Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I woke up this a.m. and as usual started my espresso then checked emails. Like always the N Y Times was there. I found an article critiquing this guys show at the Beacon Theater last night. I had never heard of Mr. Stevens, but liked what I read. Stacey came in and glanced at what I was reading and inquired. Don't know I told her, but check this out. I showed her how in less the a minute we could hear samples of his songs on and purchase them if we like. 99 cents and they are downloaded to your itunes page right away. The article about the show talked about images projected on a large screen throughout the show. It mention some of the images were from an outsider artist, Royal Robertson, a Louisiana sign painter. So of course I needed to know about him. When I googled Royal Robertson I found, among other things, the article I have copied below. I love being able to do this.

Sufjan Stevens' musical 'Age' is still maturing

by Taylor Baker
Contributing Writer

Arts | 10/19/10
Posted online at 1:46 AM EST on 10/19/10

Many songs on 'Adz' were inspired by Royal Robertson.
Media Credit: Marzuki Stevens/Asthmatic Kitty
Many songs on 'Adz' were inspired by Royal Robertson.

It's funny that no matter how much someone changes, they still stay the same. That's what first comes to mind when thinking of Sufjan Stevens' new album, The Age of Adz. In his most recent album, Stevens lays on the electronica to his usual combination of intricately layered vocals, soaring choruses, orchestral arrangements and a slew of other instruments that all add up to his unique sound. For anyone familiar with Stevens, his new album will be a bit of a departure, despite the fact that he released an electronic album in 2001, which, in my opinion, was not enjoyable at all. Unfortunately, it seems that his 2001 album was a precursor to his new one.

After abandoning his 50 States project-Stevens planned on releasing one album for every state of the Union but later revealed the attempt was a gimmick-Stevens released several other albums. One album consisted of B-sides, another was a compilation of Christmas songs, the third was an instrumental album inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in New York City and he also released EP that was a prelude of sorts to Adz. The Age of Adz is Stevens' first full-length album without an overarching theme of a state, like his previous two Michigan and Illinois. Instead of providing narratives of being bitten by a wasp in Palisades Park or of a man living in Michigan slowly losing the grip on his life, Stevens indulges listeners with much more personal, romantic and apocalyptic narratives.

Now, don't get me wrong. The Age of Adz is not a terrible album-there are some really great songs and there are certain parts I could listen to over and over again. Moreover, I'd say the introduction of electronic elements to Stevens' sound is not a horrible idea; however, there are some points where the screwy sound effects bear down on the music and the listener.

Adz starts off with "Futile Devices," a song that could have easily been on any of Stevens' previous albums. The song consists of a simple melody, a guitar and Stevens' timid, somewhat haunting voice. Then, as if to say, "That was then, this is now," the next song, "Too Much," comes to life with an aquatic, electronic beat. In "Too Much," Stevens melds the relatively new, electronic sound with his usual intricate orchestral sound. This is one of the standout songs of Stevens' album-it's an introduction to how personal the album will be. Also, at certain points, this song is very cinematic. It reminded me of an intergalactic space war, which is most likely an homage to Royal Robertson, a paranoid schizophrenic painter whose art often depicted futuristic space scenes of the End of Days. Stevens' website confirms that The Age of Adz is partly inspired by Robertson's art.

There is also a futuristic, cinematic sound in the next song bearing the same name as the album. Age of Adz is familiar in that it soars in some places with compounds of sleigh bells, trumpets and choirs and then quiets down in others with only Sufjan's melancholic voice and guitar. It is in this song that Stevens introduces his apocalyptic and Biblical allusions, a trademark of sorts in his music: He includes everything from the glory of God being in everyone to the prospect of eternity and the Earth's breaking apart. All of these images aside, Stevens finishes the song apologizing for his selfishness, shortcomings and inability to persevere.

Other high points on Stevens' album are: "Get Real Get Right," another song with vivid imagery, trippy, electronic beats and backing choirs echoing the haunting message of the song and "I Want to Be Well." The latter song is the most honest and aggressive one on the album. The explicit despair over a messed-up relationship and desperate search for peace yield an exquisite, heartbreaking, haywire vocal bridge.

I think The Age of Adz can be summed up in its last song, "Impossible Soul," the album's 25-minute opus. The song, like the album, can drag at times and get a bit overbearing with the electronic samples but is redeemed by some truly magnificent parts. The third part-I broke up the song into four parts in order to better digest it-which starts at around the 14 minute mark, proves to be the best. It is upbeat and expressive, and the electronic effects meld perfectly with the layered vocals and instruments.

For the most part, The Age of Adz works. It's exciting to see Sufjan Stevens' sound evolve: We just might need to wait a bit longer for that evolution to reach a less awkward stage.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I got big wood.

My current commission is to basically build out the bar and tables for the dinning room for a new restaurant here in Atlanta. I am also gonna cover a 11" tall x 19" wide wall with assorted found materials. I also get to do three large paintings for the dining room.

Big wood? That's right, 37' of bar top made form live edge slabs of an oak tree. Three pieces make up this bar. Each piece is about 12' long by 27" wide and 4" thick. I bet each piece weighs about 500 lb's. Three table tops are gonna be made from live edge slabs of oak each about 6' by 3' x 2" thick. Also I am making 23 table tops from antique pine 2" x 6" material.

Above are some photos of the raw materials. As you can see some of it is very rough stuff. It's a dead tree for god sakes just relax, I can handle it. No I have never done work like this before, but hell I'm to stupid to say no or to be scared.

Now look what I did with these dead trees.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

from an article in the Atlantic Magazine

The Dark Side of Benefit Dinners: A Chef's Perspective



To try Sara's recipe for cold cauliflower soup with curried crabmeat, click here.

As people in the food business, we get bombarded with requests to donate our time and food to benefits. Benefits for cancer, benefits for the homeless, benefits for three legged dogs in China, benefits for the hungry (I always think it's weird to gorge yourself to help the hungry but hey, whatever it takes right?). It goes on and on. And fall is the height of benefit season, and it seems to have gotten excessive.

The idea used to be to throw a party, get some press for the cause, some press for the participating chefs and industry people, and raise some money. But there are some very dubious causes receiving money out there, and it's never clear how large a percentage of funds raised actually go to the cause being featured. Recently I was asked to do a benefit for Slow Food (really?). I am all for Slow Food, but I am not sure they need money as much as victims of natural disasters or terminal disease.

For me to participate in an event, I have to come up with amazing finger food that can be served in a setting with no running water, no heating devices, and no storage area.
I was raised to believe in giving back to my community and to the general world community, and I believe in doing so. Some events I wholeheartedly endorse. Every year for the past six years I have participated in a great all-female event to support an organization called SHARE, which helps women with ovarian and breast cancer. The money really does go directly to the cause, plus I love that there's one night every year when most of the famously rare female chefs in New York gather under one roof. In the spring, I do the Taste of the Lower East Side, which benefits the Grand Street Settlement house, an organization that has been helping economically challenged residents of the Lower East Side since 1916. I love supporting the community I work in so directly.

Some of the so-called "benefits" I have participated in seem to be more about throwing giant, self-congratulatory parties. It seems like every time some terrible event happens, everyone gets busy setting up a benefit for the victims and at the same time making sure they get more press themselves. Before you know it, rather than talking about the awful situation in Haiti or Pakistan we are talking about what delicacies such and such restaurant is serving. I also question whether it is really the best thing for my restaurant and me to be a small line on some press release. Isn't it better for my customers and for me if I stay in the restaurant and cook? Isn't that what my business is about?

For me to participate in an event, I have to come up with amazing finger food that can be served in a setting with no running water, no heating devices, and no storage area. Increasingly I am being asked to bring 700 to 2000 portions of said food, which should also represent my restaurant, me as a chef, and maybe the democratic ideal as a whole. I have to prepare it in my restaurant (taking away resources from the day's normal activity), pack it up, haul it over to the venue, stash it under a table, and then reassemble it so it looks beautiful. In order to do this I need to bring one or two cooks with me (who need to be paid because they are not getting anything out of it) so I can stand there and smile and interact with people who have paid a lot of money to be there. One thing I learned early on was that however long it takes you to make the dish, the dish better be easy to serve.

At one of the first events I participated in, I made vitello tonnato, the Italian classic of poached veal layered in tuna mayonnaise. It was great in terms of the ease with which we plated it, but it looked absolutely hideous on the plate, even when artfully garnished with sprigs of parsley. Sometimes I do sfomato, a savory Italian custard that can be served room-temperature, made with whatever vegetables are seasonal. It is easily plated plus very elegant. One year I made ramp sformato. For three days my cooks and I sautéed mounds of pungent ramps and pureed them, mixing in cream and egg yolks and baked them off in rounds late at night when the kitchen wasn't being used. Needless to say after, three days of being smothered in the smell of ramps I have not really ever looked at one again.

For a while I did cold soup at summer events, which was perfect, refreshing, easy to make, and could get jazzed up with an elegant topping of lobster or crabmeat salad if need be. With the opening of Porchetta in 2008, though, all anybody wanted was for me to bring a giant roast of porchetta and make sandwiches at the table. It's pretty easy to assemble, but it's a huge amount of expensive product to give away. Which means I really need to pick and choose where I want to expend my energy. It better really benefit the charity and not just the organizers.

Recently I have been asked to show up with more and more portions, and then only half the portions I have been asked to provide are consumed. This leaves me with excess product that I often cannot reuse. That makes me really sad, and it makes me wonder why I don't just donate the money straight to the charity and cut out all the silliness along the way. I'd rather be in my kitchen making food in an environment designed for it and interacting with the customers, some of whom are there to see me. Making sure the people in my dining room feel warm and taken care of and want to come back rather than chasing some press that might net me a few new customers and might benefit a worthy cause (and they are all worthy—even the three legged dogs in China). And with the exception of SHARE and Taste of the Lower East Side, that is what I am going to do.

Monday, November 1, 2010