“IF THERE’S ONE thing I know, it’s that artists throw superior parties,” writes artist and cook Julia Sherman in the introduction to her new cookbook, “Arty Parties.” In my experience, this is the gospel truth. “Whether it’s a dance party in a warehouse, a food-based performance, or an imaginative take on a national holiday,” she continues, “artists cultivate a sense of discovery in the everyday.” Rather than nitpick over the fold of a napkin, these creatives are more likely to focus on the feel of the festivities: the music, the lighting, the ambiance. They’re more likely to think in imaginative ways about the uses of ingredients, not to mention table decor, and to experience a meal as an unfolding improvisation rather than an exercise in perfectionism. As Sherman puts it, “They actually enjoy the process of feeding their friends.” After all, a meal is a creative opportunity to take materials of various shapes, textures, and colors and turn them into something.
Whether or not you’re an artist, if you enjoy entertaining others — with all the boisterous, bubbling, controlled chaos it brings — this cookbook will be a welcome addition to your kitchen. Sherman, a Los Angeles–based artist, writer, cook, and photographer, first made a name for herself in the culinary world with her blog “Salad for President,” which became a hugely popular artist-inspired book by the same name in 2017. The cover of that volume is delicate pink and adorned with vivid images of fresh produce, including a bisected artichoke and avocado, plus less conventional items like a bright Buddha’s hand and a Tokyo turnip with pert, bushy greens. One might consider the design a flag from the land of millennial cuisine, a celebration of food that’s pretty, healthy, planet conscious, and accessible. I was particularly charmed by a section of the book on unfussy morning foods, titled “Fuck Brunch.” (Sherman also hosted a pop-up by that name in Red Hook, Brooklyn, for a time.)
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Whereas “Salad for President” is a collection of more than 75 salad recipes, and includes contributions from artists like Laurie Anderson, William Wegman, and Tauba Auerbach, “Arty Parties” is different. The book, set in big, bold sans serif fonts, has a vibrant ’70s dinner-party aesthetic, with a number of hippie-adjacent recipes that are a boon to those (like me) whose Boomer parents instilled a love of back-to-the-land cooking. Grain dishes and yogurt dressings abound. There’s granola, roasted squash, tahini dip, seed crackers, and sesame chews. While not explicitly vegetarian (recipes using chicken, lamb, and fish appear sparingly), “Arty Parties” shines a spotlight on the highest-quality produce, grains, and legumes that need little coaxing to reveal their fresh flavors.
Sherman’s influences are wide. In addition to riffs on the American hippie canon, “Arty Parties” boasts tantalizing recipes for “Leftover Lamb Posole,” “Fermented Chiles and Kombu Seaweed,” “Saffron, Cardamom, and Date Tea,” “Khichdi-Inspired Lentil and Rice Stew,” “Nigella and Green Onion Dumpling Skins” with assorted fillings, and more.
‘Arty Parties’ shines a spotlight on the highest-quality produce, grains, and legumes that need little coaxing to reveal their fresh flavors.
Quite possibly because it’s designed with skint (but not starving) artists in mind, “Arty Parties” is also pleasingly budget conscious. Sherman recommends inexpensive pantry staples from sardines to flax meal, and many of her recipes focus on drawing flavor out of hardy, economical vegetables like cabbage (“Whole-Roasted Cabbage With Whipped Ricotta, Croutons, and Smoky Persillade”; “Crispy Napa Cabbage With Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce, Feta, and Pickled Red Onion”) or carrots (“Carrot–Fennel Seed Soup”; “Roasted Harissa Carrot Grain Salad With Yogurt Sauce”). Because these recipes are designed for larger gatherings, Sherman is also attentive to time, including numerous elements that can be made ahead of a party and then assembled as guests begin to arrive. These recipes — for things that soak, sit, or stew — are also some of the most appealing in the book. Who wouldn’t want a sundae bar featuring “Pears Poached in Cinnamon Hibiscus Syrup” or “Macerated Meyer Lemon”?
There are also brief, enjoyable asides throughout “Arty Parties.” One section illuminates the LA Fruit Share, a seasonal citywide initiative started by Sherman and fellow food enthusiasts and activists to distribute backyard produce. Another looks at “Collage Night,” an evening of artmaking and finger foods with designers Shin Okuda and Kristin Dickson-Okuda. These glimpses of Sherman’s community of artists, designers, musicians, and other friends fill out the cookbook, making it a substantial reflection on what it can look like to creatively nourish our bodies, with the hope that this creativity is sparked beyond the kitchen. Both of Sherman’s published volumes and her other ventures — like Jus Jus, a line of natural, low-alcohol sparkling wine — bear the stamp of her philosophy. Her breezily elegant and joyful approach to seasonal cooking celebrates those who love to host, and emboldens those who want to learn to love it. With “Arty Parties,” Sherman wins my highest praise: She makes you want to get your hands dirty.
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Nina Renata Aron Writer
Nina Renata Aron is a senior editor of Departures based in Oakland, California. She is the author of "Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls." Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Julia Sherman Photographer
Julia Sherman runs Salad for President, an evolving publishing project that draws a meaningful connection between food, art, and everyday obsessions. Sherman, and her writing, have been featured in Vogue, the New York Times, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Domino, Art in America, Food & Wine, and Bon Appétit, among others. Sherman’s “Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists” was published by Abrams Books in spring 2017, and her second cookbook, “Arty Parties: An Entertaining Cookbook,” is out now.