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  • Writer's pictureTina Brand

Eating with Artists: Joan Ross

Totti's on Bondi Road had a line out the front when Joan and I showed up on a warm and murky day, the sun unsure of itself. We joined the queue on the pavement, thankful to have booked ahead.

Joan Ross is an important voice in contemporary Australian art where her works, taking various forms from sculpture and painting to installations and video are a strong commentary on the cost of colonialism on Australian indigenous communities.

With a winning grin, Joan comes across with an honest ease: smart and full of erudite anecdotes and examples which support her purpose, direction, and what she's trying to achieve in her work.

Most recently, Joan Ross's art has featured on the hoardings which surround the Sydney Modern project for the Art Gallery of New South Wales. She was the winner of the 2017 Sulman Prize at the AGNSW as well as the Ravenswood Australian Women's Art Prize, and in 2018, she won the Mordant Family Virtual Reality Commission. Her works are held in state and private collections throughout Australia. Joan holds a BFA and an MFA from the University of NSW.

Over lunch, we talked, amongst other things, about her love of living by the ocean, moving from Glasgow as a baby, of mentoring emerging artists, and her upcoming projects including one with the National Gallery in Canberra scheduled for early this year.

When the topic turned to food, I found out that uniquely, being a super taster, Joan experiences taste with an elevated intensity, so that heat, bitterness and sweetness can land on her tastebuds with an unpleasant shock. Eating for Joan is a curious affair, as she ducks and weaves her way through the multitude of flavours most of us take for granted. Her safe haven is in foods like milk and cheese, mild, soft and quiet in imparting their flavours.

Tina: Tell me about being a super taster?

Joan: It is like having double the sweet and sour receptors or tastebuds. When I was a child, if we had apple strudel and ice cream, I would just cover it in milk to deaden the highly sweet taste. I became a great milk lover because it flattens everything.

I also need to have a specific taste at the end of my meal, so I shuffle food around my plate, and save what I know for me is to be the 'end taste'.

I never quite understood any of this about myself until I sat opposite someone at a dinner party and explained (at his insistence) how I approached food. He happened to be a taste and smell scientist! He asked me questions about eating patterns which I completely related to.

It made me feel so relieved. I thought- 'I'm not a freak after all' when he explained the concept of a super taster.

Tina: What's a dream meal for you?

Joan: A dream meal for me would be a slow cooked lamb dish in gravy with mashed potatoes. What's best for me (and what works realistically for my super tasting situation) is all kinds of seafood, cooked simply, (gently grilled) with little veggies like asparagus and sweet tomatoes. I love that.

Tina: So if someone's cooking you a meal, what instructions do you give them?

Joan: I feel terrible giving these instructions to someone kind enough to cook for me ! No chilli, not too much pepper. Very low on the carbs, keep the dressing off the salad.

But usually I just go with 'no chilli', and try and deal with the rest.

Tina: What's your go- to comfort food when you're busy and stressed with work?

Joan: These days, it would be a spinach pie which I keep in the fridge and help myself to when I'm hungry. I don't eat a lot of red meat.

Tina: Favourite food haunt?

Joan: Soy Japanese Restaurant in Bondi has lovely subtle flavours which suit me beautifully!

Tina: Can you share a favourite recipe with us please Joan?

Joan: Here's my easy spinach slice!

Easy Spinach Slice

This is a no pastry slice, keeping the carbs low, but you can always add pastry of any description.

This can also vary depending on what’s in the fridge.


2 pkts frozen spinach defrosted (you can use fresh if you want but I like the frozen)

Broccoli small head

1 bunch parsley chopped

1 brown onion


½ teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch salt

4 eggs

Sour cream/cream/yogurt/milk aprox 300ml

Maybe handful pine nuts

200g almond meal (not essential and can also use a little wheat flour if you need)

I pkt goat/sheep/cow fetta, I tend to the goat

I cup parmesan grated

Enough Cheddar cheese for topping


Defrost the spinach and then squeeze it through a seive to get the excess moisture out.

Fry onion and then add garlic near end.

Cook the broccoli in whatever way suits.

Get a big bowl, while preheating oven to 180 degrees celcius.

Put in eggs, sour cream, salt, nutmeg and mix well.

Then add spinach, broccoli, chopped parsley onion/garlic and mix.

Add cup of parmesan, pine nuts, and crumble the fetta into it.

Mix that all together.

Prepare a piece of baking paper and place it in a lasagne style tray.

Pour in and layer it with cheese.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until ready.

Yum, I also like to freeze this.

Joan Ross is represented in Sydney by:

Michael Reid Gallery

Standard House

105 Kippax Street

Surry Hills, Sydney

Ph: 02 83533500

And in Hobart by

Bett Gallery

65 Murray Street


Ph: 03 62316511

Soy Japanese Restaurant

38 Campbell Parade


Telephone: 02 91302266

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