Previous: Art Trip: Columbus, Indiana | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios
Next: Art is Pretentious* | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios



View count:103,661
Last sync:2024-04-07 09:45
Gordon Matta-Clark (1943 - 1978) was one of the most influential artists of his generation, and was also the brainchild behind the infamous BONE MEAL in 1971 at the artist-run Food restaurant in New York City's SoHo neighborhood. He served numerous bone-intensive dishes to the guests and then returned their leftover bones to the as necklaces.

To support our channel, visit:

Stuart Hyatt:
Allison Ford:

Thanks to our Grandmaster of the Arts Indianapolis Homes Realty, and all of our patrons, especially Lynn Gordon, Patrick Hanna, and Constance Urist.

Insanely Good Oxtail Stew:
Roasted Marrow Bones:
Stuffed Marrow Bones:
Sautéed Frogs' Legs:

Subscribe for new episodes of The Art Assignment every other Thursday!

Follow us elsewhere for the full Art Assignment experience:
Response Tumblr:
and don't forget Reddit!:

 (00:00) to (02:00)

(PBS Digital Studios logo)

Throughout history, food has served as subject matter, inspiration, and of course, sustenance for artists.  Food has also been the art on a number of occasions.  Today, we're gonna recreate a highly original meal that sprang from the mind of a highly original artist and it even comes with a souvenier necklace.  

Our meal in question happened in 1971 at Food restaurant at the corner of Price and Worcester Streets in New York City's SoHo neighborhood.  This artist-run restaurant was founded by Caroline Goodden, Tina Girouard, Suzanne Harris, Rachel Lew, and this guy, Gordon Matta-Clark, who I'll tell you more about later.

Their menu changed every day based on what was fresh and available and what their rotating cast of contributors wanted to make, often, soups and gumbo and fresh baked bread prepared in their open kitchen, a novel idea at the time.  On Sunday nights, artists were invited to be guest chefs and the most legendary of these meals was offered by Matta-Clarf.  For $4, you could enjoy the bone meal, comprised of oxtail soup, a green salad, marrow bones, stuffed bones, frog legs (?~1:06), and pot roast bones with sliced peaches and coffee or tea for dessert.  

This one's gonna be a doozy, guys, so I've called in some assistance in the form of sound artist Stuart Hyatt, whose gonna help me deal with what's going to be a rather overwhelming number of dishes and of course, bones.  

We don't have the original recipes, so we're using the most epic cookbook of all: the internet, to pull from a variety of sources.  For the oxtail soup, we're using Jamie Oliver's Insanely Good Oxtail Stew recipe, which calls for five to six pounds of oxtail cut into about 2 inch chunks.  You can ask a butcher to do this for you.  

We've preheated a roasting pan in a 425 degree oven and then carefully added the oxtail to it, glugging over some olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, and then scooting it around a little before putting it back in the hot oven for about 20 minutes.  

While that's in there, we're gonna prep our veg, starting with two leeks.  Yours don't have to be this large, unless you want to make a lot of dumb jokes, but you're gonna trim them and cut them in half lengthwise.

 (02:00) to (04:00)

Leeks are always full of dirt, so we give these an extra wash on the side before chopping them into about one inch segments.  We're also going to cut up four to five carrots and four stalks of celery in a similar manner, and while we're cutting, we're gonna talk about Gordon Matta-Clark's cuttings, because they're much more impressive than ours.

Gordon Matta-Clark was the child of American artist Anne Clark and Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta.  He studied architecture at Cornell, but his interests skewed much more to dismantling ideas about architecture, as well as actually dismantling architecture.  During the second summer Food was open, he redesigned the space by making cuttings into the walls and he displayed some of the elements he extracted that fall at the alternative exhibiton space 112 Greene St that he co-founded wtih Jeffrey Lew.  

From there, he began making bigger and more ambitious cuts.  He took a house slated for demolition in New Jersey and literally split the thing in two, making a huge cut down the middle and selectively removing pieces of the foundation to then jack it apart.  He cut into the side of Pier 52  on the West side of Manhattan.  He cut through two 17th century buildings in Paris slated for demolition near the (?~3:14), which was then under construction, creating a conical void that opened up views into the structures from the street.  Part sculpture, part performance, part archaeology, Matta-Clark's cuttings took dead, forgotten spaces and made them alive and poetic, if only for a moment, revealing the uneasy divides between public and private, and the dark side of urban development.

His work in mind-blowingly amazing and if you don't agree with me, we can just never be friends.  After all of that, what seemed like an enormous amount of cutting is totally do-able, and also chopping up a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and fresh thyme doesn't seem so difficult either.  Strip the leaves from the stems as best you can.  Then give those a rough chop.  Get out a bay leaf and set these aside.  We're also going to prep for our roasted marrow bones, working from Fergus Henderson's recipe published in the New York Times.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

For this, we're gonna wash and prep some parsley because when you're serving bones for dinner, you must distract with a considerable amount of garnish.  Remove some of the stalks but not so many that you seem like a crazy person.  Give some a rough chop and some more a fine chop for use later on.  We'll also need two shallots, which we'll thinly slice.  We're also gonna get some garlic ready for later on, and we might as well have a side by side garlic prep competition.  I have a more strategic prceise method while Stuart's I describe as a little more caveman Cookie Monster. 

During this display of teamwork, I'll note that Food restaurant was truly a communal effort.  The cooperative energy and labor of dancers, musicians, and artists of many stripes, including many members of the Philip Glass Ensemble.  Cofounder Caroline Gooden was an original member of the Tricia Brown Dance Company and said of Food, "I wanted to have a place to eat with food that I liked that was open when I needed it to be, and I wanted to create a workplace for artists that had no restrictions on how many hours a day or days a week the artists worked so that they could be free to suddenly drop out as needed to produce their show and still have a job when they were through.

Okay, you'll see that each of our garlic methods are equally effective, but if you're still feeling competitive, you can always decide the winner by thumb war, and let's also prep some lemon juice, taking four lemons, rolling them to help soften them up, and we're using a reamer to juice them.  Then, pour it through a sieve to remove the seeds and pulp, and then when some mysteriously sneak through, repeat the process.

For our stuffed marrow bones, we're riffing off of Martha Stewart's recipe and while Martha would only use fresh wild mushrooms hand selected by her on-staff forager, we're gonna rehydrate a variety of dried mushrooms, including porcinis and (?~5:48) by submerging them in hot water and letting them sit for a while, and while the recipe doesn't call for it, Stuart went renegade and is chopping some diced onion for what will be the stuffing for the marrow bones, and with that, it's time for the all-important step of standing back and admiring all of your prep work.

 (06:00) to (08:00)

Ahh.  Isn't it lovely?  Our 20 minutes has passed, and we pulled out the oxtail after it started to turn golden.   We'll go over to the stovetop to make it into a stew and we'll heat up a large ovenproof dish, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and in go our carrots, leeks, and celery.  We then add in the rosemary and thyme, the bay leaf, and give it a stir, and let it cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. 

Over on the right, Stuart is making some clarified butter for our frog legs, a process through which you melt unsalted butter over low heat to separate the milk proteins that start to gather on top.  But back to the oxtails.  We're adding two heaping tablespoons of flour, four cloves, and give it a good stir.  To that, we add a hefty cup of red wine, a 28 oz can of good plum tomatoes, stir, stir, and add our oxtails in to the mix.  Then fill to cover with either boiling water or beef stock.  We're using beef stock, and bring to a boil.

Over in the butter corner, Stuart spoons off some of the milk solids that have congregated on top and maintains it a simmer.  When the oxtails are at a boil, cover them up and send them into a 325 degree oven and let them hang out in there for five hours, stirring every once in a while.  I know what you're thinking about this butter.  Why are we going to so much trouble to clarify it when it's perfectly delicious as is?  Two reasons.

Matta-Clark was fascinated by the science of food.  Before the restaurant, he would experiment in his studio by brewing vats of water and agar, the gelatinous stuff from seaweed, mixing in sugar, yeast, salt, oils, dairy products, and all sorts of stuff.  He spread it into trays and let it fester and dry into sheets.  He called these works "Incendiary Wafers" after one unexpectedly exploded.  He also fried photographs of Christmas trees along with sheets of gold leaf and sent them to friends as gifts.  

The second we're reason we're clarifying butter is because once you spoon off the proteins and boil off the water contained in the butter, and after you pour everything but the last bit through some cheesecloth, your butter has a higher smoke point for frying those frog legs and also a longer shelf life.  

 (08:00) to (10:00)

In Indian cooking, this is called ghee and you can buy it off the shelf in many grocery stores.  Alright, now's probably when you want to take a break and have a sandwich while the oxtails are hanging out in the oven, so I'll tell you a little more history while we're waiting.

Food was part of an ecosystem of experimental art in 1970s lower Manhattan, made possible by the cheap rents of the SoHo that was a far cry from what it is today.  Along with the exhibition space 112 Greene Street, Avalanche Magazine was founded in 1968 and documented the work and writings of this new generation of artists whose work was largely ephemeral.

Food, which placed regular ads in Avalanche, became a meeting site and hub for all of the artistic activity happening in the area at the time, and while it was never a profitable business, it importantly employed and supported a huge number of artists.  

Okay, guys, we're about an hour and a half from meal time and we're now going to assemble the parsley salad that will go on top of our roasted marrow bones.  Into a bowl goes a cup of roughly chopped parsley, sliced shallots, and two teaspoons of capers.  Then, take three tablespoons of your lemon juice, add two tablespoons or so of olive oil, and whisk.  Set that aside and have it ready to mix with the parsley salad right before serving.

For our frogs legs provencale, we're using a recipe from Saveur Magazine that's a version of the dish served at the French restaurant La Genouille in New York.  La Grenouille, perhaps you know, means frog and you're gonna need a good number of them to make this dish for a crowd.  You can order them from a butcher or find them in the frozen section of some markets.  Or you can just put out a dish and hope they hop on in.

You'll need to snip apart the legs and then cover them in milk and put them in the fridge to soak for about 30 minutes.  I think this acts as a tenderizer but if it has another purpose, I'm sure you won't hesitate to tell us.  It's back to our stuffed marrow bones and our recipe calls for beef marrow bones split lengthwise.

 (10:00) to (12:00)

These will go into a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes.  While those are going, we add some of our clarified butter to two skillets.  Into one will go some chopped onion for the stuffing and into the other will go two to three slices of white bread, sliced into cubes to make croutons.  These you'll stir frequently until browned on all sides.  To the onions, you'll add the rehydrated mushrooms which you've secretly drained and diced off camera. 

Then you're gonna pull the marrow bones from the boiling water and set to cool for a few moments while you get rid of the scary bone water and try not to retch.  When they're cool enough to handle, scoop the marrow into the onion/mushroom mixture and stir it until it all kind of melts together and season with salt and pepper.  Then you go about the unsavory task of cleaning up the marrow bones using the knives that you care least about making more dull, hacking and pulling away the remaining meat and tendons.  Happy Halloween, you guys.  

Let's turn to some smaller, daintier legs and return to our frogs, which we've removed from the milk, drained, and dried on paper towels.  Season these with salt and pepper and then give them each a light coating of flour before arranging them in a dish like they're a super sweet rockettes kick line and sing "Hello, my baby.  Hello, my honey.  Hello, my rag-time gal."  

Now it's time to fire the unstuffed marrow bones, so we're gonna take about five pounds of center cut beef marrow bones, about three inches long each, and arrange them on a foil-covered pan.  These will go into a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes or until the marrow is soft and has begun to separate from the bone.  We're getting really close now and the oxtails are done, so we pull them out of the oven and skim off some of the fat.  Don't worry.  There will still be plenty of fat in this meal.

Set that to cool for a bit and then we're set up to do side by side frog leg frying, heating about six tablespoons of our clarified butter in each of two skillets until sizzling.  Add the frog legs, being careful not to crowd, and cook, flipping once, until golden brown.  

 (12:00) to (14:00)

This shouldn't take more than 4-5 minutes and we overcooked ours and they started falling apart.  Don't do this.  Cook them in however many batches it takes not to crowd them, and when you're done, transfer them to a platter.  You're also gonna add a handful of parsley to the mushroom/marrow mixture and then toss in the croutons.  By this point, your guests have arrived and are available to help.  

Now you're gonna make a sauce for the frog legs by discarding the old butter and adding fresh clarified butter to the skillet, adding in a few cloves of your chopped garlic and stir constantly until lightly browned.  Over on the left, we're filling the marrow bones with the mushroom/crouton filling, by the way.  

Back on the sauce, turn off the heat, add a tablespoon of lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper, then drizzle this around and on top of your frog legs.  Scatter some parsley and race it to the table. 

The roasted marrow bones are now ready, so we pulled those from the oven and placed them on serving dishes for the table.  We also combine our parsley salad with the lemon vinaigrette we made earlier.  Finally, we are ready to eat and we've decided to do this in a communal family style, not forgetting a big green salad and plenty of fresh bread and butter. 

Now if all of these bone-intensive dishes don't appeal to you, you can consider some other food dinners, like Matta-Clark's meal of live brined shrimp served in hollowed out eggs.  He also propsed a dinner for sculptors, by sculptors, where all the utensils would be hammers, chisels, and screwdrivers, and Mark (?~13:27) proposed a dinner that would be served through the window with a crane, but that never actually happened.

Now, with the original bone meal, after the plates were cleared, the leftover bones were scrubbed by musician Richard Peck and then strung together as necklaces by Robert (?~13:42)'s then assistant, (?~13:43).  They were then returned to the diners with the idea that they could wear their leftovers home.  For this critical final step, we decided to invite a special guest to our bone meal: jewelry designer Allison Ford, to enjoy the dinner and also collaborate with us.

We could pretend like we took these bones from our dinner and poof, magically transformed them into perfectly lean and dry jewelry making material.  

 (14:00) to (16:00)

After we cleared the table and Allison set us up with a spread of supplies, we all dove into making our own necklaces with our lovely bones.  The truth is that we tested these recipes in advance, harvested the bones, and then spent quite a bit of time cleaning and drying them.  There are lots of ways to clean bones.  You can consult Google and that will be another fun Halloween surprise, but I think there's a reason I couldn't find any photos of the original bone necklaces and my guess is that they were wet and still had gook in them.

While our dinner may bear little in resemblance to the original Matta-Clark meal, it was a supremely fun and intense cooperative effort.  I now have a better understanding of why Food restaurant only lasted three years with its original members as they became exhausted with the effort and moved on to other things.  Was it art?  For some, yes.  It was part of a moment when art and aritsts were consciously exiting the traditional space of the gallery to experiment within the arena of real life.  As Caroline Gooden wrote, "It was a beautiful, nourishing, vital, stimulating, new concept which was a living, pulsating hub of creative energy and piles of fresh parsley."

Oh, and we also yielded some really impressive works of wearable art.  

The Art Assignment is funded in part by viewers like you through, a subscription-based platform that allows you to support creators you like in the form of a monthly donation.  If you'd like to support the show, check out our page at  Special thanks to our grand master of the arts, Indianapolis Homes Realty.  


 (16:00) to (16:02)