Rebecca Katz: Art and Cooking as a Therapy

”I grew up with a spatula in one hand and a paintbrush in another among a family of artists and cooks. I’ve blended the two together, as chef/author of 5 award-winning cookbooks and a mixed media artist.”

Rebecca Katz’s art asks viewers to step into a world of possibility, mystery, and magic, and to be transported through color, light, and texture. In a unique melding of artistry and culinary skill, Rebecca Katz has created a distinct niche, ”I grew up with a spatula in one hand and a paintbrush in another among a family of artists and cooks. I’ve blended the two together, as chef/author of 5 award-winning cookbooks and a mixed media artist.” Katz pioneered a novel use of food in the treatment of cancer, working closely with survivors and health professionals in US cancer centers. She finds making art and cooking creatively are both opportunities to be fully present in life.

Rebecca in her studio with Blossom, her Golden doodle

When do you think art and food started to intertwine for you?

In 1995, I took a life sabbatical and I fled to Italy, with no language and no luggage (mine was lost), clutching a map in Italian and my innate curiosity, I found color, texture, and atmosphere. I found a studio to paint in the mornings and an Italian signora to teach me cooking in the afternoons. I began a life of exploration, inspiration, and healing through food and art, and offering that to the world of people in search of both.

Do you consider cooking a form of conceptual art?

Absolutely! When I’m cooking whether it’s day to day, or creating recipes for a book, I’m always thinking about color, texture and how certain flavors will work together to provide the maximum amount of yum. We eat with our eyes as well as our mouths, so it’s extremely important to pay attention to how a plate of food looks. The more color on the plate, the more nourishing the plate.

What was your first professional love: cooking or painting? Why?

When I was five, my mother gave me a watercolor set on a summer vacation and told me to paint the seascape in front of me. Art was a way for me to lose myself. Cooking came later.

While cooking is mostly perceived as humble and accessible, art is mostly reserved for the elites. How do you, personally, bridge them?

I approach cooking as a way to nourish people through their taste buds and I approach art-making the same way. How can I help people feel nourished and touched through their visual senses?

With which famous artist would you like to cook?

Matisse. He was a lover of good food.

Image from Rebecca’s cookbook. Photo credit for food photography: Eva Kolenko

Your recent series of artworks are abstract, yet you gave them serene and peaceful names. How would you describe your cooking style?

I would describe my painting style as an atmospheric abstract landscape. My niche in food and healing. I play with flavor, color, and texture to connect nutrition science to the plate, and pioneered an intelligent, novel and delicious use of food in the treatment of cancer.

Has any of your artworks been influenced by a certain recipe you created as a chef?

Yes, that would have to my greatest contribution to the culinary canon – the legendary Magic Mineral Broth, a healing broth that has helped nourish thousands of people around the world.

As some type of recipes is accessible to everyone, so is art. Do you think there is a way to educate audiences and consumers by bridging the two?

Yes, I have a cooking class and a mixed media art class at the same time. The two are so connected.

Each art movement came as a form of rebellion against the previous one. Do you think this is applicable to the culinary world, too?

Cooking is becoming less fussy and more focused on local and seasonal ingredients, using big bold flavors that come from around the globe.

How would you describe your painting technique and your cooking style?

A dear friend and colleague said to me recently, “Rebecca—I would know you anywhere in these paintings because it’s the way you make soup!”

Just as with making soup—the most elemental and alchemical of all culinary mediums— making a painting becomes an opportunity to explore intentions, experiment intuitively, and to feel into the colors and textures. Yet I do have a template or system of how I create soups and how I paint, which are surprisingly similar.
I choose my ingredients. I prep them out. I choose my spices or colors. I layer them. I find my way to an expression of life. And whether creating soup or painting, my intention is to nourish someone, so they savor inspiration, an experience, a memory.
For me, there is this sense of feeling about being in the kitchen and being in the studio, making soup or making paintings, that are atmospheric and ethereal, yet process-driven. Creative, but within a framework. I don’t just throw everything in a pot and hope. The onions are cut correctly, added to a pot of warmed oil… they start clarifying, turning golden… the spices go in… there’s a process of layering the flavor. Behind the stove and in the studio I have carefully developed flavors and colors that I work with, not pulling on everything under the sun each time I create something new. I try to work with the bare minimum to create the maximum sensory experience.

The opportunity to display my art is similar for me to serving soup. I create a soup, make it from scratch, take it off the stove, put in a bowl and serve it to someone. Once the bowl leaves my hands, it’s no longer my own. It becomes that person’s experience. Like years ago when I created my signature soup,

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Magic Mineral Broth to nourish participants in the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. As I conjured up the first batches, working with a deep intention and the alchemy of flavor and healing, participants wandered into the kitchen in search of that beguiling aroma. As I served mugs full of the magical broth, I watched as their faces expressed their inner joy, that involuntary spasm of vocal delight: yummmm.



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