Tasty grooves: Kitchens talk music • Musicians talk food 

click to enlarge Cerulean - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • Cerulean
  • Michelle Craig

If you peek behind any restaurant’s swinging doors, or maybe out by Dumpsters, you’ll see ’em. Maybe all in white, maybe in tattered black concert tees. Rappers, singers, that random keyboard player you see at Radio Radio. Every local kitchen is stocked with local musicians. And if you’re squinting in the dark at a show, you’ll see their buds — chefs, dishwashers, expos, hosts — out to see them play. There’s a symbiosis between restaurants and clubs, a shared language that expresses itself in beautiful plating and atmospheric set pieces. It’s a tale as old as time: music makers work in restaurants. New tale time: Indy’s increasingly hip restaurant scene lends itself to events that facilitate and support the local music scene, like Milktooth’s Big Gay Day party, Libertine’s Wednesday night dance sessions with DJ Cool Hand Lex and State Street Pub’s ear-busting local rock shows. Old tale: Creative people aren’t built for the 9-to-5 lifestyle. New tale: They’re built to butcher whole cows, think up a slammin’ guitar hook, write rhymes on the spot, delicately place microgreens.

These pages are about the crossover between musical and culinary creative types, between kitchens and stages. It’s about what those people take from one “performance” to another, from audiences at tables to audiences in clubs, and how they carry inspiration back and forth from each space, too. We let them tell it in their own words, whatever form that takes.

- Katherine Coplen and Sarah Murrell 

Noah Miles works at Bluebeard and plays in Dead Birds Adore Us:

Art, food, and music. That’s what it’s all about. These outlets coincide with one another allowing me the freedom to create in many different mediums be it canvas, amplifier, or plate.

I have a deep love for food that I discovered at a young age. I was weaned with hot sauce! I love working in a kitchen for a lot of obvious reasons. I get to work with great people — executive chef/owner Abbi Merriss, head baker/owner Charles McIntosh, the Battista family, as well as other great chefs that have left to pursue their own projects, not to mention our wonderful bartenders, managers and wait staff. I get to try new things on a daily basis as our menu at Bluebeard is ever-evolving. I am never hungry. We may fall in love with a dish and then change it the next day as ingredients dictate. I love the fact that we have the freedom to change at a minute’s notice. We don’t have to necessarily make the same thing day in and day out, which can become monotonous and wearing on the creative soul.

The same is true with the music I play in Dead Birds Adore Us. We can play anything we choose because we trust each other musically. We have the ability to create what we think is pretty A-okay, good old-fashioned Dead Birds Adore Us-style sound. We get together and bounce around notes until we have something to build on. Our songs come about by constantly listening and tweaking the composition until we are all in approval — and we may still decide to change something. It’s much like in cooking, where I can bounce ideas to the chef and fellow cooks to determine first the direction of the dish, then other key elements that support the intention of the dish until we have a final product — all the time tasting and tasting. I find myself learning from everyone as we come together to produce a greater good, weather it be in music, or food, or even art.

I enjoy painting when I’m not cooking or playing in the band. I am currently working on a horror movie series I will be showing in October.

With these outlets at my disposal I am able to exercise my creativity. Yes, I may work long hours in a kitchen, but when you’re in a good one, with people you trust, bleed, and sweat with every single day, you feel like you’re with family and that is important. The same holds true with a band. You wouldn’t spend all your free time in a van driving to gigs with people you couldn’t stand as a form of relaxation. No, they become your brothers and sisters. It is satisfying to know that what I make and send out into world is received and appreciated by someone in the way of food, music or art.

Dimitri Morris works at the Goose the Market and is working on opening up a new collaborative space:

I’ve played in five bands in my two years working at Goose the Market and each of them has been affected by tracks/words/melodies that have come to me while working. There is something about the clarity of being focused on a labor task that allows the mind to be very receptive.

Ricky Hatfield is head chef at Peterson’s:

During the daytime, we listen to music on the radio. We like mid-’90s rock, and as far as motivating my guys, we all pretty much listen to the same stuff. I let them listen to music up until 5, then we turning it off, but no music during service.

Music can make you lose focus, especially if you’re playing it too loud. Communication is such a huge part of cooking on a line. Timing is really important, too. If you miss a drop or miss a certain dish, or you don’t hear a certain callout, your ticket times are going to be a lot longer and that’s going to affect the guest in the dining room.

I like ’90s alternative rock and hip-hop, and I think that translates to my dishes. They’re not really subtle dishes. The flavors are big; they’re loud.

Jeremy Tubbs works at Milktooth, is part of General Public Collective, and serves as executive producer for Let’s Do Lunch with Oreo Jones:

The first job I got when I came back [from Chicago] was at Bluebeard, because I knew I could work at a restaurant … I think it’s cool [to have] the community; we’re all artists and musicians working in the neighborhood [of Fountain Square]. A lot of us work in the restaurants doing whatever job it is. I feel like it’s a nice little family, almost. Most of the places around here are doing something really well done, using awesome ingredients from all of these different farmers. I think it’s just being done really well. It’s been done in other places, but I think we have a cool scene going on right now. It’s pretty special. It’s really small, and I like that. It’s funny to be part of a food scene — I’ve never felt like that before.

It’s so funny when we’re playing music at [Milktooth]. The mood between the whole staff [changes.] If someone plays something [we’re not into], the whole staff will turn and look, like, “Nope!” and then someone has to play something else. We definitely have battles at Milktooth. You’ll see people look around like, “Nah, we’re not feeling this.” If Jon gets real busy, he always knows what he wants to hear, so he’ll come back and say, “Play this. I want to listen to DMX right now.” And I’ll be like, “Okay, I don’t know if everybody in the restaurant wants to do that on Sunday,” and he’s like, “I don’t care!” Which is fun. There’s certain days where stuff plays and you don’t even notice it. But there are other days where everyone wants to hear a certain thing. The best part is that we’ll just play full albums. I like that.

Jeremy Tubbs and the Milktooth crew created this playlist of stuff they dig. Full track listing here.

Alan Sternberg is head chef at Cerulean:

We play a huge variety of stuff. We typically don’t play music during service, but during prep, when no one’s in the restaurant, we’ll play something. A variety of stuff, from ’90s gangster rap, ’80s punk, a lot of ska, that kind of stuff.

I have been riding BMX for 17 years now, so [punk and hardcore music] goes hand-in-hand with that. The mindset was very much the same. Even in being in a kitchen, there was that sense of finding a community for people on the fringe. Just a different mentality. People are just a little different [in kitchens and in punk music].

Growing up in Anderson, we had a little punk scene that was really fun for a long time. We had a good two-year stint. I’d help book shows, I wrote for a zine. I would miss a lot of shows because I was working in kitchens, but I would get off work and run over there and catch the last couple songs of the last band and help them load up and clean up, and just be part of that whole scene. That was very much and still kind of is who I am: being the last person out and doing the jobs that no one else wants to do because I see it as kind of facilitating the ability to have the fun part of it, too.

It’s at the core of who I am. It’s so instrumental in who I am. I grew up a middle class white kid who was super fuckin’ angry. And I mean, what better world is there for that than the ’80s punk scene? It was kids like me, who grew up in a relatively white collar area. But they just have so much angst and they don’t know how to express it. They do it themselves and they figure out a way, and not waiting for a handout. They go out and express themselves. It has resonated with me my entire life. I still listen to all the stuff I listened to when I was 15, still like an angry kid. Except I’ve mellowed out now that I have a wife and a family and a career.

Kyle Long is NUVO’s international music columnist and the host of A Cultural Manifesto on WFYI; he books shows at the Jazz Kitchen regularly:

One of the best parts of hosting our annual Cultural Cannibals’ Brazilian Carnaval at The Jazz Kitchen is the venue’s ability to incorporate food into the celebration. An overindulgence in all forms of sensory gratification is central to the Carnaval experience, so being able to offer traditional Brazilian food and beverage in addition to our roster of samba drummers and dancers is crucial.

Feijoada is often called the national dish of Brazil and it’s the central item on The Jazz Kitchen’s Carnaval menu. Feijoada is a black bean stew brewed with a variety of lower-grade pork and beef cuts, e.g. ears, feet, tails and tongue.

In addition to feijoada we’ve also established a Cultural Cannibals’ Carnaval tradition of passing out freshly made pão de queijo after midnight. Pão de queijo is a tasty Brazilian cheese bread made with cassava flour. The dough is formed into small bite-sized balls and is typically served as a snack or side dish. Choking hazards be damned, we pass around platters full of hot-from-the-oven pão de queijo on the dance floor.

Brazil’s national cocktail the caipirinha is a popular staple at our Carnaval parties, but we also offer a couple non-alcoholic options like suco de caju - a delicious juice made from the fruit of the cashew plant and Brazil’s most popular soda Guaraná Antarctica.

Sadly Carnaval doesn’t roll around again until 2016. But on the plus side it falls incredible early on the calendar — the first weekend of February.

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About The Authors

Katherine Coplen

Katherine Coplen

Always looking for my new favorite band. Always listening to my old ones, too. Always baking cakes. Always collecting rock and roll dad quotes.
Sarah Murrell

Sarah Murrell

Sarah Murrell covers all things food, beverages and sometimes gives decent sex and relationship advice. You can stream her consciousness on Twitter, if that's where life has brought you.

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