KaiMay 20, 2024

On the pain and pleasure of cooking


A conversation with artist and home cook Prairie Hatchard-McGill, aka @cacioeprairie.

This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.

A few weeks ago, I spotted Prairie strolling down Ponsonby Road at sunset, a bunch of celery tucked under her arm. She was too far away for me to call out, but if I’d been closer I would have asked what she was going to make with it – perhaps some of her famous chicken broth? A crunchy chicken salad? A pale, oozy risotto dusted with parm?

Celery is an ingredient that appears regularly on her delicious Instagram feed, @cacioeprairie. Cakes also feature heavily, as do sausages, brothy bowls, asparagus spears, golden pies and glacé cherries, all accompanied by frank, detailed captions often tagging friends who inspired the meal or explaining a new method she experimented with, how it went, how pleasing or stressful it was.

“It feels like torture sometimes,” she tells me. “The cake I made for my birthday, the Swedish princess cake, I was like, why am I doing this to myself? I was whisking eggs over a bain-marie and sweating! It all went well, and I love it, but…” As a fellow obsessive home cook, I am nodding fervently: we love it, but. We are sitting under the heaters outside the newly opened Beau Delicatessen, sipping coffees and eating warm, mustardy cheese croissants, just two women who love to cook, complaining about cooking. A perfect Monday morning.

When I ask Prairie what she’s been making lately, she answers quickly, with the unmistakable excitement of a recent convert: “I’m deep in my sourdough practice right now. It’s funny because it’s really hard work, it can make me really mad. You have to learn where you can and can’t take liberties.” Bread-making is one thing, but does she usually like to follow a recipe? “I love recipes, I really respect a recipe and am frustrated by bad ones. Lately I’ve been into Carla Lalli Music, she gives good recipes but also substitutions and things like this really great ratio for making different types of pesto. I think we need less recipes and more formulas – although what I really long for is to learn alongside a wise elder. I’m a kinaesthetic learner, I crave that. At art school, I could go into the workshop and be shown how to do something.”

A slice of Princesstårta, pickling eggs and gorgeous risotto. (Photos: @cacioeprairie)

Outside of the kitchen, Prairie is an artist (we first met when I tutored her in Art History), her work sometimes teetering close to her food – for example, a recent work shown at Artspace Aotearoa involved a series of ostrich eggs papier-mâchéd with images of cupcakes, granola, salami, cut citrus and vitamins. When I ask about the relationship between her food and her art practice, she explains her desire to keep them separate. “They’re related in the sense that I like to play with the alchemy, like using cooking methods to make an artwork, but I find a gallery dinner bizarre. Cooking and eating are perfect as they are, I don’t want to over-intellectualise it.”

It’s funny because the way Prairie talks about cooking is a lot like how artists talk about making art – she’ll often describe the aesthetic or context that drew her to a dish, what she learned through experimenting with her materials – in this case, her ingredients. Rather than over-intellectualising food, she seems to be thinking with food, playing with food, approaching it with a kind of lightness that probably wouldn’t be possible if it were part of an art practice and is perhaps there because it’s just food, it’s necessity. “I go through different levels of interest and energy with cooking, but I always have to eat,” she laughs. “My obsession with food… sometimes I wonder if I don’t know how to cook or eat as an adult and I’m just trying to figure out what a healthy weeknight meal is.”

Quickfire Yucks and Yums with @cacioeprairie


  • Eggplant
  • TikTok food review culture
  • $8 coffees
  • The way spinach makes your teeth feel


Keep going!