Written by Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Sound Bites is a thin volume of food-centric dispatches set against a backdrop of the band’s plodding world tour- there’s a lot of odd food and odder bistros, with several thousand frequent flyer miles in between. Growing up, Kapranos worked as an apprentice chef in some Glasgow restaurants, and a behind-the-scenes accessibility to all things edible suffuses his writing. For instance, as a young cook, Kapranos describes the process of making jus from roasted veal bones under the watchful eye of a "'69 skinhead called Martin who had oversized teeth that made him look like a crew-cut Nosferatu.” Scary, but he leaves intact.
When the band plays Sydney, Kapranos eats chilli crab; back in Scotland, it’s a cheese and chutney plate at a bookstore café. “Food is an adventure” is his Sound Bites mantra, and otherwise the book is filled with understated and disarming truths about dining, like how good company sometimes trumps bad shellfish, and how some people continually search to rediscover to relive the particulars of their first food memories. Gothamist started talking to Alex Kapranos about the parallel orbits of rock stars and chefs, and ended up with a mutton meatball recipe.
It seems as though a lot of chefs fancy themselves to be rock stars. Do a lot of rock stars harbor secret desires to become chefs?
There are personality traits common to people in both- disregard for conventional life, a desire to travel, swollen egos, tendency to alcohol and substance abuse. More chefs consciously behave like rock stars than rock stars behave like chefs, but that's because most guys in bands don't think about food much. Eating is something they have to do between the important stuff, similar to pissing or throwing up.
Having said that, because any vagrant can get a job in a kitchen, a lot of rockers have worked in catering at least once in their scabrous lives. Success changes a few of them, though - three or four platinum albums down the line, they think they are connoisseurs of fine cuisine and wine. I'm not under that illusion. I might write about food, but that doesn't mean I know sod all about it.
What type of restaurant do you think the following musicians might operate if they went into the business? Say, Robert Smith-
Vegetarian Hot Dog Cart
Fish and Chip Van
Black Pudding Shop
If you could work for any chef around today, who would it be and why?
I don't really know many chefs - none I'd want to work for.
Someone can have the best meal of their life at a horrible restaurant, and the worst meal of their life at the most highly rated restaurant. Sound Bites often emphasizes the experience of a meal as much as the food itself. Is there a place in New York, or anywhere else, that you’ve had lackluster food, but ended up having a great experience?
It's definitely true. If you're in good company, you barely notice the food sometimes. Often there's little you can say about a good meal in a good restaurant other than "it was well cooked, the service was fast enough and was, well... good". Who wants to read about that? I prefer places where you taste the flavor of where you are more than the food.
The Peter Pan Donut Shop in Greenpoint is a good example. You could eat the paper cups in there and enjoy the experience. Especially for someone who grew up in Glasgow - it seems almost like a caricature of what Brooklyn should be: cops munching donuts and drinking coffee as if they're in an episode of Hill Street Blues. It's like going to a restaurant in Rome and seeing Italians eat spaghetti and yelling "Mama Mia". Another place where the experience is greater than the food is Tip Top on Franklin in Clinton Hill. It's a dive bar with a good soul juke-box and free food on Thursdays - beans, chicken wings and fishcakes. It's one of the best meals in NYC, but not because of the food.
In the chapter Heavenly Hamburgers, you extol the merits of In 'n' Out Burger in Palm Springs, particularly the fried-in-mustard "Animal Burger." You also have a separate chapter on DuMont in Williamsburg, which is also known for their burger. Gothamist was wondering if you’d weigh in on the great and endless NYC burger debate- Shack Shack vs. Dumont vs. Corner Bistro, etc.
I've not tried Shake Shack or Corner Bistro, but I've eaten at Dumont. Diner, close by, is also a good place - I love the way that they scribble the specials on the table cloth as they tell you them. The decadent Rossini at Les Halles has to be a contender for the tastiest morally reprehensible snack in the city. They just need to slap some beluga on the bun and serve it on a silver fox fur plate.
In "Serve It Fast,” you "invite the six thousand audience
members to the hotel for a party" after a snide hotel GM censures you
for eating in his lobby, telling them "Bring some fast food with you"- then a whole bunch of people actually show up with bags of deep fried stuff. Was that the end of the story, or did anything else happen after that?
My lawyer has advised me to not say anything more about it.
Do you really think that working in a kitchen is similar to being in a band, or are you just trying to give a lot of kitchen grunts out there some much needed hope?
Kitchens run well when there's a good group dynamic. Bands are only any good if there's a good dynamic. As for hope, well most grunts in bands or kitchens are happily beyond any hope.
When you're not defeathering pheasants, and not on tour, is there something you like to prepare in terms of being home cooked? Can Gothamist get a recipe?
(by Alex Kapranos)
Ground Lamb (preferably fatty from cheap mutton cuts for their good strong
Couple of eggs to bind it
Loads of chopped flat parsley
Fresh mint leaves
Cumin, fennel and coriander seeds
Loads of toasted sesame seeds
A few toasted oats
Fine sliced red onion
Chilli pepper to taste
Grated potato with the liquid squeezed out (Or breadcrumbs if you'd rather)
A wee bit of honey
Salt and pepper to taste
Squash it all up and roll it into your preferred size of ball. Fry them in a
cast iron skillet with more olive oil than you would normally at a slightly
higher temperature than feels right so that they caramelize. Serve them with
your favourite carbohydrate and squeeze lemon juice over the top.
Thank you. One last thing: in "Forlorn Fridge," you describe opening your Glasgow refrigerator to find only "a packet of vine leaves, a jar of chilli paste" that have been there for a few years. Do you have another home refrigerator out there somewhere, now that another tour has past, and if so, what's in it?
Alex Kapranos will read from Sound Bites at the Union Square Barnes and Noble, 33 East 17th Street, at 7 pm this Wednesday, January 31st. 212.253.0810 for more information; the event is free, but no outside fast food will be allowed inside this venue.