A Chef's Approach

Two things surfaced this week during some food moments and in the afterglow of a wonderful in-shop interview for a local radio station. First is the recurring concept of designing & crafting with a chef’s approach; second, that there is a spiritual element to what I do that comes across and is definitely apparent to visitors who are not me. This week we’ll talk of the first.

This is an analogy I’ve mentioned in passing, but it really bubbled to the surface watching one of those food & travel shows during dinner. It wasn’t a Bourdain piece, but it wasn’t bad. Food is something I love and I’m pretty good in a kitchen – not bragging, just bringing it up in gratitude because a lot of that was deepened by a lot of what I do “cooking” up new recipes from wood and strings and pickups. Balancing & layering flavors and using ingredients that bring out the best in each other is essential in fine food, life and luthierie – where these “flavors” are elements of tone. I’ve learned a lot manifesting & refining these instruments, a lot I have applied elsewhere in my world. 

I’m not talking “Throw something in the microwave” type of cooking; fast food. With all respect that’s assembly line stuff. A kitchen is a workshop. A dish of food should work as a whole, as the ingredients of its parts should work together… as the notes and chords and progressions of a song all work towards that greater end presentation, as does the wood & wire, and finish and feel, of a well designed guitar. A kid I used to know in New York, Ronnie G, once said “A real Italian could live off of bread and sauce.” Red sauce is perfect for our comparison – it’s a limited number of ingredients, a basic preparation, lending a supporting role. You may not – on a plate – notice that sauce was what made the entire meal and tied it all together, but you’ll notice if it is average and you care.

Here’s an example for you – make two simple sauces. Same basic ingredients, same basic recipe, same end supportive role. Tomatoes, can of paste, some chopped pepper, a bit of garlic, and I like a little dollop of oil in there. Toss it all in the pot and cook it. It won’t be bad – it’s sauce! 

Ok, now start the second by lighting the other burner (flame, baby – gotta have real flame) and fire roasting the pepper – a Poblano this time – until it crackles its way to being charred black outside and a beautiful, vibrant green inside. You’re going to leave that skin on for flavor. If you really do think that palm full of glorious smoky char’s what’s going to kill you, hey – die happy. While all this is happening, heat the oil first in the bottom of the pot and sauté the hell out of the garlic. Fresh, organic garlic. The oil? Good extra virgin olive. By now your kitchen smells like you want to lick the walls. Same experience for the cook? No. Same experience for the ingredients? No. Will it be the same experience for that hungry someone special? Not.

The fresh tomatoes in this sauce should be Roma, the paste Contadina with herbs – maybe a little San Marzano –  when the garlic is golden, NOW put all of that other stuff in and cook it. Only this time if it’s thick, don’t cut it with all water – use a few glurgs of  good Italian red wine… the same wine you’ll be serving with it for dinner. But you’re not done yet – now pray over the food. I don’t care what denomination you are or aren’t, you wish good things into this food to bless those who will be eating of it. You offer gratitude for AND TO the life in these ingredients. And for your hands. And for a stove, and eyes. Ceremony? You’re getting it. 

That sauce will be in a whole other league of working on your plate. It will cost more, take more time, require more skill and focus, demand a higher intent, and have more of YOU in it. Plated up with an artistic eye, it’s still a simple plate of food… but the differences from the ingredients on in to the reverence on out, well, that’s what makes workshop artisan results different than factory results, and a Birdsong a Birdsong in the world of short scale basses.

And now I’m really hungry. Part two next week… go make something beautiful. Thanks for your time – I’m honored to have you in my little world!

Listening to: Mississippi Fred McDowell “You Got To Move”; Jerry Cantrell “Boggy Depot” and rough mixes of a project I’ll be finishing up early next month.