Indie Rocker Betty Crockers | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Indie Rocker Betty Crockers 

In the Kitchen

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As anyone who's been on a road trip knows, touring the U.S. in a car means eating a lot of bad food. It's the same for rock bands--during long drives from gig to gig, sustenance comes more often than not from highway rest stops. When you're on your second tube of Pringles in one day, Denny's never looked so good.

It's different when you're touring Europe, says Bobby Conn. The glam rocker, whose elaborate stage act has involved several personas--the Antichrist, ex-con, motivational speaker--and an "is he joking or not?" brand of irony, is sincere as can be when he's talking food. "In places like France and Italy there's a really nice attitude that good food doesn't need to be fancy," he says. "It's just fresh stuff, locally grown, cooked simply and well." Touring and eating across Europe made Conn something of a rarity in indie rock--a musician/gourmet.

"Most musicians I know are either hot dog eaters or they're vegans that don't cook, so they're eating processed soy products," he says. "In my band Julie [Pomerleau, who's also his girlfriend] and I are the only people that really cook. The other guys appreciate that it's nice to eat good food, but I don't think Sledd, our guitarist, has had his gas on in two years, so it's all about going out. One friend of mine says, 'I enjoy eating fruit, but it's so much easier to eat a candy bar.' Yeah, 'cause the time it takes to peel an orange is so inconvenient. It seems like a lot of younger people just grew up in this convenience-food culture."

Conn's had his share of food-service and grocery jobs. One of those was at the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, where he was a deliveryman and stock boy for a short time about ten years ago. There he befriended Troy Authement, a grocery clerk and a big music fan. Since then Authement, now a marketing assistant for the Lakeview Whole Foods, has been a frequent guest at Conn's house and enjoyed his and Pomerleau's cooking. When Whole Foods' Lakeview kitchen was closed for a year for a huge renovation project, Authement started thinking about events to break in the revamped space, which reopened last month. "My manager told me that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I can pull it off," says Authement, who writes songs in his spare time. "So I thought, What would I want to see?" In August he asked Conn if he'd like to teach a cooking class at the store. Conn eagerly signed on, and suggested that Authement find other local indie rockers to teach classes as well. Authement agreed: "I thought it would be empowering to have people like that, that are really nice and approachable guys, to sit in a class with people and show them great recipes or share their discoveries with wine and how to make good pairings." He also thought the series would be a nice change of pace from the store's usual workshops, which tend toward the solemn and the crunchy--just in the last few weeks there've been classes on digestive health, tai chi, and yoga for kids.

Authement proposed the idea to local indie labels Thrill Jockey and Drag City, but it was harder to find volunteers than he expected. "The publicist at Drag City wrote me back and said she was having a hard time because none of the guys cook," he says. "They just open up the can and heat it up." But Thrill Jockey was able to find a handful of musicians on the label who loved food and cooking. Liz Payne of Town and Country and members of Eleventh Dream Day and the Nerves have signed up to teach classes. Each instructor or group of instructors gets $100 for their time, but that doesn't seem to be a motivating factor.

"I'm looking forward to it," says Conn. For his class, 6:30 PM on Wednesday, October 27, he plans to prepare trout, yams, a salad, and some cooked greens. "I think it'll be fun. I've always liked cooking, even as a little kid. My first experiences were more like horrible chemistry experiments, like making big inedible cakes with a lot of salt in them, or I'd make fake pastries that I'd give to my brother. . . . I just want to point out that a lot of ingredients isn't what makes food good."

The first class in the Food Buzz series, which runs roughly once a week till the end of November, was this past Tuesday. Bundy K. Brown, a recording engineer, guitarist for the group Pullman, and a former member of Tortoise, taught a small crowd how to make pumpkin risotto, braised lamb, and braised fennel. He also gave out some basic tips on wine tasting and wine pairing. Unlike Conn, Brown says he's interested in complicated preparations and explaining the trial-and-error process and attention to detail that distinguish superior cooks from mediocre ones. "There are plenty of people that can play guitar in the bedroom and they can make decent music in the same way anyone can make a decent steak at home, but it's not the same as when you go to a good restaurant," he says. "I think people get discouraged by that. You have to understand the processes and take the time and effort to do it and to make mistakes."

Authement hopes to host annual series taught by people known for work in non-food-related fields. "I don't necessarily want to keep it to just musicians," he says. "I don't care if it's a pro wrestler coming in and cooking. I mean, I'd love to get the Rock." He hopes the novelty of the series will attract audiences that don't normally attend cooking classes or have a deep interest in food. To that end he's distributed fliers for Food Buzz in record stores and cafes. "I think very few people who haven't heard of the musicians will go," he says. "I'm hoping for a combination of regular customers and fans, but it'll probably be mostly fans. They might get a few gawkers, I don't know."

Those gawkers may not even recognize Conn. "I don't think I'm going to wear platform boots and makeup, because that just seems gross," he says. "I wouldn't want the guy that I am onstage to make me food. I wouldn't eat it--it seems really unpleasant."

Food Buzz

When: October and November, exact dates TBA

Where: Whole Foods, 3300 N. Ashland

Price: $12

Info: 773-244-4200 or www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/lakeview

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry.

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