It Takes A Village

A new community cookbook leaps off the pages of convention and into the arts, asking if we are what we eat, who are we?

Steven Casanova hates recipes. But the 23-year-old VCU alumnus is nevertheless spending his summer collecting dozens of them.

“That’s not how I cook,” he says. “I used to bake when I was younger, and I stopped baking because I hate recipes. And that’s the irony of this, of getting recipe submissions, but I hate the idea of the box—that it has to be this, done exactly this way.”

Casanova’s outlook—which is perhaps surprising for someone creating a cookbook—stems from his passion for creative, untamed photography and filmmaking. And although the inherent rigidity of recipes contradicts his personal paradigm, Casanova’s latest project, “The Richmond Cookbook,” is a compilation of the self-same cooking instructions which irk him—recipes gathered from every nook, corner and neighborhood of Richmond to be exhibited at VCUarts’ Anderson Gallery on August 4.

“Basically the idea of a cookbook, and especially a regional cookbook, is to bring stories and people together in one platform, to be seen together,” Casanova explains. “I want to do that in a physical space.”

What exactly a community cookbook looks like in 2017 is a question the artist is leaving to his contributors. “I want people to give recipes that they give to their best friends, recipes that they give to their church group, recipes that they give to their school—whatever they see as their community—and hopefully that will be a reflection across the city of what people define as community,” Casanova says.

Accepting submissions until mid-July, Casanova is seeking handwritten recipe cards from “every single person in Richmond, I hope,” for whatever dish they love, written in whatever language they prefer. He has put out a call for submissions on his website and is spreading the word in person at events such as the Birdhouse Farmers’ Market.

“I got one submission from a nine-year-old for steak with broccoli. She spelled broccoli wrong, and I love it. I love that experience of the actual card.”

The original recipe cards will be part of the cookbook’s exhibition, along with photographs and film of Richmonders, submitted dishes and the landmarks of Richmond’s food culture. While Casanova intends to publish the cookbook after its gallery debut, his main focus for now is the exhibition.

“The biggest hope is that there will be food. I’m hoping I can get people to actually make some of the stuff.” StevenCasanova.com, Arts.VCU.edu/TheAnderson


Recipes for The Richmond Cookbook can be submitted online at RichmondCookbook.com, with recipe cards available for handwritten submissions at public libraries throughout Richmond. The exhibition is August 4 at The Anderson Gallery at VCU.  

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