Christopher Leitch: ‘Cooking from Memory’

Christopher Lietch (from the artist)

In the Kansas City artist’s online chapbook, participants from around the world explore food, art and community

Fabiola Matumaine of Burundi wrote about the doughy West African staple, fufu, which she illustrated in a suite of four acrylic and pencil drawings.

The thread of memory is intricately linked to our senses. A smell, a taste, a sound — all have the power to pull us from the present into moments long past. Food goes one step further by tapping into our emotions, cultures and histories. It is not so unlike art. Both are laboriously created, personal and meant to be shared. Kansas City artist Christopher Leitch explores the sustenance of food alongside personal narratives and art through his Welcome (M)Art project, “Cooking from Memory.”

This venture originated in Cincinnati through Wave Pool Gallery. The artist-run gallery includes the Welcome Project, a hub for food, art and other resources with the primary aim of “empower[ing] Cincinnati’s refugee and immigrant population while connecting, assisting, and inspiring all through art and food.” Last year marked the first iteration of their immersive artist residency, Welcome (M)Art, which blends food, art and social discourse.

Leitch was one of four artists chosen to participate in Welcome (M)Art last year. His particular project included weekly gatherings for participants to render beloved dishes through drawings. Maps lined the gallery walls, where participants pinned strings between their birthplaces and Cincinnati. They also composed stories about their memorable dishes — both simple and complex narratives that convey the incredible impact of food on memory. It is more than just nourishment; it is family, country and history.

Asian artist Elan Schwartz created an annotated watercolor of her family’s noodle kugel.

The drawings and stories compiled during Leitch’s residency can now be found in the online chapbook “Cooking from Memory.” The book is divided by continents with more than 40 participants from around the world. Fabiola Matumaine of Burundi wrote about the doughy West African staple, fufu. She reminisced about sharing fufu with her colleagues after moving to the United States and expressed joy at their reception. Of the experience she said, “That day I felt so comfortable and happy to see they liked the food I love.” A suite of four acrylic and pencil drawings accompanies her story. On the following pages, Matumaine switched from English to Swahili, with drawn images of her making fufu in Burundi.

As the book drifts into Asia and Europe, carefully drawn pictures of important dishes are accompanied by artists’ notes about their families’ quirks, like Elan Schwartz’s noodle kugel that does not include raisins, and Thi Tran’s note that some of the flavors of her Vietnamese caramelized braised pork cannot be replicated in Cincinnati. “Cooking from Memory” ends with a section dedicated to artists from Cincinnati, highlighting dishes such as a father’s meticulously perfected ice cream and comforting midwestern casseroles.

Clicking through the book, the sense of community and connection is evident. For weeks, residents sat with Leitch to make art in real time, reminiscing about their most cherished dishes. Leitch also shared some of his own culinary story as he performed a cooking demonstration of his Grandma Harley’s oatmeal cookies. Leitch remembers, “My Welcome (M)Art residency was such a vital reminder to me that art, whether object or activity, is above all an opportunity to explore our shared human nature together — in a gallery or on a street corner.”

Find Christopher Leitch’s online chapbook at Cooking from Memory: Where are we from? What do we eat? Visit issuu.com/christopherleitchstudio.

All images courtesy of the artist and Wave Pool Gallery / The Welcome Project

CategoriesLiterary Visual
Emily Spradling

Emily Spradling is an adult English-language instructor, freelance writer and founding member of the arts/advocacy organization, No Divide KC. She is particularly interested in the intersections of art, culture and LGBTQ+ issues.

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