Even when times are tough, love (and food) will find a way.
If there is one thing I love more than cooking, it’s music. And I don’t discriminate. I like it all. In fact, I have been known to pick up an instrument or two myself. (Practicing was never my thing, though, which explains why I am a chef and not a rock star.) But the only music I routinely battle the ticketbots for is rock ’n’ roll. I love going to live shows. At concerts, I am the one down on the floor shoving my way to the railing. I’m the one dancing when no one else in my section is. I’m the one with 50 concert T-shirts, and on the way home, that’s my stereo you hear three cars back at the stoplight.
My love of live music started early. In high school my best friend, Mike, had his finger on the pulse of modern music, and he would drive us to shows all over the Bay Area in his parents’ ’69 Ford Country Squire (with hidden headlamps). I can’t believe our parents allowed all those trips to the city, and to so many clubs up and down the bay. That was in the early ’80s, when we didn’t need fake IDs to get into bars (although we had ’em). We saw so many bands — the Knack, the B-52’s, The Tazmanian Devils, Greg Kihn, Dead Kennedys, Tommy Tutone, The Tubes, Rubber City Rebels — we even caught an early tour of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five with the Sugar Hill Gang and Kool Moe Dee (I remember we were not 100 percent welcomed by the other fans and kinda hid in the back of the venue — but it was awesome). In college I continued my concertgoing and was attracted to my future husband by, among other virtues, his volunteer usher gig for Bill Graham Presents — which meant free shows every week!
I’m telling you all this to explain the importance of my attendance at a concert last September. It was the Eagles of Death Metal. (Their name is ironic — the sound is more bouncy rock ’n’ roll/rockabilly than any kind of metal.) They played at the Teragram Ballroom in downtown L.A. It’s a small venue, and everyone there was a real fan, including me. I think it was my fifth or sixth time seeing this band. The mood was electric, and I danced so hard and got so sweaty that by the end I looked like I had been through a car wash. It was a great night.
Fast forward a few weeks. As I drove into work a news bulletin broke through with reports of a mass shooting by terrorists at an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Paris. I was stunned. Those were my people. When I got home I jumped on the Facebook fan sites. Everyone was freaking out in the worst possible way. I was glued to the news for a couple of days, like everyone else. I don’t typically get emotionally wrapped up in world events, and I didn’t personally know anyone affected by the incident. But in a way, I knew them all. They were just like me — dancing so hard and having so much fun. I can’t remember ever being so depressed by something that happened to strangers a world away.
To bring myself out of that state, I decided to try and cheer up other fans the only way I knew how. I wrote a goofy recipe based on one of the band’s song titles and posted it on the Facebook fan page. It was super-corny and a little bit dirty. The response was huge.
Hundreds of Facebook “likes” and comments. “Thanks for cheering me up!” “This is just what I needed!” “So Funny! It’s nice to laugh again!” I started posting one recipe each day based on the songs. It was very cathartic.
Then, after about a week of this, I was contacted by a record company. Would I do a cookbook like this for charity? Damn straight I would! And that’s where I am today. The book is called Cook, Eat, Death Metal (Dog Ear Publishing), and it was released November 13, the one-year anniversary of the incident. All the proceeds go directly to aid survivors of the Bataclan, and the families of those who were lost. You can get it on Amazon, at dissentionrecords.com and at several places around L.A., including Wacko on Sunset Boulevard.
The book is not sad at all. In fact, it is hilarious (if I do say so myself). The recipes are real and delicious. I hope you will buy one for yourself, or for the rock ’n’ roller in your life. It’s the kind of gift that gives back, and it will make you seem way cooler than you really are.
Wasabi in L.A.
(“Wannabe in L.A.,” from the album Heart On, 2008)
Wasabe Guacamole with Wonton Chips is a particularly eyeball-rolling example of stereotypical Southern Californian cuisine. The rest of the world assumes we Angelenos eat avocados every day. They’re right! In fact, the state constitution mandates that California citizens each consume 12 kilos of avocados annually. It’s a burden, but this recipe makes it bearable.
½ purple onion, diced
1 to 2 teaspoons wasabi powder, paste or freshly grated root
1 teaspoon water (if using wasabi powder)
3 ripe avocados
Grated zest and juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon pickled ginger, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup cilantro leaves, minced
1 package square wonton wrapper
1. Cover the diced onion in cold water and set aside. This removes offending oils that cause your breath to stink. (The world appreciates this.) Stir together wasabi powder and water, and set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Halve and pit the avocados, scoop their meat into a large bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in lime zest, juice and pickled ginger. Add the salt and wasabi and mix. Fold in onions and cilantro. Adjust seasoning, then cover with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface, which will prevent discoloration. Set aside at room temperature while you fry the chips.
3. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy skillet to 375°. When it reaches that temperature, drop in 4 or 5 wonton skins (don’t crowd them) and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute on each side. Remove to a paper towel–lined tray, then sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers. Serve guac with wontons and rice crackers. Now you are very hip.
Leslie Bilderback is a certified master baker, chef and cookbook author. She lives in South Pasadena and teaches her techniques online at culinarymasterclass.com.