The Kitchen and the Studio: A Memoir of Food and Art
by John A. and Mallory M. O’Connor
“When the chef’s son met the rancher’s daughter, it was love at first bite.”
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. The book is Illustrated 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 who made them memorable.
BOOK REVIEW – KIRKUS REVIEWS
In this memoir, two retired academics reflect on a delicious life.
Mallory M. and John A. O’Connor have always eaten well. The couple came from food-loving families—her grandmother ran a catering business, and his father was a chef—and by the time the two met in the early 1960s at the University of California-Davis, they knew they were a perfect match. Mallory was a bright-eyed undergraduate student, and John was her art professor’s assistant. After a first date that involved a homemade, “wonderful dinner of Japanese appetizers and Crab Louis,” Mallory quickly moved in with John. Eight months later, the couple enjoyed a tiny, charming wedding at Mallory’s home. Through the years, the two welcomed a son, Christopher, and pursued their academic passions—writing, painting, and arts administration—accumulating several degrees between them. They taught and created works at universities in various states, including California, Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee, with a short stint in Mexico. Even on the tightest of budgets, the couple cooked dishes from France, India, Greece, and other countries and entertained a host of intelligent and exuberant friends and family members. In 1987, after their son’s wedding, John and Mallory settled outside Micanopy, Florida, on a lovely parcel of land and remained there until 2019. When early 2020 brought the lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic, the couple decided to sit down and share their story. The result is a 400-page tome chock-full of recipes they devised and adapted as well as family photographs and anecdotes, written by Mallory and taken from her journals, and John’s original paintings of the food they’ve enjoyed through the years. Recipes range from simple—homemade salsa and avocado toast—to more complex: boeuf Bourguignon and duck with fruit sauce and brandy. Foodies and home cooks will enjoy the variety on offer and will surely find something to suit their individual tastes and skill levels. 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 and jubilant celebration of food and family.
Sample of Contents
May 17, 1962
John and Mallory, John F. and David Morris
After the death of his mother, John sold the family’s Sacramento home and bought a modest house in Davis where he had been offered a graduate assistantship in the art department. John’s father, John Francis, moved in with him; and they also had a roommate, the actor David Morris. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my first trip to this “bachelor-pad,” but it was the opposite of what might have been envisioned. The place was spotless, the furniture was an eclectic mix of modern and antique, and the culinary expertise was over the top!
This lovely evening started with a variety of sushi that John’s roommate, David Morris, had picked up at his favorite Japanese restaurant in Sacramento. David had lived in Japan while serving in the military. When John told him that I was enchanted with “all things Japanese,” he knew just where to go to get the “best sushi in town.”
We then moved on to John’s still-famous “Crab Louis,” a wonderful combination of crisp lettuce, ripe tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, avocado slices, and a copious mound of fresh crabmeat all served with a luscious Louis-style dressing. A refreshing Madonna Liebfraumilch accompanied the meal.
After dinner, John’s dad and David made themselves scarce and John and I talked and looked at his studio and his most recent paintings. Then he showed me some family heirlooms, including a full set of 1840 Limoges Haviland china in the classic “Wedding Band” pattern. The china, he said, had been purchased in New York by his grandfather. Then when the Ostrander family moved West, they had their china shipped around Cape Horn to the port of San Francisco and transported by stagecoach to the ranch in what would later become Twin Falls, Idaho. If they could only talk, what tales those plates could tell!
How seductive is a Crab Louis? Let me count the ways!
Smoked oysters on wheat crackers
John’s Crab Louis
According to several sources, Crab Louis was “invented” at Solari’s Restaurant in San Francisco sometime around 1914. A recipe for the salad was published in Bohemian San Francisco, and also appeared in a cookbook by Victor Hirtzier, head chef at the city’s St. Francis Hotel. In still another version of its beginnings, it was served at Seattle’s Olympic Club in Washington. There it was praised by none other than the Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso when he visited Seattle with the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1904. (www.whatcookingamerica.net accessed 4-21-20)
Whatever its origins, it is a perfect combination of fresh flavors of seafood and vegetables. The unquestioned star of the dish is, of course, the crab meat. There are at least 850 crab species in the world, but only a few are available in the U.S. For purists, local and fresh are the key words. From Florida stone crab to Alaskan king crab to Maryland’s blue crab, everybody’s got a favorite. In California, the pick is most likely to be Dungeness crab which is harvested up and down the Pacific Coast but named for a town on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Whichever you decide to choose, you can cook your own crab by boiling the whole crab in salted water for 10-15 minutes and then removing the crabmeat from the shell. Or you can simply go to a trusted fish-market and buy an eight-ounce can of Jumbo Lump Crab Meat. Either way, be sure to pick over the crab meat before using it in the salad as those little slivers of shell can hide in plain sight.
For the salad:
1 head of Romaine lettuce
An equal amount of arugula
1 large slice of red onion, diced
8 ounces of crab meat
2 hard-boiled eggs, cut in quarters
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into slices
1 ripe tomato, cut in eighths
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
¾ Tbsp. balsamic vinegar * (a light-flavored balsamic is best)
½ lemon, halved
Wash the Romaine and the arugula and dry thoroughly, then chill for at least an hour before making the salad.
In a wooden salad bowl combine the lettuce with the onion and the salt and pepper.
Add the oil and vinegar and gently toss the salad.
On a large plate, pile the lettuce in the center and top with half the crab meat.
Surround the crab with the slices of egg, avocado and tomato.
Garnish with the lemon quarter.
Serve topped with John’s Louis Dressing.
John’s Louis Dressing
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup ketchup or ketchup-based chili sauce
Italian seasoning (to taste) or a combination of dried marjoram, basil, rosemary, savory, and oregano.
1 clove of fresh garlic, pressed
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Crystal hot sauce or Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. white wine
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper (to taste)
Whisk all ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. Transfer to a pitcher or serving bowl.
A warm French baguette goes beautifully with this salad.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Assembly time; 10 minutes