To paraphrase Waverley Root, the iconic American ex-pat and primordial food journalist in post-war Paris, if you want to find good food, first find some musicians and follow them. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know what it is about my business but, most musicians I know love food, many are excellent cooks and almost all seem to have a list of bistros, restaurants and late night dives all around the world. Post-concert schmoozing is a ritual. Maybe it’s the need to wind down after concerts before going home. Maybe it’s all the travel and all those people show us a good time. Personally I’d like to think that the very nature of playing music hard wires us for constant curiosity; from the biodynamic early music renaissance specialists, to the brass players at the back of the orchestra, to chic jazzmen in New York or leather clad heavy metal head knockers. The communal aspect of music performance makes conviviality and the need to share experiences fairly natural, especially when a few bottles of wine are involved. To be fair to my thespian friends, I’ve spent many an evening of culinary carousing with the drama crowd. But, more often than not these turned into more bacchanalian affairs, where as much was going on under table than on it. No need to elaborate here. One should remember that Dionysus/Bacchus was also the god of theatre, while his godly sidekick the good-looking Apollo was more musically inclined. I think that with musicians, all that time practicing and striving for perfection leads us to an earnest seriousness in our epicurean journeys. But, really we just like to eat.
It all started in Brooklyn, in a normal New York Jewish family where food seemed to be at the center of everything. You’d finish lunch and the burning question was what we should have for dinner. My first memories are in my Grandma's kitchen. Her food was pure Mittell-Europa at its best. From a line of Hungarian-Viennese bakers, she made our house – three generations under the same roof – redolent with cakes, breads, strudels and almond cookies. But it’s the other stuff that got me, chicken fricassee, homemade chopped liver, pot roasts, tzimas, potato and cheese stuffed verenkis (peirogi s for some), gribenes (fried chicken skin), latkes, cherry dumplings and cold fruit soup with sour cream… And – the stuff we brought in!, smoked and baked salmons, whitefish, crunchy garlicky pickles, brisket, corned beef, hot spicy pastrami, Nathan’s franks with sauerkraut, kugels, pressed apricot “shoe leather” and something I’ve never found since, a potato bread called, knick. My Grandma kept a huge mason jar of homemade fruit brandy under the sink, it was called Vishnic. Even as a small boy I could have some, complete with preserved plums, in a cup of tea when I caught a cold. My mom still has this jar. The original brandy must be 80 years old!
I didn’t know it then but I our house was an epicenter for Ashkenazy gastronomy. It wasn’t until much later when half generation of immigrants died from hardened arteries – it’s been proven that the other half have special genes or something -that we got nostalgic about this kind of food and wrote cookbooks for us guys who only remember a few words of Yiddish and eat it in homeopathic qualities. My formative years were definitely high flavor content.
to be continued…