Jordan and Cathy Zaden Lea, Greenville
The home artist Cathy Zaden Lea shares with her husband Jordan and 11-year-old son Thomas is, well, magical. Even if it weren’t for the aromas of homemade bread rising on the countertop, the rosemary and mushrooms, the grilled sausages and the cheese, the simmering carrot soup—even if it weren’t for all that, there would still be the floor-to-ceiling folk art, the old copper pot from Paris, the art books… the travel guides… the cookbooks!
And of course tonight are added the lovely guests who attend Cathy’s annual holiday party for Art Bomb Studio artists: Diane Kilgore-Condon, Paul Flint, Teri Peña, Katie Walker. The house buzzes with conversation and laughter, and there isn’t a trace of the stress usually associated with holiday parties. “What’s the difference between roast beef and pea soup?” someone shouts, then pauses for effect. “Most people know how to roast beef…”
Every year some of Greenville’s most celebrated artists converge on the Leas’ kitchen, where they swap art as gifts and are the lucky beneficiaries of Jordan and Cathy’s culinary skills. The purpose of the celebration, Jordan explains, is restorative; his goal is to make everyone healthy and whole. The entire menu has been selected with this in mind: turmeric with anti-inflammatory properties, onions that detoxify. Notably amongst all the piles of food around the kitchen, there is not a package or wrapper to be found. Everything looks as if it were picked that morning, and as voices tumble on top of one another, I watch wide-eyed as the bounty goes from still caked-in-dirt to roasted, glazed, and sparkling. While Jordan grates fresh pepper, Cathy squeezes lemons and presses garlic. “Wait til you see what I do with the kale!” she cries.
The main course for the evening is Julia Child’s beef bourguignon, but we start with a rich, creamy carrot soup served in shotglasses and topped with a sprig of cilantro. The beef bourguignon is chosen for the menu because, Jordan explains, “It is actually better if you make it the day ahead—except for the rice—so I can still be a part of the action when people arrive.” Jordan’s mother made the recipe on Christmas Eve, and he has inherited her love for French cooking. Since he travels internationally about six times a year—he’ll be in Pakistan next week—he has a unique appreciation for international cuisine. The family eats a lean, whole diet of Mediterranean and Asian foods, and both Cathy and Thomas have nixed gluten and dairy.
As the clinking of forks begins to subside, the conversation turns to cooking as art. “The best cooks,” says Teri, “are every bit as creative as the best painters.” Art and cooking and writing are, she suggests, the DNA of a society. Diane agrees: “Every experience of a meal is completely original. We’ve lost the idea that sequence and nuance are important.”
But tonight, in the magical art-filled home of the Leas, we haven’t. The food we tasted is different because of who we ate it with, and the subtleties of every dish have been savoured.