Sweet technique

Just trust me okay. Just go with it. It all makes sense, sort of, eventually.*

*Brilliant. I’ve opened with what seem to be the words of a child-snatcher or a date-rapist. Well played Sam. This is exactly how one gets a book deal or a TV show.


The path to success

Food is not the new rock. Where they bump together is a weird place. Especially now. I saw one of Pavement’s final shows before they split up the first time. I stood amid a crunching wash of dropped plastic beer cups and watched them wrap it all up. Malkmus looked a bit stern. Ibold looked a bit sad. The next time I saw Malkmus, he was playing a guitar solo of technique and precision. The next time I saw Ibold he was grinning out from the ‘Momofuku’ cookbook. He looked a lot happier then. Malkmus still looks a bit stern. But listen to that technique!

I have no technique. In music; this is a good thing usually. When writing music, the guitarist with the technique, the million mile an hour fingers, the specced up super-laminate-human-bone fretted Clapton signature model hand carved from Hobbit oak strung with Rapunzel’s hair strings. That dude, you know the one. He is always the one to avoid. The smell of warm amp, guitarshop hell, ‘Smoke On The Water’, leather clothing other than belt or shoes, something sort of lute-like to him. Wood, varnish, FastFret string lubricant. That man (it is a man, women are generally far too intelligent to spend that much time with an inanimate object) cannot and will not ever write a decent song. It’s all that technique. It’s all that awful ‘ability’ hanging around his neck like an albatross shaped anchor formed of heavy pig iron. That terrible affliction of ‘skill‘ has rendered his songwriting imbecilic. He creates music with all the subtlety of a trepanned stadium rave group, on bad drugs. His flawless aptitude will infect and poison every bar of every song. It will creep between the notes, minute pauses seemingly offering respite from the foul aural disasterpiece instead fill like drowning lungs with more, more woe and more catastrophic musical horror.

I was never a great singer, some described me as ‘tone deaf’, ‘utterly useless’ and once, most hurtfully, in a national newspaper no less, as ‘a podgy Paul McCartney’.


The Podgy Macca

I spent most of my guitar playing moments bleeding from a skinned knuckle or gashed fingertip. If you look in the sound-hole of any of my guitars, it looks like a cute wooden abattoir for mice or other wooden hole dwelling mammals, blood spray up the walls. My piano playing carried a definite sense of school-hymn time, bang, bang, bang. Use one finger on the left hand and never play more than ten notes a minute on the right. Little Richard on slowing tape, a quarter-speed concerto, in syrup, on downers.

This big ‘ole pile of inability served me well. It meant I wrote some great songs. My parents and my wife still tell me how great some of them were. They do.

My lack of technique in the kitchen is less of an asset. I may dream of perfectly executed dishes. I may actually use terms such as ‘executed’ instead of the less twattish ‘cooked’ or ‘made’. I may strive for flawless plates but then I also try to not have a face like an tomato rotting on an old greenhouse shelf, red and brown and sort of foully overripe.

Copyright © 2010 Michael Michaelsen photomichael@bigfoot.com 775-304-0445


I don’t mean to dress like a photofit of a creepy 1970’s Geography teacher (WANTED! Last seen in a rusting Austin Allegro near Carlisle! Bearded! Bastard! Pervert!)


Rollin’ in Carlisle

and I’m not trying to write sentences with around five hundred words in them; but dreams don’t come true. My plates are riven with faults because of my lack of technique. My face looks like le tomate de mort avec le merde noir, I am banned from the Greater Carlisle area and this sentence is highly likely to last longer than the tube journey I took once where I had to escort an old bloke with no tongue, one eye, an incontinent dog and a loudly racist |(but fortunately largely indecipherable due to his lack of tongue) manner across London to attend a War Veteran’s convention or expo or I don’t know Club-meet, while dressed as a WW1 frontline trench medic, because it made the old bastard feel safer or something from the hordes of youths he was convinced were out to mug him on every London street corner.*

*Surreal man. I am the Walrus. He is the Eggman.


Sam am the Walrus, Sam am the Eggman

I am a paisley shirt in the Haight. And none of this is true whatsoever, man. I just needed a really long sentence and I thought, you know, let it flow brother. Lets just ride the vibe yeah? Let’s just let the word-wave wash over the page beach yeah? Let no editor snap that high, that freedom high, down to the cold ground man. Sweet wordy vibe-high sister. Nod that head and breathe in the mellow stream of Ginsberg and kaftan Yogi Joss stick and Joss Stone solar solstice runescape mind-bell teepee peace love, yeah? 

Cooking is different. Decent kitchens may hum to silence or rattle loud to LCD Soundsystem, Pavement, maybe Arcade Fire if they are properly hip and knowing, and a bit miserable. They let the dude from LCD cook noodles in their kitchen. They turn up the Stones if they are blase and shrugging-cool. They throw some Father John Misty on, some MF Doom, maybe some Godspeed You! Black Emperor if they are really doomy and they are serving some gross bloody pile of offal on a barbed-wire plate. These are who the coolio chefs are aligning themselves with.*

*Not Coolio, the rapper turned chef. He is aligned only with his own insane ego. His cookbook, ‘Cookin’ With Coolio’ is required reading for people missing a cerebral cortex or sentient thought. If your mind has been wizened and palsied by crack cocaine you too can whip up some Karate Meat: “Not ‘cos it’s got an Asian kick to it, but because it will beat you up like a pigeon in prison”. Or maybe you want to learn his tips and techniques. “Having the right utensils is a good start, but then you gotta show them who’s the boss up in this bitch”.

At this juncture, this moment in the message, this position in the parable; I need to level with y’all. I have sort of lost a grip on whatever my point was going to be. I know it was something to do with comparing technique in food to technique in music because people (some people, not many but some at least) keep saying that food is the new rock and roll etc and blah and etc. I was thinking that the having or not having of technique is what separates them and makes them utterly different. So this grand idea, this monumental thought, was going to be strung out like all of these bloggenhaus are; with some self-hatred, some funny funny gags, probably some hilarious images plucked from the internet, a few references to my wife, some to Eighties TV shows or films, and then I was going to wrap it all up with some gross recipe I have ‘come up with’ (Read; stolen from somewhere obscure enough that no one will bother to A) Cook it and B) Catch me thieving). Ever since that weird ride into the surreal a few paragraphs ago, I can’t seem to recapture my point. The grand idea seems patently obvious and clearly self-evident. This all feels like standing in front of McDonalds and informing passersby that: “They sell burgers in there”. Or like standing in front of me and informing passersby that: “This could be a drunk David Baddiel probably just a sickly tramp though”.


Baddiel and Skinner

The monumental thought has now crumbled into a tiny desiccated mess of this, this meta-rambling. This circular drivel. I am looking for the exit. Okay, deep breaths people. 

This is ‘The Poseidon Adventure now’. This blog has become a listing ship. The surreal bit was the large lady with the brown stockings and the runny eye makeup who looked like the ‘Murder She Wrote’ lady but a bit inflated. DO NOT FOLLOW HER! She is a lemming. This way is up now! She’s leading the Reverend and Professor Plum to the Library! There is nothing but seawater and death there. Follow me. I am the gargoyle faced dude in the white vest and braces who is a bit misogynist and looks like he has a large stash of fifties porn on slides and microfilm.


Ernest Borgnine in ‘The Poseidon Adventure’

Let’s try this way. 

Chefs always call for the louche and unimpressed musicians. Never, ever, the earnest technique afflicted lot. Never that hobbity dude from Muse. Never Vai, or Satriani and definitely not the dude from Extreme who now plays with Rihanna and makes all her songs sound like Extreme b-sides.

Obviously there is a need for technique that doesn’t exist in music. If you can bash a guitar ‘interestingly’ thats good enough for the band. Bashing a knife around in an ‘interesting’ fashion is going to lose you a finger or at least a few pints of your dumb blood. However does flawless, perfect technique always lead to perfect flawless food or does the technical pin the creative down WWF-style? Yokozuna blubber-crushing Ultimate Warrior until his wild, freedom-fighting steroid enhanced magic expires rib-bust and wheezing on the mat of the squared circle. “Tell ‘em Mean Gene…”


The Ultimate Warrior

Is there a point at which having too much technique will chain your food to a hotel banqueting group? To a one star Michelin drudge in The City? A restaurant with carpet? A place with moody black and white photographs of shells, fucking shells, on the walls? If I stepped into that kitchen, the dude would paste me over the walls with his technique but is there a chance, a slim possibility, that I could beat him on scrappily gathered, plucky as hell, excited hands-down flavour? I know a kitchen isn’t a stage or a studio but where maybe there is a crossing point is there, at just deliciousness. His bisque is all proper and flavour extracted and shell-crushed and flambéed with brandy and garnished just so. My SOUP is heavy and spicy and full of stuff and topped with a handful of torn herbs and there’s big hunks of I dunno, sea animal!, ocean beast!, floating in it’s murky red depths. Who wins? He is Emerson Lake and Palmer and I’m Crosby Stills Nash and Young, drunk and on piles of loopy coke. Actually I’m just Young, the others seemed to have too much technique for my liking, especially Crosby.


Crosby Stills Nash and Me

I have no conclusion. I may have led you from the depths of the capsized SS Poseidon (Yes, I’m still playing this game. Jesus.) to safety but I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t expect anyone will leave any comments. It’s awful quiet round these parts (Yes, I’ve now turned into a melancholy farmer in a black and white movie for no sensible reason I can fathom)


Awful quiet

but I dunno. I don’t know what the technique/creativity answer is. David Chang is sad that the great military-style bootcamp hell kitchens of yore are vanishing like culinary Brigadoons into a wispy mist of nostalgia and lost tradition. Now it’s a bunch of job switchers and mouthy kids with Korean soybean pastes and cold smokers manning restaurants. But whose food do you want to eat? Escoffier schooled divs in paper toques? Tattooed egomaniac dude-food idiots in Converse and trucker caps? I dunno. Don’t ask me, I just work here. (Yes, the farmer is now a sullen barman or mechanic).


New career?

A final ‘Yes’, I have indeed written this entire thing with barely a clue. I hope I have at least entertained a little along this wild ride, man.


3 comments on “Sweet technique

  1. Tom says:

    How has nobody left a comment on this? This is sensational! And as for the piece about finding your first restaurant review – I actually laughed out loud three times.

    I adored your music, Sam, and by the sound of it, I would probably adore your food.

  2. Tom says:

    Actually Sam, now that we’re in contact (and I promise that first comment wasn’t part of some elaborate ruse), is there any chance you could drop me an email? There’s an audacious idea I’d like to run past you.

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