Julia Sherman: How did we end up at the David Ireland House?
Leif Hedendal: The people who renovated the space and turned it into a museum of sorts wanted me to do some donor cultivation type preview dinners before it opened to the public. They were very happy with me and asked me to be the regular chef for that kitchen, so I have a bit of special access, if I ask.
JS: Was it a dream come true to cook there? What do you love about cooking in artists’ homes and for artists themselves?
LH: I love cooking there! The kitchen is rather small but the dining room is so weird and creepy! And the house is just amazing. I like cooking for and with artists because they always have a unique perspective on culture and often are very interested in food. I have always been drawn to artists socially, but now I am also more interested in collaborating with artists as part of my own practice.
JS: I think your Dinner discussion series are the best expression of the way you work. Tell me how you started Dinner Discussion? Was this something you have always been doing and then decided to formalize?
LH: I was doing a lot of underground restaurants and pop-ups in the mid-aughts. I was also fairly involved with the Oakland music scene and was booking some shows and throwing some parties. I have always liked to throw parties and bring different sets of friends’ subcultures together. In 2008 I decided to check out this Social Practice art conference at UC Santa Cruz. I didn’t know all that much about that world until then, but following that experience I wanted to start a food-related project more along those lines. Dinner Discussion evolved out of a few different ideas and became a monthly dinner I did in my apartment starting at the end of 2008. I am currently organizing #42 in NYC for this October to be featured in the cookbook I am working on.
JS: I know you are very interested in social practice as an art form. Do you think about your dinners and cooking in those terms?
LH: I do position some of my work in that realm. Dinner Discussion is a long-running series I am framing as an art project. A lot of the other work I do is just catering. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if it’s a project or just a gig, like if I do a lunch for curators at an art space, for instance.
JS: Your food is so tied to your process. It’s about foraging and creative use of ingredients. How important is it to you that people access that aspect of the meal?
LH: It depends on the audience, but I love to introduce people to novel and unique ingredients and generally educate people around these things. I also care a lot about where ingredients come from and that they are clean and healthy. I’d like people I feed to know that healthy, properly grown and raised food tastes the best!
JS: What is the most fabulous meal you have ever eaten? The one that made you burn with envy and wish you had made it yourself?
LH: Gosh, a very memorable meal was the first time I ate at Manresa in 2005 or 2006. It was incredible. The chef there, David Kinch, has been a big inspiration to me over the years. Now so many chefs cook from their own gardens and farms, but there weren’t very many like him 10 years ago.
JS: What are some of the most challenging ingredients you have worked with in the kitchen?
LH: I always find rice to be challenging! I always hold my breath when I check it after it has cooked. Always makes me nervous.