Berkeley, California, has a reputation as a '60s holdout, with a communal ethic that means neighbors feel free to pick lemons from each others' trees without necessarily asking for permission. "Urban foraging" is what Michael "Cal" Peternell, a chef at Chez Panisse Café, calls it. When Cal and a friend, Mike Marshall, began bartering lessons with each other a couple of years agoCal has been teaching Mike how to cook and Mike has been teaching Cal how to play guitarit was yet another expression of that friendly Berkeley give-and-take. One that put those "foraged" lemons to excellent use.
Mike, who is famous for his virtuosic mandolin, guitar and violin recordings, both solo and with musicians like Béla Fleck, is an avid home cook eager to improve his technique (he owns 200 cookbooks). Cal, meanwhile, wanted to learn guitar. When Cal's 11-year-old son Hopper started taking fiddle lessons with Mike's wife, Kaila Flexer, Cal and Mike struck a deal to teach each other. "It's one of those arrangements where each of us feels he's getting the better end of the bargain," Mike says.
When Mike isn't on tour, he and his family visit Cal's house on Wednesday afternoons. Hopper might learn some new Balkan tunes, while Cal works on the chords to Leadbelly's "In the Pines." Afterward, the men head to what Mike describes as Cal's "funky little kitchen," where the stove is on a slant, the butcher-block countertop is well worn, and the open back door lets in a breeze.