Food + Art cookbook features local cooks, chefs, arts in Tampa, St. Pete

Cookbook editor Toni Lydecker calls Food + Art a feast for the senses, a journey meant to take readers on a visual tour that leaves one simultaneously hungry and artistically satisfied. 

It is also intended to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts with vivid food photography coupled with pictures of paintings and sculpture that make the pages bright and inviting.

Here are some sample delicacies found within, courtesy of local home chefs and members of the Margaret Acheson Stuart Society, Inc., a nonprofit corporation created to support the Museum. The Stuart Society spearheaded the cookbook project.

Starter Course: Blue Cheese Pecan Balls
Recipe from 
Deann Coop

Deann Coop grew up in Leesburg, Florida, where a wheel of Maytag Blue Cheese was sent to her family every year by a revered relative. Some of her fondest childhood memories involve devouring the holiday treat alongside her mother. Years later, the now St. Petersburg resident faced a fiasco in a recipe for stuffed pecans that involved her favorite cheese. Quickly tiring of directions she calls unbelievably frustrating, she opted to simply grind the nuts and roll chilled, softened blue cheese balls over them. The result was blissful.

“The combination of sweet and savory in this recipe is delicious,” she says. “Plus, pecans are comical to stuff – there’s not enough room to work with.”

A self-taught cook, Coop has a background in nursing from the University of Florida and is a passionate baker. Food + Art is her first foray into the cookbook arena, and she describes the compilation process as ‘extensive.’ As section leader of the appetizer and starter chapters, she was charged with soliciting and testing recipes and leading a team of volunteers through the process. The group used a precise testing matrix provided by fellow Stuart Society member Lydecker as a guide. 

“It (the cookbook) really is a labor of love,” she says. “So many local people shared their favorite recipes, and the accompanying artwork is a reminder of the amazing museum we have here in St. Petersburg.”

Dessert: Mango Ginger Sorbet
Recipe from Mary Anna Murphy

When Mary Anna Murphy and her husband moved to their South St. Petersburg home in 1996, they discovered the makings of a natural feast. Four trees grow Kent Mangos plump and sweet on their property of nearly an acre; chickens coexist with gardens and ginger. The culinary possibilities outside her window seem endless for the avid cook, who delights in repurposing recipe ingredients to create new dishes. Of course, the star of many of her culinary exploits is the hardy tropical fruit. 

“It’s an embarrassment of riches,” she says, “all this mango.”

A fan of kitchen improvisation, Murphy found success when she took a ginger simple syrup and decided to add it to mango ice and the juice of Persian limes. The resulting sorbet is at once spicy and cool, refreshing and memorable. 

Murphy’s personal talents made her a natural fit for the cookbook project at large. Her company, MAM Designs, creates installments for museums nationwide, and she has volunteered to set up and take down exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts. She earned her Bachelors and Masters degrees in industrial engineering from Texas A&M University, where she honed her skills in architectural drafting, metal and wood shop. Her background inspires her to both conceptualize and create noteworthy displays.

A walk inside the Vinoy Renaissance Resort toward the property’s rose garden reveals her work. She designed and implemented the timeline displayed on the hotel wall, constructing it with materials that would withstand bumps from luggage and general traffic. Intended to be a temporary exhibit, it still stands nearly a decade later.

“Being able to combine my background in materials with creative installations is a joy,” she says.

She found working with cookbook materials to be a new kind of education. Part of the taste-testing group, she often tried recipes 3-4 times, tweaking ingredient quantities and cooking times when needed. Every bit of information was checked and double-checked to ensure consistency.

“I’m in awe of what a science it is to create a quality cookbook,” she says. “Being a part of this project gave me a great appreciation for it.”

Final Course: Museum of Fine Arts
Recipe from Bay Area Residents and Museum of Fine Arts Permanent Collection

There are enough culinary gems within the pages of Food + Art to devise countless banquets. From a Key Lime Pisco Sour to Florida Grouper and Shrimp Terrine, these recipes are gracing the tables inside Bay Area restaurants and residences. Cooking is an art and a science, and Food + Art uses art from its permanent collection as a true appetizer.

Proceeds from 224-page cookbook benefit the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida. The cookbook can be purchased at the museum gift shop or on its website.

Read more articles by Amy Hammond.

Amy Hammond is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida
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