MINA STONE HAS ALWAYS gone heavy on the lemon juice and olive oil in her cooking. It’s a habit she picked up from her Greek grandparents, and one she encouraged in her 2015 book “Cooking for Artists,” a cult classic among creatives. Before releasing that book, Stone studied fashion design at Pratt Institute. But upon deciding to pursue her love of food, she spent years as a chef preparing lunches for the artist Urs Fischer and his staff in his Brooklyn studio, as well as serving dinners at galleries, often following art openings. It’s no wonder, then, that her Mediterranean-inspired food leads with striking visual appeal. In her new cookbook, “Lemon, Love & Olive Oil,” Stone continues to celebrate Greek flavors, as well as the vibrant colors of her bold, vegetable-forward cuisine.
Stone opens “Lemon, Love & Olive Oil” with a relatable introduction about the significance of making, serving, and eating food, pleasures that for her only seem to grow with time. “It’s become even more important than I could have imagined,” she writes. Of course, food is a necessity and a familiar source of comfort, but it’s also the primary place where Stone recharges and reconnects with a sense of hope, especially amid recent bouts of personal and global uncertainty. “I’ve seen cooking soothe and strengthen people during times of crisis,” she writes, “and I’ve seen it serve as a form of activism and dissent.”
After publishing her first cookbook, Stone continued working as a chef for artists, and then partnered in opening Mina’s, a restaurant at MoMA PS1 in New York City, in 2020. The minimalist white space of the ground-floor cafe was designed to give museumgoers’ eyes a rest, but the clean bright venue also offers a perfect backdrop for Stone’s colorful seasonal offerings. The menu boasts simple pleasures like fresh sourdough toast with tahini, honey, and cinnamon, or a whipped feta, carrot, toasted cumin seed, and cilantro sandwich. It’s bold, straightforward food, made from ingredients so fresh that diners can taste each one.
Cooking is how we honor the essence of ourselves, and it is how we show love.
Only five months after opening, the pandemic struck and Mina’s had to shut down. “Like many New York City restaurants,” Stone writes in her new cookbook, “we didn’t know if we were going to make it through to see our doors open once again.” With hope, perseverance, and creativity, Mina’s has stayed alive — a symbol of Stone’s “belief in big spirit and the resiliency and tenacity that exists in all of us.” Stories and recipes from the restaurant are sprinkled throughout “Lemon, Love & Olive Oil.”
Unlike cookbooks that showcase perfectionism seemingly detached from the rhythms of knives, the heat of bubbling pots, or the messiness of mouths, “Lemon, Love & Olive Oil” feels like the product of a living community, and it isn’t just because Stone writes about working with artists or feeding her family. The book is populated with characters from Stone’s life, starting with an introduction from her father, James Stone, a psychologist and poet. “I know very little about the culinary arts,” he writes, “except what I’ve learned, here and there, by watching Mina cook and dance at the same time.” In a short, loving introductory text about her irrepressible spirit, he even shares part of a teacher’s amusing mid-year report about Mina — who, while a “powerful” thinker, struggled at times to contain her giggles. Her life’s purpose, according to her father, is to bring people together, “to enjoy food, share stories, lean in, and listen closely to one another. To feel warm and content.” The photographs in the book illustrate his point further. We see Stone smiling in front of a Greek mural, triumphantly holding up blue plastic bags filled with ingredients, or gazing up at the bowed shelves of a small food market. And, of course, we see plate after plate of beautiful food, eye-catching and mouthwatering at once. In addition, Stone’s former employer, Urs Fischer, who art directed her previous “Cooking for Artists,” provides playful illustrations for this book. “To have your artwork, brilliance, humor, and sensitivity grace the pages of this book is inspiring,” Stone writes to Fischer in the acknowledgements. “Thanks for always pushing me to do my very best.”
Of the titular ingredients, not too much is said in this book, but what Stone does offer is valuable. Olive oil, for example, should be used sparingly during cooking, which will make the dish lighter; but more should be added at the end, once cooking is complete. “I use much more olive oil in the recipes than people are accustomed to using,” she adds. “I suggest adding more than you would think when you’re cooking from this book.” Of the mighty lemon (the word appears nearly 300 times in the book), Stone writes that they are her preferred way of adding acid to any dish, stating elsewhere that she only uses vinegar to dress a salad “once in a blue moon.” Lemons make an appearance in nearly every recipe: Fried Halloumi with Lemon Slices, Olive Oil, and Chile Flakes; Melitzanosalata, a traditional Greek eggplant dip; Arctic Char with Crispy Cumin Crust; Crispy Octopus with Oregano; a crunchy salad of baby lettuces dressed with Meyer lemon yogurt, mint, and sesame seeds.
And like a squeeze of lemon juice, “Lemon, Love & Olive Oil” has a kick — a pleasingly bright energy that will hopefully rub off on readers, for Stone’s lighthearted-but-confident approach to food is the stuff home cooks’ dreams are made of. Eschewing prescription in favor of suggestion, precision in favor of feeling, Stone reminds us that this whole cooking thing is supposed to be fun, remember? As she assures us, preparing food needn’t be about mastery: “Cooking is how we honor the essence of ourselves, and it is how we show love.”
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.
Cassandra Macleod Photographer
Cassandra Macleod is an artist and photographer. Her diverse and fluid approach to art making expresses a lived in warmth and intimate sense of place. She resides in Red Hook, Brooklyn.