Enemy Kitchen is an ongoing project begun by Michael Rakowitz in 2004. Collaborating with his Iraqi-Jewish mother, he compiles Baghdadi recipes and teaches them to different public audiences.
For the first incarnation of the project, organized by More Art, Rakowitz cooked with a group of middle school and high school students who live in Chelsea and participate in after-school and summer programs at the Hudson Guild Community Center. Some had relatives in the US Army stationed in Iraq. In preparing and then consuming the food, it opened up another topic through which the word 'Iraq’ could be discussed—in this case, attached to food, as a representative of culture and not as a stream of green-tinted images shown on CNN of a war-torn place.
The project functioned as a social sculpture: while cooking and eating, the students engaged each other on the topic of the war and drew parallels with their own lives, at times making comparisons with bullies in relation to how they perceive the conflict.
On one occasion, a student walked in and said, “Why are we making this nasty food? They (the Iraqis) blow up our soldiers every day and they knocked down the Twin Towers.” One student corrected her and said, “The Iraqis didn’t destroy the Twin Towers, bin Laden did.” Another said, “It wasn’t bin Laden, it was our government.” In this way, the project provided a space where the opinions, myths and facts that are perpetuated in a country during wartime could be communicated and discussed.
After eight weeks of learning how to cook Iraqi food, the students at Hudson Guild Community Center proposed to teach me something about their own families’ recipes, since they now knew so much about mine. One student, Hyasheem, asked, “Do Iraqis make Southern fried chicken?” I answered that no, to my knowledge there was nothing like it in Iraqi cuisine. “Well, then let’s invent it,” he said. Hyasheem led the way and we cooked the chicken according to his specifications, using a shake-n-bake technique. Iraqi Fried Chicken was born. Enemy Kitchen was also performed as a barbecue at The National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum on Memorial Day, 2009. Together with members of the Chicago chapters of Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW) and Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW), we cooked Iraqi kofta on the grill instead of traditional hot dogs and hamburgers.
Future plans include a pilot for an Enemy Kitchen cooking show, featuring Rakowitz and the students from Hudson Guild, to be broadcast on public access television and the Internet; and a series of lessons for New York City public school cafeteria chefs, to help them serve Iraqi food as part of their everyday menus.
And, in winter 2012, keep an eye out for the Enemy Kitchen mobile food truck in Chicago as part of FEAST, an exhibition that will open at the Smart Museum of Art. The food truck will feature a different Iraqi cook every day, serving cuisine from different regions of the country, and will be staffed by American veterans of the Iraq War who will act as servers and sous-chefs.