Q & A
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Scottish rock star Alex Kapranos is a wiry man with angular features and a beanpole for a body. It's a look that screams "starving art-school student," which is ironic given that he's spent the past few years eating his way around the world as the frontman for the dance-rock band Franz Ferdinand.
There were freshwater mud crabs in Sydney, Mother Earth's Dizzaster Rolls at a sushi dive in San Francisco, an old-fashioned doughnut in Brooklyn and a luxurious meal at a two-star Michelin restaurant in Madrid. Oh, and don't forget the bull testicles in Buenos Aires, the ones Kapranos recalls as having tasted "like a bag of green pennies." Yum.
Kapranos chronicles his epicurean exploits in a deliciously funny new book, "Sound Bites: Eating on Tour With Franz Ferdinand" (Penguin, 2006), a sort of tour diary with tasting notes, illustrations by Andrew Knowles and observational asides. Especially the asides: An entry on dining at Washington's Old Ebbitt Grill, for instance, includes far more on rock-and-roll handshakes and on expats who have become parodies of Scottish people (genus "Jimmy MacJimmy," according to Kapranos) than on the half-price oysters.
The singer and one-time chef -- who began writing about his eating adventures in a newspaper column for the Guardian shortly after Franz Ferdinand became famous -- called recently from Brooklyn, where he was mixing and mastering a new album for a British band called the Cribs. Most of the album, he noted, had been produced in Vancouver, where the seafood made him swoon.
"That Pacific tuna is incredible," he said. "And the smoked salmon! Ohhhh."
It's a shame you decided to become a rock star. You're quite entertaining and engaging as a food writer. You coulda been somebody.
(Laughs.) There are so many food books and so many really great and particularly knowledgeable food writers out there, and when the editor at the Guardian first asked me to write some pieces, I said: "Gosh, who am I? I'm not qualified. I might have worked in a couple of kitchens, but I'm not a gourmet or any kind of food critic." But it was because I wasn't a food writer that the idea of writing about food appealed to me. The way I approach food is quite often in a state of naive surprise, particularly when I'm out on tour.
You're adventurous, too. You've eaten bull's testicles, fish-brain bread, blowfish, gizzards -- is there any part of any creature that you won't eat at least once?
There some parts I won't eat again, I know that. I'm not going to eat bull's testicles again. They were absolutely foul. But I'm up for trying things at least once. I suppose that's partly what the book is about. I also like finding places that aren't in the guidebooks.
You do seem to favor obscure dives and food from random street vendors. Where do you get your recommendations?
You wander about and see what you stumble upon. When you're in a band, you're also fantastically fortunate to be in contact with people who know their cities really well. So you ask around. When I was in Vancouver with the Cribs, the most entertaining place was recommended by a guy in another band. It was the Tomahawk Barbecue, in an old Pentecostal church or something like that, and it was full of Native American artifacts. They served the most ridiculous stacks of burgers; the idea was three meals within two sides of a bun, so you had your burger, hot dogs, bacon and eggs. It also happened to be where Bryan Adams started out as a dishwasher and bought his first six-string. I loved that.
You used to be a chef. How are your cooking skills?
When people hear that I was a chef, they make the mistake of thinking I was a good chef. But I was a fairly low-down cook, and there was no room for creativity whatsoever. . . . I can cook, but it's nothing special. I really love going home and cooking for myself or friends when I'm off tour, though.
What's harder: Writing a great song, or eating a sea urchin hand roll?
I enjoy writing a song a lot more, definitely. Everybody has these little things that they just can't handle, and for me, it was sea urchin. Sometimes your body decides that you're not going to enjoy something, and you have this gag reflex in your esophagus, and it's like: Nope! And out it comes.
Is there a particular dish that you dream about having again?
Souvlaki on the streets of Athens. There's something particularly marvelous about it. I don't know what they put into it, but I love the style. They fry the pita on the hot surface, the meat's been marinating, and they serve it with tzatziki, tomato, a little bit of salad and one potato chip. Just one! It's a great combination of simple ingredients.
You should put that on your touring rider.
Yes! Or I could do the Elvis thing and have it jetted in for me from Athens, wherever I am on the planet.