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Ed Ruscha’s Recipe for a Cactus Omelet

28 June 2015

Desert life has always been on the periphery of Ed Ruscha’s work. In 1980, the artist constructed a fake resin boulder, dubbed “Rocky II,” which he hid in the Mojave Desert, the hunt for which is the subject of an upcoming feature film by Pierre Bismuth. In that same arid vein comes Ruscha’s latest, and equally unorthodox, outing: the recipe for a cactus omelet that will be served for lunch, for five consecutive Saturdays beginning this weekend, to visitors at the Barbican Art Gallery in London. It’s his quirky contribution to fellow Californian artist Doug Aitken’s collaborative exhibition, “Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening,” which also sees a series of art yurts (and Beck) installed at the Brutalist mecca this summer.

“I grew up in Oklahoma where things were really simple,” says Ruscha of his culinary roots. “Nobody ate cactus at all. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I realized it’s sold at the market and it’s actually very good. It has the same sliminess as okra, and it mixed well with eggs, so I thought: ‘Why not just slice these things up?’” Ruscha’s recipe, which he shares below, specifies the use of nopalitos, a relative of the prickly pear, which is calorie-light and antioxidant-rich, and has been a mainstay of Mexican cooking for centuries. But, for the uninitiated, how does cactus actually taste? “It’s like biting into a watermelon,” he explains. “Some people treat it like a fine wine. I don’t drink wine, but I can see that it has subtleties that would appeal to lots of different people.”

The making of the cactus omelet has become something of a ritual for Ruscha when staying at his desert home close to the Joshua Tree National Monument. “When I first started out here, L.A. was like the Australia of the art world,” he says of the city that he’s called home for almost 60 years. “Now it’s moving faster and faster and it can drive you crazy. So I have to get out to the desert and have myself an elixir of cactus omelet.” Though Ruscha is the first to admit that the recipe sidesteps his other work, he adds in his typically unaffected style: “If you make it right it can be an artful creation, just like a painting can be tasty.”

Ruscha’s recipe for his cactus omelet.