Great moments in the illustrious life of Brooks Headley:
1992 — Headley drops out of college and signs on as the drummer of pioneering hardcore punk band Born Against.
2004 — Headley quits his job to go on tour with Wrangler Brutes, perhaps the most underrated American punk band of the new millennium.
2012 — Headley is named Outstanding Pastry Chef by the James Beard Foundation.
And he didn’t have to quit his drum kit to become one of the most celebrated dessert-makers on the planet, either. In addition to serving as the pastry chef at Manhattan’s renowned Del Posto, Headley, 42, still drums for the groups Oldest, C.R.A.S.H. and Music Blues.
And now, he’s also the author of “Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts,” a new cookbook published by W.W. Norton & Company jammed with world-class recipes and disintegrating punk flyers.
“I wanted it to be this cookbook where the actual recipes themselves aren’t the most important thing,” Headley says over the phone during a break at Del Posto. “I’m surprised by how much we got away with.”
Which is to say that “Fancy Desserts” reads less like a cookbook and more like a Xeroxed hardcore punk fanzine from 1993. Recipes for lemon granita and celery sorbet jostle for space with out-there album covers and tour diary excerpts — and then Mario Batali shows up to warn Headley about the perils of combining chocolate with eggplant.
It’s surreal. But it also suggests that life as a survivalist punk nomad and life as a world-famous pastry chef might not be all that different — despite the fact that baking requires patience, while punk drumming might be modernity’s greatest expression of anti-patience.
“Being immersed in this fine dining world for the past 15 years, there are some things I have no patience for,” Headley says. “But with cooking, it’s waiting, and doing things slowly. Or it’s doing things fast, but in a way that requires concentration, as well. I’ve only been in bands with short songs and the idea is to get it over with as fast as possible.”
Headley — who was born in Towson and drummed for a storied succession of underground punk bands, including the Young Pioneers, Skull Kontrol, and others — got his culinary start in Washington D.C. back in 1999 when he “accidentally” scored a gig as the pastry chef at Galileo. He later graduated to Ristorante Tosca, then to Komi — and on Thursday, he’ll be making a sort-of homecoming, serving veggie burgers from his “Superiority Burger” pop-up at Toki Underground in Northeast from 11:30 a.m. onward.
We thought we’d try to shed some light on Headley’s fine-weird culinary mind by speaking with his former and current bandmates about the meals they remember sharing with him after rehearsals and on the road. They replied via e-mail. We chopped some of their thoughts for length and clarity.
Sam McPheeters, vocalist of Born Against and Wrangler Brutes:
“Oddly, I have no memories of any meals with Brooks during Born Against. I do have one memory of a Wrangler Brutes meal. We were staying at the Headley family house in Maryland on 11/3/04, the day after Bush won re-election. I’d broken my ankle the week earlier, in Pittsburgh, onstage, but didn’t have the money to get it treated. The world seemed bleak. The band members sat around the kitchen table and listened to Kerry’s concession speech in a funk. Then Brooks served our meal: shrimp, salmon, salad, fresh bread, fresh tortellini, ice cream, pie, pastries, donuts. The morning’s gloom temporarily lifted. Just as I was about to comment on what a suspiciously good cook Brooks had become, our guitarist belched loudly and complained about a piece of grit on the lettuce. The spell was broken, and I didn’t think about that moment until years later, when he’d become the version of Brooks Headley that won the James Beard award.”
Kim Thompson, bassist of Skull Kontrol:
“He made gnocchi and red sauce for us once at his mom’s house and to say it was the best gnocchi I had ever had would be a massive understatement. It was pure perfection.”
Marty Key, bassist of the Young Pioneers:
“One fond memory of touring and being in the vegetarian/vegan “food desert” with Brooks involves our guitar player Adam. He was a pretty strict vegan then, and we were all broke. At a supermarket, Adam bought some Fritos and a can of pinto bean dip, and while driving, dipped handfuls of Fritos into the bean dip, and shoved it all into his mouth. A reverse Frito Pie. I remember being disgusted and envious at the same time. I think Brooks just thought it was gross.”
Michelle Suarez, guitarist of C.R.A.S.H.:
“Pastries in the van, buttery flakes and crumbs getting all over a box of vegan ceviche from the night before. Waking up in a house in San Francisco and eating cold Del Taco burritos at 7 a.m. on the floor in sleeping bags. Pizza and butterscotch budino from Mozza which legit changed my life. Potato tacos. Mashti Malone’s. Leftovers from SQRL. 6th and V. Brooks makes all food special. The end.”
Mick Barr, guitarist of Oldest:
“Hmm, meals we’ve shared. All I can think of is Brooks really likes a slice place in Penn Station. And we both ate a bunch of those Dunkin Donuts waffle breakfast sandwiches while recording the LP. So, as you can see, he isn’t much of a food snob.”
Stephen Tanner, founder of Music Blues:
“I don’t think me and him have ever had food together — booze only. I can say that I think he is a great human, weird as all get out, but a fantastic person. He wears a beanie and a hoodie year round. He has a nice smile and a great head of hair. His book be real good.”