Mina Stone Bakes Chickpeas for Five Hours

“I feel a lot freer when I cook.”

Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Mina Stone started cooking in New York as a way to make extra money while designing her own clothing line. It soon became a full-time obsession and career path; in 2015, she released a book of recipes, Cooking for Artists, and she’s now working on opening a permanent café, called Mina’s, at MoMA PS1. We joined her at home in Brooklyn to learn one of her favorite Greek recipes.

Cooking was something I always liked to do; I spent time with my grandmother (my yiayia) in Greece, and my mom is a really good cook. I grew up in Boston, and I went to art school in New York for fashion, and then I started cooking as a way to support myself as I worked on my own line.

I started doing the dinners at a gallery called Gavin Brown’s Enterprise — I met the gallery director, and she asked me to cook for 40 people. And then I started working at [sculptor and painter] Urs Fischer’s studio in Red Hook. About seven years ago, he was like, "Let’s make a cookbook together!” I stopped making clothes, and I never looked back. Urs was instrumental in the making of my first book and encouraged me to share the recipes that I had been cooking at his studio and outside of it. The book was published under Urs's imprint, so he quite literally helped make the book possible.
Sometimes I miss fashion, that form of expression where I would get to make exactly what I want to wear. But I don't miss the business part. I feel a lot freer when I cook — it's much more freeing than making patterns and waiting six months for the turnaround on clothing production. 
I feel a lot freer when I cook.

I cook a lot of Greek food; Greek cooking is inspiring to me because it's crowd-friendly, and it's a kind of cuisine in which you can make a lot of things ahead of time. You can organize yourself ahead of people arriving and then have a stress-free, lovely meal. Greek food is everything I want: It’s healthy, it’s delicious, and I’m not scrambling when I have guests over. My grandma always cooked that way; she would get up at 7 a.m., spend the morning in the kitchen, and then we'd sit down for lunch. It was a Greek maternal thing that I always liked.I am working on a few big projects at the moment. My next cookbook is being published by HarperCollins in the fall of 2020, and it’s about opening my new restaurant at MoMA PS1. It feels more present day and personal than the first book, which was more of an overview of my work. The relationship evolved organically out of my background cooking in the art world and the contacts I’ve made work. To go from cooking for artists in their private studios to opening up a public museum concept felt like a natural evolution for me and the right next step in my career.

I hope my café at MoMA PS1 will open in the fall. The menu will expand from breakfast to lunch to early dinner, as it’ll close at 6 p.m. I am trying to make home-cooked food; that’s the experience I want to give people. It’s not concept-driven. Many artists are complicated and big thinkers; I’m cooking food that I would like to eat and that I hope somebody else would like to eat. People at MoMA PS1 are from all walks of life: tourists, artists, staff, residents of Long Island City. The café is designed to provide a break. It’s healthy, it’s seasonal, and it’s straightforward.

One dish we'll serve is Greek mezzethaki, which is like Greek bites, or an appetizer plate. In Greece, if you get any kind of alcoholic drink, you also get a snack because there’s a whole culture around not getting drunk. The food absorbs the alcohol. There’s ouzo hour in Greece, where people get ouzo, put it on ice, and put a little water in it. Then you have these dishes that go with ouzo — maybe some ham, cheese, some vegetables, vinegar, olives, and some toasted bread. It’s particular to the hours that MoMA PS1 is open, when you don’t really want lunch, aren’t ready for dinner yet, but are still kind of hungry.

I made chickpeas in The Dutchess. Every year, my family and I go to this island called Paros in Greece, which is known for chickpeas. That’s one of the local crops. These women bake chickpeas in wood-burning ovens for at least 24 hours, and I got super into it when I went to this chickpea festival in Paros. In my first book, I had a recipe for chickpeas on the stove, which is how my grandma made them, but they take more work and time.

These women bake chickpeas in wood-burning ovens for at least 24 hours.
Photos by Vincent Tullo

When you put them in the oven, it's incredibly easy because you're just combining four ingredients, and the chickpeas come out so nice and soft, but they don’t fall apart. Cover the chickpeas with water, and then top them with onions and whole lemons, oil, salt, and pepper, and then you bake for four or five hours. Sometimes I put in a bay leaf, rosemary, or thyme, but, really, they're so simple. The Dutchess is great — it's really heavy, and I feel like it retained the heat so well. It kept everything inside cooking evenly. It was amazing for the chickpeas.

When I cook at home, I keep it simple.