The Recipe Project began as a simple idea: take the recipes of today’s top chefs, set them to music, and sing them word for word. The result is a quirky, remarkably catchy CD-book combo that poses some timely questions about music and food. If chefs are the new rock stars, why not celebrate them as exactly that? And how loudly can David Chang play The Kinks before his restaurant patrons walk out?
Here, in one totally unnecessary collection, you get it all: the album of songs, the brilliant recipes, plus personal interviews with the famed chefs about everything from childhood violin lessons to teenage Van Halen haircuts. Along the way, some of the most noteworthy culinary writers in the country—including Melissa Clark and John T. Edge—weigh in on how food and music have helped them survive screaming newborns, religious fundamentalism, and dinner with grandma.
The Recipe Project began as a musical lark. Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp, co-founders of the band One Ring Zero, decided to turn Chris Cosentino’s recipe for Brains and Eggs into a song—word for word, phrase for phrase, including “Remove the brains from the water with a perforated spoon and place on a plate.” If that wasn’t tricky, or bizarre, enough, they asked Cosentino to recommend a music style. What kind of song would best showcase “light and fluffy” organs served on warm slices of rustic country bread?
“Beastie Boys,” replied Cosentino, with a mischievous grin.
So the group set to work, mixing over-saturated drum beats and looped rhythm sequences. “The most daunting task was singing it,” says Hearst. “I don’t rap. And with such a long list of ingredients, it became a matter of breaking the recipe apart and finding a way to phrase it.”
The result was a fast, raucous ode to white-boy hip-hop jams and edible offal that, not surprisingly, caused a fair degree of uncontrollable laughter in the studio. The fact that the song also highlighted some of Cosentino’s more serious culinary concerns—like the importance of cooking with all of an animal’s parts, and not just the pretty, more palatable meats—came up only after the recording.
The two met in 1995 while working at the Hohner instrument warehouse in Richmond, Virginia where Hearst tuned harmonicas and Camp repaired accordions. Shortly thereafter, they formed One Ring Zero, a band with a “gypsy-klezmer circus-flea-cartoon” sound, as The Forward once described it. Their specialty? Musical curiosities. A single recording session might involve a solo on a theremin (an obscure, early electronic instrument that requires hand waving around an antenna, but no touching), a stylophone (a toy-like instrument played with a musical “pen”), and a power drill.
And then came the nine albums. For As Smart as We Are, Hearst and Camp convinced some of the most celebrated novelists and storywriters in America to write lyrics, which they set to music as songs. Planets featured a lineup of songs dedicated to every planet in the solar system. Alice played ghostly homage to each chapter of Alice in Wonderland. Songs for Ice Cream Trucks, created by Hearst as a solo artist, brought to life a thousand hot sticky childhood summers, only with stranger, more bewitching music tinkling through the streets.
And yet, for all its winsome weirdness, The Recipe Project hit on some pretty timely debates about food and music: Are America’s rock-star chef actually America’s new rock stars? How is all this celebrity affecting the actual food and people that are being celebrated? And why take it all so seriously . . . unless cooking, like hip-hop or TV, is now considered a new national art form? Not to mention: who put together that insane playlist for David Chang’s East Village noodle bar—and who decided to turn it up so loud?
Enter Black Balloon Publishing. In starting in a new company, co-founder Elizabeth Koch and I were looking for the brilliant and odd, the edgy and dark and delightful—and, most importantly, the ridiculously impossible to explain or sell. The Recipe Project had it all, including a dear friend (Hearst) behind the madness.
Our idea: Why not release The Recipe Project as a book/CD combo? Why not interview the chefs about their musical proclivities, or lack thereof (hint: Michael Symon hates techno)? Why not invite famous food writers to chime in (hint: check out the playlist that bonded Bon Appetit’s Christine Muhlke and her husband over caribou marrow)? Why not print the recipe-lyrics so readers can cook the songs at home—or sing them in the car, on the way to work, inspiring their mortified children to slink ever lower in the back seat?
Thus, The Recipe Project was born, an extravaganza of food, music and friendship that brings together chefs, writers, musicians, readers, and listeners—and anybody else in the great big world who believes that sizzling bacon at dawn tastes better with Billie Holiday on the iPod (specifically Lady in Autumn). Or that the best way to enjoy a hot, heavenly plate of brains and eggs is with a side of One Ring Zero.
…if chefs are the new rock stars, should chefs get to be actual rock stars?…-Grub Street San Francisco