Knife on Mars: Artists need your help improving space food

Out of this world: Artists Heidi Neilson and Douglas Paulson want to make space food better.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Talk about a Mars bar!

A pair of artists is challenging Earthlings to make the tastiest meals they can using only ingredients that could survive a trip to Mars in a test kitchen they have created at Williamsburg gallery the Boiler, which will open May 29.

After a month of experimentation, the duo will then vacuum-pack visitors’ creations and send them to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration so the world’s largest civilian space program can get a taste. The organizers say they doubt they will find a better way to deliver unspoiled nutrition than whatever the $40 billion-budgeted space agency has already cooked up, but they’re hoping to provide a closer look at the less tangible ingredients that go into a good meal.

“Obviously, NASA is doing tons of research on food and nutrition, but this is a way of really examining how food culture fits into the picture,” said Heidi Neilson, co-creator of “The Menu for Mars Kitchen.” “How would our experience of eating change on Mars? We’re thinking of ourselves more as public outreach rather the scientific wing.”

The test kitchen is the culinary culmination of a year-long collaboration between Neilson and artistic partner Douglas Paulson, who formed the Menu for Mars Supper Club last year, she said. The pair recruited a crew to join them on missions to New York City restaurants, where they dined and quizzed experts on topics such as nutrition, fire-free cooking, and astrophysics — all with an eye toward improving astronauts’ dining experiences. Now they’re hoping to put that research to use while also educating the general public by inviting amateur chefs to whip up some deep-space delicacies.

But don’t expect to work with a heritage pig or heirloom tomatoes when you enter the test kitchen — only ingredients that have been powdered, freeze-dried, or heat-treated can survive the expedition to the red planet, Neilson said.

“These are difficult-to-work-with foods — it’s not really a farm-to-table thing,” she said.

Culinary explorers can also learn what plants space explorers may be able to grow, as well as how millennia-old farming techniques like composting would change in the inhospitable, onyx yawn of space.

“There’s nothing living there, which is obvious but profound,” she said “So, you can’t just throw something outside and expect it to rot.”

The ingredient list may be limited, but Neilson is encouraging people to get creative, she said.

“If you wanna try making Martian muffins, go for it” she said. “People can engage to the level they want, and they’re welcome to bring their own ingredients.”

The Menu for Mars Kitchen at the Boiler [191 N. 14th St. between Wythe and Nassau avenues in Williamsburg, kitchen.menu4mars.net, (718) 599–2144]. Opens May 29 at 7 pm. Runs through June 20. Free.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

More from Around New York

>