September 25, 2009
"Jazz is like bananas -- it must be consumed on the spot." Jean-Paul Sartre, "Jazz in America"
There's a story involving Bird, a woman, Miles Davis and fried chicken that is too bawdy even for me to tell, although you can read it, if you like, in a section on Bird in Miles Davis' autobiography. But I'll say this, the tale would surely squash anyone's notion that the experience of delicious food, great musicians, and raunchy sex guarantee a fabulous experience, or always turns out, like a great recipe.
Everything is timing; everything is consideration; everything is taste, and the best artists would tell you so.
There is food and there is music and they can be partners too, just as art and food are -- in the best kitchens. And sometimes, cooks just like cooking to a beat, as if music might be the magical ingredient.
On coastalbeat.com you can find a story about Blues man Sauce Boss, who "plays the guitar and sings the blues and mixes up a 10-gallon pot of Gumbo at the same time." Try that, you dexterous kitchen wonders!
Sauce man's been playing gigs for 20 years in order to sell his own brand of hot sauce. Audiences not only get the Blues, but a bowl of Gumbo loaded with the Sauce Boss' Liquid Summer Hot Sauce -- handed out at the end of the show!
What's the secret of the Sauce Boss' invention? -- Datil peppers, he says, which are in the habanero family and provide a slow burn.
Brilliant food evokes great music, connects to all the arts. Grant Achatz, the young Midwestern culinary genius, who, together with Nick Kokonas, opened Alinea in 2005, says that "a menu should read like sheet music." Grant, an inventor, in the tradition of the Spaniard Ferran Adria (who in fact inspired Achatz' journey into culinary scientific invention), won the Rising Star Chef Award from the James Beard Foundation in 2003, and in 2004, received four stars from the Chicago Tribune, when he was executive chef at Trio, in Evanston, Illinois. He is only 34.
Kokonas, a philosopher/techie/entrepreneur, explained recently in a blog that he and Achatz created Alinea to "touch all the senses —not only taste. The menu is composed like a symphony or a play, provoking diners, challenging them, and making sure they feel... happy, sad, nostalgia, humor... the full range of human emotion." A masterful dish should look like a work of art and evoke it.
(Coincidentally, The New Yorker just published a profile of Achatz in its Sept. 25 issue, available online).
What of the actual music of kitchens, the cooking noise that includes the metallic drumming of pots and pans and chefs' calling and shouting voices? Did composer John Cage ever dream that up for a recording?
I watched impressive footage of a bevy of meticulous cooks in Alinea's kitchen preparing food with the quiet mindfulness of monks creating a sand mandala -- Awe-inspiring, and nothing whatsoever like the Hard Rock insanity described by Bourdain in the typically loud and bawdy kitchens of his experience. If Alinea represents the new kitchen and cuisine of the future, then there is hope for humankind.
Music and art can inspire great food. But so can mindfulness and silence. Frankly, as a foodie, I'll opt for the latter. It's better for your soul and your digestion.
In those typical, rowdy kitchens, each with their own sense of dysfunctionally functional mayhem or order, there are certain chefs that insist on particular music, something to concoct by, and perhaps, keep them from losing their minds.
Bourdain -- who is more than a chef, someone who has traveled the great kitchen of the world trying to gain mastery of the sensual -- lists his own preferences on a Web site. They include hard pumping cuts from Snap -- "The Power"; The Cult -- "She Sells Sanctuary"; The Stooges' "Down On the Street (Take 15)," and slower, sexier numbers for sultry pot stirring, like Ralph Rebel's "Rumble," Bill Wither's "Use Me," and The Stones, "Gimme Shelter."
My personal favorite for cooking -- Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" -- as I think happiness is the best ingredient, perhaps the only guarantee to producing good food.