipe testing, we do it for one or two people, and then we need to scale that to fifty. And that’s why I messed up the rice. To cook rice for fifty people is much harder than to cook it for two people.

EM: I would say the same for the Puttu as well. 

TB: Recipe testing can only tell you so much, and some things have to happen on the go. And if they don’t work out, they don’t work out. For example, there was no tapioca for the fish sauce ice cream, which we thought would really work, but we learned that it can’t sit overnight.

General Audience: [Laughter]

Audience Member 4 (AM 4): I’m wondering more about your collective. What different shapes has it taken over the last year? Also, one thing that is amazing is that this dinner was free. I was wondering if you could share how you’ve managed to do that, because it is such a rare thing to find free events where you are actually getting something?

TB: I think that is one of the main reasons we want to do this. One thing we always talk about is that good food does not have to be expensive. Good food can be really cheap, actually.

EM: And accessibility is really important for our project.

TB: We don’t want anyone to not be able to come. We realize that our accessibility is limited to what we post on Instagram and to friends of friends, so we’re still not really reaching out to everybody. We do want to do fully public meals at some point, but the infrastructure for all that is pretty scary. And it’s just three of us right now. So that’s why collaborative projects work very well for us, because we are working with someone, and they bring their own expertise and their own knowledge, and it also adds one more person. And sometimes that one more person grows to four to five people. At Molly’s dinner, for example, we had a lot of people; the entire family was there, doing many things. That was one of the most special meals. And Jenna’s meal was in Jenna’s living room, so that one had to be really intimate because we were like “that can fit maybe twenty to 25 people maximum”. And we have very little money. 

General Audience: [Laughter]

TB: But this meal was supported by the Asia Art Archive in America. That is why we were able to do this, and we are very grateful for that, so thank you.

JD: We are very grateful for this opportunity. We have totally enjoyed the collaboration. Other questions?

Audience Member 5 (AM5): When you were first talking about the process of cooking and creating this menu, you mentioned the issues of continuity when making some of these recipes, but at the same time you referred to the challenges of re-creating dishes that give rise to variations because you aren’t able to make the same exact dish twice. In that vein, I was wondering if there are any rituals that you always do when you start cooking? Or are there rituals that you’ve adopted from some of these cookbooks, like, this is how we should start every meal? Or every time you prepare a meal, are there ingredients that you always use? In other words, is there something that has become the thread that connects all your cooking?

EM: I think that I’ve grown to work with a number of small rituals over time. In the kitchen, I don’t really listen to music. I don’t have a visual practice (as an artist). Cooking is the one time I know exactly what to do with my hands and realizing that was really important. Focusing on that, and focusing only on the food is important. I also hear Tsohil’s voice in my head very often.

General Audience: [Laughter]

EM: Because I’ve learned a lot from them, from the pestering…

TB: I’m a little bit of a kitchen dom. I’m always watching and asking questions…

EM: At my house too…

General Audience: [Laughter]

TB: Also, every time we make a meal, we become a little more organized. Every time, we’re like “wow, this is way more organized than last time.”

EM: And we are finding it easier to prepare ingredients on this scale too. We had a lot of help today…

TB: A lot.

EM: from Jenna, Thomas, Molly, and John.

TB: From everybody 

EM: And Eric and Furen.

TB: I guess rituals haven’t really emerged yet, although I’m sure they are there; we just haven’t identified them. But at the moment, a lot of what we do is just running around, because things just need to happen, so I feel like there’s no time for rituals.

General Audience: [Laughter]

EM: The only comfort to be found is in the chaos.  

General Audience: [Laughter]

TB: It’s absolute chaos.

EM: But, it’s kind of fun. 

TB: The kitchen where we cooked tonight’s meal is very big, but we were still running out of space. How was that possible?

EM: At 10 o’clock this morning, Tsohil was like, “the fridge is full! How is the fridge full?”

Audience Member 6 (AM6): This is Meal #7.  Don’t hate me because of this question, but do you see yourself carrying through to Meal #100? 

EM: Just trying to calculate, if we do one meal a month…how many years is that? 

TB: The name Meal #1 happened like this. From the conception of Red Flower Collective to the first meal, from creating our email address and Instagram page to hosting the first meal, was a week. On one day we announced that we were a collective and were going to have this meal and we wanted people to come over. And a week later 35 people arrived at my apartment, and it was really crowded. Because we really didn’t know what we were doing, we called it Meal #1. We were like, “let’s just start like that”. 

EM: We had other problems than deciding on what to call the event.

TB: Yeah, and sometimes we think maybe we should drop the number. The number is actually internal, so we know what meal number it is, but maybe it doesn’t need to be called that.

AM6: Sounds like you’ve already had your Meal #100, depending on how you count them.

General Audience: [Laughter]

AAAinA1: Cooking for two is very different from cooking for fifty and the kitchen can very quickly transform from a scene of serenity to one of chaos. And since you are both friends and collaborators, I was wondering if you could speak to some of the tensions that arise from cooking for so many people and the ways you perhaps might navigate that complexity?

TB: We fight all the time, all the time…[laughs]

EM: Because there is always something else to worry about, that type of tension can’t get in the way of something that’s about to boil over the edge of a pot or something like that.

TB: On the days we are cooking the meal, we don’t really fight because there’s just too much to do. There’s no time for that. But leading up to it, when we are making decisions on what we’re doing or on what’s going to be next, that’s when most of the disagreements happen.

EM: I think when you’re trying to pursue a personal project outside of a 40hr work week, it’s difficult.  Pursuing a project independently or collaboratively without funding is also difficult, especially when there are time constraints. We are on the phone a lot. We are friends and we are collaborators. We are on the phone for at least fifteen minutes eight times throughout the day, trying to resolve small things, trying to get closer and closer to what we would like to do.

TB: There are absolutely no boundaries.

AAAinA1: I also want to acknowledge Molly’s role in the dinner party. I think of this dinner as an installation, as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk, so I would like her to speak maybe about the floral arrangement because I think a floral arrangement can make or break a vibe at a dinner party. So, Molly, if you could talk about the plants you’ve chosen to have in this room, and what was the thinking behind them, that would be great.

Molly Grund (MG): Well, I would say that I didn’t choose any of the decorations. All of the things that you see on the table are ingredients that were used in the meal. Tsohil and Erin lovingly handed me a big bag…

TB: We were like, “this is what we have remaining”.

General Audience: [Laughter]

JD: Can you tell us, for example, what this is [holds up an item that is part of the table arrangement]?

MG, EM: That’s a chive.

EM: That’s the one thing that was not used anywhere in the meal, but we bought it because Molly’s mother, Grace, had used it as a table arrangement for the meal she helped us prepare. It’s beautiful when it’s both closed and open. And you can get it at almost any grocery store. I also am a person who prefers green things like this versus flowers.

TB: Once it completely opens up, you can use the flowers in salads. They have a very mild onion flavor. 

JD: And [holds up an additional item that is part of the table arrangement]?

EM: Lemongrass.

JD: And [holds up an additional item that is part of the table arrangement]?

EM: Green chili, which is where all the heat in your meal came from.

Audience Member 7 (AM7):  We’ll stay tuned for your cookbook. I am not trying to put more stress on you all, but do you post news on your website right now?

TB: We do. But I don’t want to do emails. I don’t want to do email ever.

General audience: [Laughter]

TB: We give people our numbers, text, and Instagram.

AM7: You need a cookbook though.

TB: Yeah.

AM7: I ask because I want to DM you about all these things and I think it could be a good way to help allow others to support you as well in your mission. Other than that, I wish you luck on getting grants. There’re so many great grants out there. I’m someone who has to apply for grants myself, and I know they exist and I hope that you get them. Because there are a lot of great places that should want artists like you, especially because what you do is founded on passion and community, and that’s what it takes to really continue a project. So, I wish you luck in all that you are doing, and again, the meal was just so amazing.

EM: Thank you.

Audience Member 8 (AM8): How did you meet?

EM: We met in India. We were both working for the Kochi Biennale, the edition organized by Sudarshan Shetty.

Audience Member 9 (AM9): What do you think was the highlight of tonight’s meal? 

EM: I thought it was the pineapple…

TB: Yeah, the pineapple salad…

EM: and chutney. A few people around the room have said the same.

Audience Member 10 (AM10): Oh yeah! And the fish sauce ice cream!

JD: Well then, if there are no more questions, let’s all thank Erin and Tsohil one more time, and then let’s finish the fish sauce ice cream! It was wonderful!

General Audience: [Applause]

Red Flower Collective is a food research and eating collective founded by art historian and researcher, Erin Montanez, and artist-homemaker, Tsohil Bhatia. Since its inception in July 2021, the collective has hosted free, open meals out of borrowed kitchens loaned by friends and institutions. With a rotating membership of artists, chefs and homecooks, and community organizers, the collective is interested in sharing food and cooking together through community meals, installations, and programs. The project takes food and the labors of cooking as key tools in forgoing the sterility of the gallery exhibition space, collaborating with practitioners to center generational culinary histories and affirm diasporic identities.

Red Flower Collective was born during COVID 19, out of the desire to eat with people, to counter the taboo of being together and sharing home space, and to assert that food is a primary issue of public concern. We are drawn to the idea of a porous home, one that is malleable based on both individual and collective need. The provision of a meal and the meal as an event invites a group of people unfamiliar to one another to assemble. Red Flower Collective aims to break the transactional nature of food consumption and instead encourage communal eating. The nature of care is at the center of the collective’s project.

Meal #7: Eating an Archive is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.