12 Sep “Please Pack Your Knives and Go” – Not an elimination, but a call to arms! (Day one of fall tour)
Top Chef is a popular television show featuring up and coming chefs pitted against each other to conquer culinary challenges, avoid drama and ultimately be crowned the best by a prestigious panel of judges. It has has captivated millions of viewers across the globe and played a large part in cultural phenomena of transforming the chef in America to the “new rock star”. (I was speaking to a famous chef a few months back telling him about my love of cooking and he asked “what’s with all these musicians suddenly cooking and getting into food?” I quipped back “Well chefs are the new rockstars and we don’t like the competition.” He laughed. I’ll save the rest of the story for another time.)
Anyways, back to Top Chef… At the end of each week during the elimination segment, the show’s host turns slowly towards the ill-fated contestant and dismissively says “Please pack your knives and go.” The dejected chef is often left in tears as the camera crew follow him/her into the waiting room to slowly pack away their possessions, bid their fellow chefs goodbye, and in a final moment with sweeping dramatic music playing in the background, the eliminated chef assures the camera that they ‘stayed true to themselves” in the competition. Cut to commercial. Great television right there.
I’m lucky in that “please pack your knives and go” is not a painful elimination, but rather a call to arms. When I travel, which I do the majority of the year, I take my knives with me. I can’t travel for long and not be absolutely itching to make a meal. In addition to the desire to be creative, to eat well, I find a tremendous amount of joy and fulfillment in bringing people together over a good meal. I love how a meal can become a catalyst for a special night, a new friendship, or a simple fond memory you remember years later.
Partnering with KitchenAid, I built a mobile kitchen I call The TasteCase that I take out whenever possible on tour. It’s stocked with an oven, a mixer, a blender, a slow cooker and just about everything I could possibly need to make an amazing meal on the road. I cook for the band, friends, fans, and venue staff. It was a hit last summer when we toured and I vowed to do it bigger and better this time around. I’m so lucky to have a boss that is cool with me bringing this rather large and heavy piece of equipment on his bus.
Tonight was the start of our fall tour. We were parked in a Ramada hotel parking lot in Medford, OR halfway between home and our gig in Napa. The sun beat down on us the whole day, the temperature in the 90’s. I parked the TasteCase in the shade next to our trailer and got to work.
Using the new KitchenAid countertop convection oven the plan was to roast a chicken over carrots, rutabagas, red potatoes and other root vegetables. I was slightly skeptical and a little apprehensive trying new equipment with 8 band members’ appetites on the line. Tonight I discovered this little oven is a MONSTER. Using a preset setting, the oven roasted the chicken using convection the first fifteen minutes to crisp the skin at 450 degrees, then automatically switched to standard bake setting and dropped the temp 25 degrees for an additional hour, then automatically turned to warming mode when finished. I didn’t have to do a thing. The result? A chicken with crispy skin, a juicy inside, and root vegetables tenderly cooked underneath.
While the chicken was baking, I put together a quick summer salad of mixed greens, apples, raspberries, and other produce. I made a quick citrus vinaigrette and called it all good. Using a counter-top sized oven, an immersion blender and a few other simple tools, I was able to crank out a meal for 9 no problem, with enough for food for seconds, in about an hour and a half.
The TasteCase’s lid turns into a table (the guys who built it over at www.GOMC.tv are mad geniuses) and we threw a cheap table cloth over it, and using my keyboard bench and a few other random cases as chairs, we sat down to enjoy our first family meal. Over a few bottles of red wine (gotta stock up on bourbon when we cross into California) we swapped stories, cracked jokes and got caught up with what was new in each other’s lives. Glasses were raised to toast the start of tour.
All of this in the parking lot of a Ramada Inn, sandwiched between a tour bus and an auto transport, on scorching pavement in 80 degree heat. That, my friends, is the power of a good meal. And that is why I pack my knives and go.