A Unique Coffee Table Book Celebrates Food, Art, Culture & Love Over A 60-Year Period

Recipient of Literary Titan Silver Book Award

“Mallory M. and John A. O’Connor re-invent the traditional cookbook with The Kitchen and the Studio.”
– Book Excellence

“Mallory and John’s zest for life and all its beautiful, delectable pleasures shines through on every page, as does the couple’s generosity of spirit… An inviting celebration of food and family that contains beautiful illustrations, photographs and one-of-a-kind recipes.”
– Kirkus Reviews

The Kitchen and the Studio: A Memoir of Food and Art is a new cookbook, an art book, a memoir, and a love story all wrapped inside a beautiful coffee table book. Artist John A. O’Connor and art historian Mallory M. O’Connor met at the University of California, Davis, in 1962, got married shortly thereafter, and from the beginning, they shared a passion for good food and wine that has continued for over 60 years. Come celebrate life, culture, and love with them!

This book is both a memoir of their life together as artists and teachers and a collection of the special moments that they shared with a wide variety of guests over the years. Their book includes more than 100 recipes from their collection, each illustrated with John’s original paintings.

Meet the authors and learn what they have to say in this interview:

 1. What is you book about? The Kitchen and the Studio: A Memoir of Food and Art is a cookbook, an art book, a memoir and a love story. Artist John A. O’Connor and Art Historian Mallory M. O’Connor met at the University of California, Davis, in 1962. They were married in January 1963. From the beginning, they shared a passion for good food and wine that has continued for almost sixty years. This book is both a memoir of their life together as artists and teachers and a collection of the celebrations that they shared with family and friends over the years. It is also a book about the “idea of food” and our relationship to it. Mallory writes, “I was fortunate enough to grow up embedded in NATURE. The food that we ate on our little ranch in California’s abundant Central Valley where I spent my childhood was mostly grown by us or by our neighbors. Not as a commodity to sell and make money, but as a communal enterprise that allowed us all to sustain a wonderful, healthy, natural diet that fed us both physically and spiritually.” The book is a “personal history” of John and Mallory’s relationship with food, cooking and eating and a philosophy of food that has sustained them. The Kitchen and the Studio is also an art book filled with John’s original paintings along with photographs of celebrations and participants. In this unique love story of a creative couple who have always “lived the artist’s life,” John and Mallory O’Connor share their favorite special occasions and recipes along with the places and the people that made them memorable.

 2. What inspired you to create it? a couple of years ago we decided to collaborate on a project that combines two of our favorite topics: a memoir/cookbook focusing on our dual careers as artists and food-lovers. I would write the text and John would illustrate the various recipes with his own original works of art. There was only one problem: when were we going to have the time to take on this truly monumental endeavor? Enter COVID-19. Self-quarantining at home over the past thirty-or-so months gave us the perfect opportunity to work almost nonstop on this beautiful “trip down memory lane.” 

I keep journals. The earliest that I still have is a little tan “diary” that begins in 1953 when I was ten years old. As of the year 2022, I now have nine binders full of “diaries” where I recorded my thoughts, feelings, and adventures throughout the past 69 years.

But one special diary is different from the others. It contains a record of the celebrations, dinners, brunches, lunches, picnics, and other fetes that have also been part of my life since I met my forever soulmate, John O’Connor, in 1962. I carefully recorded the date, guest list, menu, and beverage selection for each occasion along with many of the recipes that we used. Indeed, one part of the “diary” is devoted to a collection of recipes that has grown considerably over the years. Some are “family” recipes handed down from my mother and grandmother, while others are the result of my research into dishes from a wide variety of places and cultures. 

These handwritten notes have been the basis for the preparation of most of the recipes. And my bulging blue binder served as the inspiration for this book. It is truly a labor of love and an invaluable treasure chest of memories. Each occasion has a story to tell about a special time and place when friends and family came together to celebrate our lives, our loves, and our daily bread. 

Back in 1963, not long after John and I were married, he took me to meet two artist friends of his who would have a significant influence on me. William Theo Brown and his partner, Paul Wonner, lived in a lovely house in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I was enchanted by their beautiful home and the serene surroundings. We had lunch on a terrace overlooking the ocean and dined on the simple but perfectly prepared food that Paul provided: a delicious cheese omelette, fresh greens from the garden, and for dessert a luscious strawberry Bavarian cream. 

On our next visit, I asked Bill what career path he thought I should take, and he replied, “Live the artist’s life.” For years I pondered over his advice. What did it mean to “live the artist’s life?” I finally came to realize that there were no written codes, no hard and fast rules. You didn’t have to starve in a garret or drink yourself to death or cut off your ear. You didn’t even have to literally “make art” physically. The art was your life—your values, your outlook, your passions, your point of view. It was the things you cherished, whether they were people or places or ideas. 

It had a lot to do with caring—caring about things that touched your soul and stirred your spirit—images, sensations, adventures. It meant searching for what was rare and extraordinary, what lasted and mattered, what nurtured and healed, whether it was beautiful art or a delicious feast. It meant living for something beyond yourself, something grand and gracious that transcended the petty problems and persuasions that distracted you from who you were and why you were here. “Art,” as another artist friend, the sculptor Geoffrey Naylor, later told me, “. . .is what you can always come home to.”

 3. You have entertained others for six decades. How did you deal with the pandemic, when isolation and fear ruled out any gatherings? Honestly, we’ve been pretty isolated for the past three years. Most of our friends also stopped “in-person” entertaining. So, mostly we concentrated on writing about our past experiences with friends and family and the special occasions that we’ve enjoyed.

 4. Mallory, you have journal entries dating back to when John F. Kennedy was in the White House. What runs through your mind when you re-visit and read over your entries that span three generations? I not only keep food journals, I also keep a “life diary” where I’ve written about all sorts of things—what I was doing, what I was thinking, who were the friends and family that I was working/relaxing with. And also, what was going on in the world—in art, music, books, politics, etc. I can go back to almost any day—or at least week—for the past 60 years and tell you where I was and what I was thinking. It’s not only fun and interesting to read, but it has also helped me write about what was happening when I write fiction. I can look at my characters as f they lived in that time and see what their experiences would have been.

 5. John, how do your 100 original illustrations complement the recipes shared and the stories told in your book? While I was in graduate school at UC Davis, one of my teachers/mentors was Wayne Thiebaud. Wayne’s probably best known for the wonderful images of pies and cakes and other “food art” that he produced back in the sixties and seventies. I think that Wayne definitely influenced the images that I produced for the cookbook. I wanted to celebrate the beauty of the food as well as lushness of the colors and textures. I wanted it to look “good enough to eat!”

 6. Which recipes are your favorites? Why? Well, one of my very favorites is John’s wonderful Crab Louie both because it’s so delicious but also because it was what he prepared for me for our first date. Every time we have it for dinner, I remember how I felt that night and how delighted I was to have found someone who shared my passion for art and food and life. I also really love my recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon because it was one of the first things I learned to cook by myself. I was about twelve years old and I wanted to cook something really special for my parents. I already was a big fan of French food. I was taking French lessons from a lady who lived down the street and I asked her what she would recommend for a really special dinner and she said, “Boeuf Bourguignon!” So, I found a recipe in a French magazine and tried it. It turned out to be a great dish and my parents loved it! I’ve been cooking it ever since.

 7. What is the key to entertaining well? Beautiful surrounds, interesting people and attention to detail. And a sense of humor helps. Also, we like to bring people together who might not otherwise see each other. I know, these days that might be a little dicey since some people are so limited in their viewpoints, but we’ve always had fun instigating a lively “conversation” about topics that are sometimes controversial.

 8. Is your book a love letter to life? To life, to friends, to food and to each other. We’ve had a wonderful life. We’ve been able to work at jobs that we loved, to have a wonderful son and now a daughter in law that we love. We’ve lived in interesting places, and we’ve enjoyed good health and good times. Couldn’t really ask for more!

 9. What if one is not a great cook — can he or she still pull off a good dinner party? Sure. It’s sort of like the young musician who asked a passer-by “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” and the man responded, “Practice, practice, practice.” Well, the same goes for food. Decide what kind of ambiance you want to create and then think of it as “theater.” How do you enchant your guest/s? Do something fun with the table whether it’s antique dishes or funny place cards. Set a mood. And try out your menu a couple of times before you have the party. See what works and what doesn’t and how long it takes to get things right. Keep it simple or maybe consider a buffet with lots of little choices.

 10. Why is in-person intimacy so integral to our lives? Most of us are social creatures. We enjoy the company of our fellow creatures, especially if we can share some interests and exchange ideas. I’m also curious by nature. I’m a born “story-teller” and I want to know everybody’s “story.” Who are they? What do they do? Where have they been? What can they tell me that I don’t know? Also, closer to home, I think we all need someone we can trust to talk to, ask advice from, run ideas past. We need more than a mirror in order to see ourselves clearly.

 11. Which foods and beverages tend to set a mood or environment conducive for intimate conversations? There’s nothing like a glass of good wine and maybe a fire in the fireplace or a moon above the terrace. I think that also maybe something savory or sweet that is easy to eat—finger foods. I’ve always thought that eating with my fingers enhanced the “intimacy” of the experience. John doesn’t agree with me, but I still love him.

 12. What do you hope readers will take away from your story? Life is a grand adventure. Accept. Learn. Experiment. Enjoy. You don’t need lots of money or expensive surroundings to create a beautiful and meaningful life. Find out what/who you love and let that be your guide. By following the path, you will co-create your destiny

 13. You both have lived full lives in the intellectual arena. Mallory, this is your 10th book and you have directed cultural centers and taught as a professor. John, you have been an artist with great success. Is your book a blend of art and food that is not normally found? It is amazing how many artists LOVE to eat! The connection between food and art has a long and beautiful history. If you look at cave paintings from thousands of years ago, what was the frequent subject? Their FOOD! They didn’t paint pictures of deer and bison because they thought they were cute. That was their FOOD! From that early time o, the connection between the delicious image and the delicious flavor was established and it’s grown ever since. There are numerous “artist cookbooks” including “Monet’s Table,” “Frieda’s Fiestas.” “The California Artist Cookbook,” Salvador Dali’s “Les Diners de Gala,” and “Picasso’s Kitchen.” As one artist friend told me “Live the artist’s life and make your LIFE a work of art.” Artists throughout history have employed their creative talent both as skillful cooks and avid entertainers.

 14. How are the recipes arranged in your book? What type of recipes are offered? The book follows the outline of my food journal. So, the recipes are arranged chronologically beginning in 1962. We selected recipes from each of the menus we featured which included special dinners, festive occasions ad family gatherings. In the index, the recipes are also labeled as Vegan Vegetarian, Pescatarian or Omnivore. Recipes range from simple favorites like John’s Tomato sSlsa and Orange and Avocado Salad to elaborate concoctions such as Roast Duck with Orange Brandy Sauce or my Boeuf Bourguignon. The reviewer at Kirkus wrote, “Foodies and home cooks will enjoy the variety on offer and will surely find something to suit their individual tastes and skill levels.”

 15. What are some of your go-to wines, ones that offer good value and never fail to deliver? Whoa! That could be a book in itself. We keep a wine journal so we can note down special finds. But for everyday dinners, we have some reds, whites and roses that are our go-to choices: Reds: We’re big fans of “old time” California zinfandels like Bogle Old Vine Zin and Seven Deadly Zins Old Vine. Also recently enjoyed a Meiomi Pinot Noir. And a Line Shack Petit Sirah. Whites: We love New Zealand sauvignon blancs like Oyster Bay, Brancott and Cloudy Bay. We also enjoy Chardonnays such as Raeburn, Simi and Fundamental. And we love a good dry Riesling like r. Loosen. Roses can be very pleasant. We like many of the roses’ from Provence or domestic reses such as Con-scious pinot noir rose from Oregon or Hayes rose

 16. Why go through the effort of cooking and preparing meals for friends and family – why not just go out to eat? We love to go out to good restaurants and try new foods and it’s fun to go with friends for an occasion. But we think of preparing food as a “gift” that we can share with friends and family. Sometimes it’s a celebration of the past like recreating a Christmas feast. It’s a wonderful way to show that we CARE about the people we invite to are a meal. But, a good reason to go OUT for a meal is to try something that we don’t do at home. Maybe Asian specialties or something exotic that we don’t know how to prepare. It can be a learning experience and then we can attempt to re-create it at home. And finally, we’re very careful about the quality of our food and how it was grown. We prefer organic, locally-sourced foods and you don’t always find those in restaurants. 

For more information, please consult: www.mallorymocconor.com and www.oconnorartllc.com.

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