What’s cooking at SFMOMA? O’Keeffe-inspired recipes


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In her sensuous and nearly abstract landscapes and flower paintings, Georgia O’Keeffe pioneered American modernism. In her diet, she practiced a pared-down and exacting approach as well. In fact, her eating habits — emphasizing the simple and the organic as well as having Southwest inflections — seem positively contemporary.

“Miss O’Keeffe exhibited discriminating taste in all elements of her surroundings, so it is not surprising that she was very particular about the food she ate and the environment in which it was prepared,” Margaret Wood, O’Keeffe’s former companion and cook, wrote in her book “A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes From the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe.”


Now these recipes have inspired the daily specials at the Caffé Museo at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which is holding the show “Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities” through Sept. 7. The exhibition presents about 100 works from the painter

and the photographer, who were sometime friends, drawn together by their love of the natural world and especially the New Mexico landscape so often depicted in their art.

This isn’t the first time the museum has paired a show with artist-inspired menus; last year, during its Frida Kahlo show, executive chef Antonio May created daily specials using Kahlo’s recipes. The brainchild of senior publicist Sandra Farish Sloan, the idea was so popular that the specials sold out every day.

As for O’Keeffe, she would have felt right at home in today’s California — at least food-wise. She grew a wide variety of herbs and produce in her own garden, augmenting that by buying locally. May says that she liked plain and basic food, including meatloaf (no, she was not a vegetarian) and boiled or steamed vegetables as well as Southwest cuisine.

Given that May is from Mexico, he says he can relate to the Southwest taste, and he believes museum-goers will too. So he’s offering dishes such as green chile chicken enchiladas, red chile cheese enchiladas and short ribs with adobo sauce. Because O’Keeffe found soup a “comfort,” there will be at least one daily, such as chicken tomatillo verde or posole, a soup made with pork, chiles, lime and hominy.

“We adapted her recipes,” says May, who wears a baseball cap and an easy smile. “They’re pretty simple mostly, using just a few ingredients. In some cases we had to make them a little ... spicier.”


-- Scarlet Cheng

Top: ‘O’Keeffe Making Stew, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 1961.’ Credit: Todd Webb / From the estate of Todd and Lucille Webb, South Portland, Maine. Bottom: Posole at SFMOMA. Credit: Scarlet Cheng / For The Times