Mo Rocca, the host of My Grandmother’s Ravioli on the Cooking Channel, chats about his food rules to live by. Read more >
Pop star Kelly Clarkson on the best mushrooms of all time and the "hippie" way she drinks her fair-trade coffee. Read more >
It’s been a whirlwind year for rockers Fitz and the Tantrums, whose ’80s throwback album More Than Just a Dream came out in May. Their song “Out of My League” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative chart last month, and they seem to be perpetually touring—a lifestyle that allows co-lead singer (and onstage powerhouse) Noelle Scaggs to indulge in her other love, eating. Here are five things she wishes were waiting for her in the band’s dressing room after every show. Read more >
“I'll jump on all kinds of food trends. I'm big into kombucha right now. But as much as I love it, I'm not sure it's going to endure. It might be the quiche of our times.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love
In your new novel, The Signature of All Things, the main character is a botanist. You grew up on a farm—was that an inspiration?
There's a slight biographical similarity. My father was a Christmas-tree farmer, and my mother was a master gardener. So that is in my DNA, though I rejected it in my youth and ran away to New York City as fast as I could. But I've settled here in Frenchtown, New Jersey, and as soon as I got my own house, I became an obsessive gardener. I don't know if there's any other kind of gardener.
If you wrote a cookbook, what would the title be?
Ummm, I should not write a cookbook. If I did, it would be called My Husband's Best Recipes.
What is his specialty?
He makes lamb shanks that people are willing to get on planes to eat. I've never had lamb shanks anywhere to rival his.
Are there any food trends that you embrace?
I'm a joiner, so I'll jump on all kinds of food bandwagons. I'm definitely big into kombucha now. But as much as I love it, I'm not sure it's going to endure. It might be the quiche of our times.
What food fads drive you nuts?
I object to fat-free and sugar-free stuff; I feel that's a violation. My husband, who is Brazilian, continues to be so shocked by all the different kinds of milk that are available here. When he moved here, he would ask, "What's the milk that's just the one that comes out of the cow?" All of the different milks drive him a little bit nuts.
Do you have a favorite junk food?
Oh yeah, a lot of them. I love Big Macs, even though there's no economic or political or social or environmental defense for eating them. I introduced my friend Luca Spaghetti from Eat, Pray, Love to Kentucky Fried Chicken, and now he's hooked. The last time I was in Rome, we got on the subject of KFC. I just remember Luca's face. He looked at me with this almost panic, and he said, "What do they do to that chicken that it's so delicious! How is it so crispy? How is it so beautiful?" And I was like, "I don't think you want to know, Luca."
Years ago, you worked at Coyote Ugly, the dive bar in Manhattan. Were there any drinks you liked to make?
Coyote Ugly is definitely not a place you would go for couture cocktails. I remember my boss there telling me, "If somebody comes in here and asks for a drink that you've never heard of, just try to get the color right. Just ask them what color it's supposed to be. And if someone comes in here and asks for a fancy drink, make it as well as you can, then charge them 40 bucks for it and take them outside and beat them. Because we don't want those kind of people in this bar." So I'm really good at serving shots of bourbon, and I'm really good at pouring beer, and I'm really good at dancing on the bar, and those are not the things that I think are in style right now in the food-and-dining world.
What's more important, the bed or the stove?
Stove. You can sleep on the floor. You can sleep in an easy chair, you can sleep standing up, but food is definitely, obviously, the most important. What kind of night's sleep or sex are you gonna have if you're hungry?
Earlier this year, the legendary Indie rockers Yo La Tengo released their first video in 15 years, which featured them cooking up a delicious-looking tortilla soup. Anybody who knows Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew couldn’t have been surprised, considering that they’ve spent the better part of the past 30 years touring the world and seeking out good food. In the old days they were armed with an atlas, a marked up copy of Jane and Michael Stern’s Road Food, and a grease-stained 10-year-old BBQ-themed issue of Texas Monthly. Today, the bandmates are the experts themselves, as musician friends—such as Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan, who referred to the band as his own personal Zagat guide—seek out YLT for restaurant tips. A few weeks ago they played the FYF Festival in Los Angeles in support of their new album, Fade (Matador Records); before the show they sat down with blogger Zach Brooks to talk about eating on tour, barbecue and the sad state of food in their hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey. A portion of the interview is below; to download their entire talk, head to foodisthenewrock.com.
What are some of your favorite food cities?
Ira: San Francisco is almost too good. There is genuine stress of “How are we supposed to possibly go everywhere we want to go?” We do go back to a lot of the same places just because we love them so much. It becomes a “I don't know if I could be hungry again” thing. That’s a good one. Chicago.
James: Nashville is great. In the mid- to late-’90s when we were there I had the best Salvadoran food that I’ve ever had. And there was a Persian restaurant that a friend of ours took us to, and really good Thai food and great Vietnamese food, and it seemed like a town where it was cheap enough for small mom-and-pop places to just set up. And it was insane how great it was. It was cheap and it was amazing and you had your pick of the foods of the world. There was that great place in the market, that Taiwanese couple who ran that lunch stand. But they were these super gourmet chefs, it was amazing. It’s a psychedelic journey that town.
You guys have been touring for almost 30 years, do you feel like you’ve seen this crazy change in the food served in cities you tour through?
Ira: I mean we’ve seen a lot of changes. When we started touring we had a copy of Jane and Michael Stern’s Road Food.
Georgia: And the barbecue book, too.
Ira: Yeah, Vince Staten’s Real Barbecue.
On the tour bus?
Ira: On the tour van. It’s always easy to kind of romanticize certain things
James: Like getting lost trying to find those places Ira: And then finding out they don’t exist anymore. That was so traumatizing.
Georgia: It’s about as bad a feeling as you can have.
Ira: We still have all those books and in the case of the Sterns, there were so many editions. And all the pages are falling out, and our notes are written on them. Georgia: I still have that Texas Monthly from 10 years ago, and it’s just covered in grease stains with pages all over the place.
So what are the barbecue cities you like traveling through?
James: Chicago. It’s been a long time, but we’ve had great experiences at Leon’s on the South Side. “Bulletproof barbecue” at 2 o’clock in the morning or so is a great experience. I think some of our legendary places are gone. Pa & Ma’s in Indianapolis was a regular stop for us always and was probably the best sauce that ever existed.
Ira: I though Pa & Ma’s came back.
James: It came back as more like a soul food place but it was different. Same location, but really different. I remember one time we pulled up at Pa & Ma’s and the guy at the counter remembered us from a previous visit and I just never felt like more of a celebrity in my life. What an amazing place that was, I miss it so much.
How long have you been in Hoboken?
Ira: We moved there in 1981. It’s funny. We were the enemy when we moved in, we were the people who were ruining the town. And now we’ve been there 31 years. The food options in the city are really not that good, shockingly.
Georgia: Considering how close it is to Manhattan.
Ira: Everything that happened in Brooklyn, where the people who couldn’t afford the risk of opening in Manhattan went out to Brooklyn and Queens to try it out. You would think, What’s wrong with Hoboken? We’re rather close too. And it just hasn’t worked out that way.
But the food in Hoboken has gotten better, right? You guys have any favorites?
Ira: There’s a place we love in Jersey City that’s opened up fairly recently. And that’s sort of what I’m saying, you actually see more signs of that in Jersey City than in Hoboken. This place 30 Acres is great.
Do you guys all like cooking?
Ira: Well, Georgia and I just finished our two-week trip to the beach where we just cooked all of our meals. We didn’t eat out ever. Grilling fish, making our own lobster rolls, and our own clams casino.
Georgia: Yeah, that was a new one. And lobster rolls are hard to make good.
So, first off, butter or mayo?
Georgia: Both. Ira: We butter the roll.
Georgia: Yeah, a lot of butter. A lot of melted butter, you need. And then not that much mayo. Some mayo. You’ve just gotta get it right. It’s not that easy.
Olivia Wilde, star of the new comedy Drinking Buddies, loves good IPAs and deep-fried PB&Js.
You recently Tweeted about eating a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich: "Never in my life has my stomach orgasmed so mightily." Where did you encounter such a thing?
Yeah, I didn't know that existed, and now I'm ruined. I'm gonna turn into Marlon Brando. I had it at the Malibu Inn, which is a great music venue and bar right on the Pacific Coast Highway. My fiancé ordered the deep-fried PB&J—they use waffle batter, so it's not too bready. The way the peanut butter and jelly melt together is far better than I could have imagined. It's pretty much the ultimate stoner food.
Your character in Drinking Buddies works at a brewery and constantly drinks beer—usually stout. What did you actually drink during production?
It was always real beer. I drank gallons of beer for this movie! We were getting a lot of it from Revolution Brewing, where our characters work in the movie, which is a real brewery in Chicago. Even though I'm Irish and I love Guinness, dark, dark, dark beers aren't usually my thing. I like a good, aromatic IPA.
Did you have a decent knowledge of beer before doing the movie?
It was all acquired in the process. On the first day, we were doing research at Three Floyds Brewing Company, and the wort—this boiling, thick, serum-y liquid—splashed into my eyeball. It did not feel good, but I wanted to play it cool and be tough, you know, because I didn't want to be a sissy. So I kept it together. Now I have become a total beer snob. I'm the annoying person who takes forever in the beer aisle at Whole Foods, because I'm standing there going, "Hmm. I'm not sure. I'm not sure if that's a good selection. Do you have anything in the back? Is this local? I've never heard of this one. How hoppy is this?" And other people are just like, "Please, move on."
How about wine?
Oh yeah, I'm a wino. I won't say there's one grape I like best, though, because I do like blends. Do you know The Prisoner? That's a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. That's just a fabulous wine. But my favorite wine of all time is a Napa Valley Cabernet called Scarecrow. It's mailing-list only, so it's hard to find, but if you ever see a bottle of Scarecrow, get it.
You mostly live in New York City these days. Any favorite restaurants?
I have recently fallen in love with an Italian restaurant downtown called Carbone. I've always found sea urchin to be too fishy, but at Carbone, they serve a sea urchin dish that is incredible. It's just garlicky and buttery and amazing. They also make the best linguine vongole I've ever had.
You've spoken about "self-medicating" with food during tough times. What are your comfort foods of choice?
For me, my number one comfort food—the food that really feels like a hug on the inside—is pasta. Probably a fresh linguine with arrabbiata sauce would be my top pick. Maybe I'd have some bread on the side, with some cheese or olive oil, too. I guess I crave the basic, carby things that we're not supposed to eat.
When I was in Japan a little while ago, I picked up the idea of having miso soup for breakfast, which I think is genius. When you wake up at 5 a.m. and you feel cold and nauseous, it fills you up and warms you up, and it's loaded with nutrients.
"There's something that fires when your taste buds are dazzled in a certain way with wine that is almost beyond words," says Mike D. "It's the same thing that happens when you listen to Miles Davis's On the Corner in the right setting, at the right time." In this exclusive preview of the September issue, the hip-hop icon tells F&W about his wine obsessions.
Did touring the world with the Beastie Boys get you into wine?
As a traveling musician, you have the opportunity to explore great food and wine regions. But unfortunately, I wasn't interested then. I often look back wistfully and think to myself, If only I was super-into wine when I was in France in 1987, I could have bought tons of 1982 Bordeaux for, like, under $20 a bottle. Today, all of those wines are probably $1,000-plus. But the wine game is not necessarily something you get into when you're that young.
You hang out with some serious wine writers, like Jay McInerney and James Suckling. How do you keep up?
I try to be cognizant of what I don't know. That's when you get the most out of an experience, I think. But the truth is that wine is like music—it's completely subjective and experiential. So your experience is just as valid as mine, or that of someone who has tasted far more wine than you or I have. But it's a great thing to taste a bottle with people who have had that same wine with the winemaker, in the vineyard. They have seen what the winemaker puts into it.
Can you pinpoint a single peak wine experience?
I had the good fortune of having this ridiculous lunch with some wine writers, and we had a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet, a white Burgundy. I believe it was a '73. It's one of the most sought-after whites, and I have to say, with good reason. It was transcendent.
You became a vegetarian, then a vegan, and then a pescatarian. Why?
I became a vegan for ethical and environmental reasons; I think they go hand in hand. But, ultimately, I dialed back because I needed the protein in my diet. I know there are many ecological arguments against eating fish, and I don't disagree with them, but I need the eggs and the fish to keep the motor running.
Do your dietary restrictions make it harder to pair wines?
It is a bit more challenging. Because it's a lot easier to have a bigger Rhône wine, or a more tannic Bordeaux, if you're having rack of lamb or a steak. Those big wines are not gonna work with the subtleties of vegetables. This is where sommeliers are your friends. I've only eaten at Le Bernardin [in New York City] a couple times, but there's a reason the wine staff there are so acclaimed for what they do.
You've eaten at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in Manhattan. How did you manage to pull that off, given that practically everything on the menu has pork in it?
David Chang is tricky like that. But at the same time, at Ssäm Bar, they're pretty good about working around my restrictions—though maybe I shouldn't publicize that, because I know they try not to make exceptions. But I still haven't eaten at Momofuku Ko, because I can't eat the tasting menu.
Did you, as your lyrics once suggested, enjoy drinking Thunderbird back in the day?
I don't want to dispel rumors, but I have to admit that we really weren't messing with Thunderbird. Blue Nun, maybe. Blue Nun is closer to bug juice than it is to Riesling.
Art © Arthur Mount
Iconoclastic restaurant pro Grant Achatz (Chef and Co-Owner of Alinea and Next, Chicago) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.
Why does a restaurant have to have a permanent address?
At my restaurants, we have already asked, why do cocktails have to be liquid? Why does food need to be served on plates? Why do reservations have to be taken over the phone? We’ve proven that, in all these cases, they don’t. The next question we’re going to ask is, does a restaurant have to have a permanent address? Why can a musical act, a theater troupe or a circus go on the road, but a chef or restaurant cannot? There is no good reason, except that people have not tried it yet. We will: We have already brought Alinea to Eleven Madison Park in New York, and they brought their restaurant to Chicago. Why can’t we go to Paris, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Austin, Miami? Seems very doable to me.
Iconoclastic restaurant pro Brooks Headley (Pastry Chef at Del Posto, New York City) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.
Why do restaurant desserts need to be so complicated?
They really don’t have to be so complicated. Is baking a science? Well, yeah, there is some science involved, sort of, but my grandma did not really care about that, she just wanted to make awesome cookies. And she did! Often. Remember, sweet stuff is still food. It needs to be seasoned and cared for, the ingredients championed, the fruit gushingly embarrassed and red-faced at its plump ripeness. Desserts need to be wildly delicious. And simple, in the absolute best possible way.
Negative space is my muse. The stuff that ain’t there. The stuff that does not exist, the stuff that makes all the other stuff, like, totally, way cooler. As the amazing Chris Bianco, of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, once said: “The greatest ingredient in cooking is restraint.” The dude speaks the truth.
Iconoclastic restaurant pro Pip Hanson (Head Bartender at The Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar, Minneapolis) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.
Why do cocktails need to be cold and strong?
Strong alcohol flavors don’t really complement food, and ice-cold drinks aren’t very aromatic, so at Marvel Bar and our sister restaurant, The Bachelor Farmer, we have created something new: hyper-diluted, lightly chilled cocktails.
Here’s the thought process: Like whiskey, cocktails open up as water is added. Hyper-diluted cocktails are extremely subtle and clean, especially compared with the bitter, boozy standard of most cocktails. Similarly, I sometimes prefer whiskey cocktails after they’ve warmed up a bit, because they become more flavorful. So we serve some of these drinks only lightly chilled—we aim for 55 degrees, cellar temperature—to maximize aroma. Once you adjust to the difference in intensity, you find incredible complexity and purity in these drinks. They can be tantalizing.