When you get your hands on it, it’s obvious pretty quickly that Kirsha Kaechele’s new cookbook is not a conventional one.
Though Eat the Problem has recipes pulled together from chefs including Heston Blumenthal, Shannon Bennett, Tetsuya Wakuda, David Moyle and Peter Gilmore – think fox tikka masala, wild boar’s eye Bloody Mary, sweet and sour cane toad, and more – its 544 pages also contain scores of divisive, confronting artworks.
The recipes and artworks meld, merge and play off each other, between them conveying a sobering message about invasive species, their effect on the Australian ecosystem, and offering a tonne of quite sensible ways to get rid of them. Mostly involving, if you’re brave, cooking and eating them.
“I grew up in Guam, and I’ve had this issue circling in my awareness since I was a kid,” says artist and Mona curator Kaechele, who is married to Mona founder David Walsh. “We had the most insane brown snake problem. There were more brown tree snakes than people. You couldn’t not think about it.
“There are people who don’t believe in the concept of invasive species. But for me, I want to see beauty restored – or my sense of beauty – when I see it compromised.”
Kaechele believes we’re looking at invasive animals and plants in the wrong way, and hopes the book will change the conversation around how we manage pests. She tells the story of her Tasmanian farm property, once abundant with native animals, now suffering problems due an influx of rogue wild deer.
“I thought, ‘We have cow on the menu at Mona, why are we serving that when there’s so much involved in getting them onto the plate?’ We should be shooting these deer. It’s a nice closed loop and it makes sense. But it’s illegal to do that. And that’s absurd. The more you kill them, the more you’re protecting the native ecosystem. We’re already directing the cull of thousands of these animals – and they’re just being left to rot in the landscape.”
Kaechele says every recipe is doable, some just might take a long time. Alongside practical instructions on doing away with invaders – such as Shannon Bennett’s braised rabbit with smoked potato, Matt Stone’s yellow carp curry, myna bird parfait (Kaechele’s personal favourite) and Christine Mansfield’s sea urchin spaghetti –you’ll find one-off contributions from world-class artists.
These might not take the form of recipes in the traditional sense – and the invaders are not always who we expect – but each one is a meditation on transformation, consumption or destruction. There’s an old recipe for cannibals; testicular tonic for low libido; and poems, essays, songs and other pieces from the likes of Marina Abramović and Mike Parr (the latter divulges his plans to destroy AI, written in a code for the reader to break), as well as works from the estates of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. James Turrell’s 2013 pink-hued Akhob is the backdrop for a recipe for prickly pear crepes by his wife, Kyung.
Arresting, at times confronting photography is led by Remi Chauvin. On one page, a dead rabbit is torn into pieces, organs included, artfully arranged for a flat-lay. On another, an image of a salt-baked possum dish by Mona chef Vince Trim is unapologetically roadkill-esque.
“The parameters for the chefs were they had to choose an invasive species, and the dish had to be monochrome.” Kaechele says. “Then I’d choose a ceramic, and the presentation had to work with that.”
The result is a challenging but beautiful tome of recipes organised by species and by colour; a rainbow of brutal, gory instructions and observations that took Kaechele five years to put together.
“I tasted everything. Except the hemlock cocktail, which is not intended for consumption,” she says. “It’s a recipe for doing away with the weed, but also doing away with humans. It’s suggesting that humans are the biggest invasive species we have. And it will kill you.”
Eat the Problem ($277.77, Mona Publications) is on sale from March 25. Pre-order it here. Proceeds from the book’s sale will go toward creating kitchen gardens in disadvantaged areas. An Eat the Problem exhibition will run at Mona from April 13 until September 2, and Kirsha Kaechele will be speaking in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in late March. More information here