I recently performed a Mozart Requiem with my alma mater’s orchestra (apparently my skill set and willingness to work for free keep me on my conductor’s speed dial). I have a long standing superstition of staying backstage for the whole of any show in which I participate, even the slightest bit. The admittedly silly motivation behind the superstition is neither here nor there, but backstage–staying silent and still, without the lights, outfits and shuffling of programs in the audience–is a unique exposure to live music and the perfect environment for contemplation of form.
My conductor is just about as passionate about food as he is about music–a scary thought, really. He’s the man from Brooklyn who claims that not only is there no good lox on the west coast, no one knows how to cut lox right. Yeah, cut the shit. don’t even get him started about bagels. He often accompanies a local food critic, who shall remain nameless, and shares my view that there is more to dining out than the flavor of the food.
I see a link between musicians, musical people, chefs, cooks and food people–we trade and delight in the tools that evoke emotions, formalized systems of sonic or gustatory (gastronautical, wink wink, nudge nudge) performance meant to manipulate an audience or the self.
a little rough? Let me build some crafty semantic interwebs.
music (please, pedants everywhere, for this exercise I’m limiting myself to ‘western’ music) starts with tones. These tones can be organized into different keys and modes. These keys and modes are blocks of indecipherable cacophony without the application of time and volume. Further developed into a temporal and tonal menagerie, music comes forth. Any music. In these general terms, all music is possible.
Taken a bit further, music is composed of parts, each role determined by the pitch and fundamental characteristics of the source of the sound and the possibilities for manipulation. How these instruments/performers are organized is often determined by long standing social conventions and what constitutes euphony to a group.
food starts with ingredients (fortunately, this part is universal). These ingredients can be organized into different combinations and cuisines. These combinations ingredients are unpalatable gruels without the application of time and volume. Further developed into a temporal and flavor menagerie, great meals comes forth. Any meal. In these general terms, all food is possible.
Taken a bit further, dishes are composed of ingredients, each role determined by the flavor, texture and fundamental characteristics of the ingredient and the possibilities for manipulation. How these ingredients are prepared and combined into a dish is often determined by long standing social conventions of what constitutes ‘food’, and what tastes good.
nice, no? There are even terminological overlaps–discriminating tasters of any substance often discuss flavors in terms of ‘notes;’ one bandleader I worked for kept telling the band to ‘spice it up’ and ‘add more flavor.’ Perhaps a little more awkwardly, chefs, cooks, drummers and brass sections ‘hit,’ (hit as intransitive… who’d a thunk it?) adding splashes of excitement, color, flavor and contrast to whatever they’re creating.
Amongst musicians, Duke Ellington is a formidable exemplar of the crossover between the music world and the food world–a notorious over-eater, Duke remembered his world travels with his big band by the foods he ate (not unlike my brother). From Iraq to Fargo, Duke metered his existence with food–it was, according to many, his escape from the difficulties of his professional existence. He also boasted in his autobiography of out drinking two of his band members while judging their drinking contest.
It’s harder to talk of famous chefs and their relationship to music–perhaps because the lives, tastes and habits of chefs have not been recorded or contemplated with even a fraction of the academic zeal focused on other artists. The key word there is ‘artists’; the most often cited and read volumes about the lives of chefs are autobiographies or biographies more concerned with business savvy and their roles in modern history than their artistic motivations.
The recent renaissance in the food industry is bringing chefs the artistic recognition they deserve, and it’s about time–culinary artistry is often overlooked simply because of the basic utility and necessity of food consumption.