The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Elisa Ludwig
[Elizabeth Fiend, musician and cook, cuts vegetables, with two of her guitars sitting by. Photo by: Ron Tarver/Inquirer.]
To any home cook who rocks out to a vegetable-prep soundtrack, the idea that music can inspire great food is nothing new.
But a few recent and forthcoming cookbooks – I Like Food, Food Tastes Good (Hyperion, 2007); Lost in the Supermarket (Soft Skull, 2008); Please Feed Me: A Punk Vegan Cookbook (Soft Skull, 2004) – are tweaking the idea for indie-rock fans: They’re betting on the fact that, in certain circles, a Thai sweet-potato soup is actually more tempting when it’s made by the members of the band Belle and Sebastian.
Lately, it seems, indie rock has been mixing with food in surprisingly high-profile ways. Last year, Alex Kapranos, onetime chef and lead singer of the U.K. pop group Franz Ferdinand, released a memoir of his meals on the road called Sound Bites.
On Dinner With the Band, an Internet show hosted by New York chef and musician Sam Mason, indie groups visit to play a few songs and help Mason in the kitchen.
And celeb-chef Anthony Bourdain (who recently revealed he had spent his last year of culinary school shooting up heroin with bands at CBGB’s, a club in the Bowery) returns to his rock roots this fall: He’s hosting a Travel Channel Thanksgiving special in his Connecticut home with the heavy-rock band Queens of the Stone Age – replete with turkey, cranberry sauce, and bludgeoning bass lines.
In some ways, this marriage of bands and cooking is a natural convergence. “For me, there’s a huge connection between music and food, down to how the music affects the very dining experience,” says Joe Kim, owner of Bistro B, a personal-chef service, and drummer with the High Lives. “Creatively, they tap into the same vein.”
Sociologist Lynn Owens, who along with his wife, Kay, wrote Lost in the Supermarket, says: “The kitchen has become the new place of celebrity, and celebrity chefs have become rock-star figures, so it follows that rock stars are now becoming chefs.”
The trend also reflects a younger, trendier strain of the foodie population that has rescued gastronomy from its own trussed-up, truffle-sniffing stodginess. The food world can only benefit from a rock-and-roll sensibility, says Kara Zuaro, a Brooklyn-based food and music writer and author of I Like Food, Food Tastes Good (the title refers to a Descendents lyric).
“Years ago, when I first went to food events, I felt young and everyone was very serious. Now these sorts of events are younger and hipper,” says Zuaro. “People are in the know, both about new bands and new restaurants.”
In practice, punk/indie rock cookery usually requires a sense of humor in the kitchen. Local musician Mike McKee has released his own collection, The Armalite Cookbook, named after his punk band. The vegan recipes like Angular Peanut Noodles With Sonic Zucchini Flourishes and Squat or Rot Pizza are filled with helpful tips such as sauteing the seitan until it’s “dark and crispy like someone from Florida who works outside” and the reminder that whenever possible, it’s better to leave the dishes for someone else. In Zuaro’s book, there are recipes for Eddie Vedder Stew and something called Cheesy Sleazy.
Yet at the same time, some musicians reveal a serious passion for food. “I was surprised to find that so many bands I talked to really liked to cook,” says Zuaro. “Twenty minutes after I contacted him, John Darnell from the Mountain Goats wrote me a three-page essay of favorite foods he makes for his wife when he comes back from tour.”
Though some, like Philly pop group Dr. Dog, sent Zuaro family recipes (in their case, a buttery English muffin loaf), many shared their own creations. Bassist Brian Ritchie of the Violent Femmes submitted instructions for a wild boar ragu, his own interpretation of the richly stewed meat sauces he ate when he lived in Italy. Among Zuaro’s own favorites in the book is the easy and healthy fish taco recipe from Philadelphia hip-hop producer and musician RJD2.
For the most part, eating on the road is a bleak affair, as bands often rely on the venue to provide meals or subsist on roadside fast food in between tour stops. For that reason, many musicians are forced to cook their own food to fulfill their dietary needs.
“Typically if there’s one vegetarian in the band, that person will cook for everyone else,” Zuaro says.
Adds McKee: “You feel like you’re lucky to find a Taco Bell on tour. . . . The other thing you often get as a vegan is watery dumpster-dived chili, so by necessity you learn how to make your own meals.”
For some musicians, the interest in food dovetails with a broader political or moral ethos. Elizabeth Fiend, local musician, cook and host of the show BiG TeA PaRtY on Free Speech TV, has been cooking her own vegetarian food for decades, adapting recipes to suit her own taste.
“My overall attitude to life is punk, which is part of my music as well as my cooking, and both are political,” she says. “I grow my own herbs and fruits like figs, blackberries and kiwi.”
Fiend also conducts cooking demonstrations for children and adults in which she shares her ideas for intensely flavored, healthful cuisine such as whole-wheat pasta with a chocolate and cinnamon-inflected tempeh “meaty” sauce.
The DIY sensibility in the kitchen is typical of most of the bands the Owenses encountered when they began assembling recipes for Lost in the Supermarket.
“It seems like there’s this synergy – the indie punk scene is about not relying on others too much, and that means producing our own consumer goods and cooking our own food.”
The Owenses, who met when they played in a band together, have found that in their own life, cooking for friends has replaced going out to shows.
Yet for every bona-fide indie-rock home cook who grows herbs and rolls pasta, there’s a mainstream musician capitalizing on the trend by using his name to license an edible product – everything from hot sauce (Aerosmith’s Joe Perry) to absinthe (Marilyn Manson) to Southern Hospitality, a New York rib restaurant helmed by Justin Timberlake.
And despite the added aura of rock-stardom, not every musician makes an appealing chef, says local chef and musician Kim: “I wouldn’t eat Lou Reed’s recipes. But I’d eat David Bowie’s.”
Elizabeth Fiend’s Super Chunky Meaty Vegan Tomato Sauce
Makes 6 servings
8 ounces tempeh
1 pound whole wheat linguine
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1 each: large green and red peppers, cored and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 (8-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (16-ounce) jar vegan tomato sauce
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Set a steamer in a medium saucepan filled with one inch of water. Break the tempeh into three or four pieces, and add it to the steamer. Steam for 25 minutes, turning once. When cool enough to handle, grate tempeh on a cheese grater.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta al dente, about 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large pan, saute the garlic and sage in olive oil. Add the peppers and onion, and saute for five minutes. Add diced tomatoes, and cook until all are tender, adding water as needed.
4. Pour in the tomato sauce; add wine, oregano, cayenne pepper, cocoa and cinnamon. Add grated tempeh. Thin with water to desired consistency if necessary.
5. Continue cooking at a low/medium heat until pasta is ready.
6. Drain spaghetti and toss with sauce.
– From Elizabeth Fiend
Per serving: 119 calories, 5 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 3 grams fat, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 11 milligrams sodium, 2 dietary fiber.