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What's Your Story?

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So, Chris, what's your story?

I'm an auricular raconteur and sonic archeologist. I listen to old 78s that were recorded before our parents were born, and these old records speak to me sometimes. My job is to midwife their voice, stitch them up in a new suit of flesh and offer it as nourishment. According to you, I also cook. That sounds similar.

You are my favorite cook who does not work in a restaurant. Will you mention two or three favorite go-to cookbooks? I love the cookbook from The Grit, in Athens, GA. and The Joy of Cooking.

I mainly depend up recipes that are found in the book of Revelations with ingredients sourced from the book of Leviticus. Occasionally I'll refer to some of Rilke's pastry recipes.

Tell me about your latest compilation, which features the music of Alexis Zoumbas.

I developed an idée fixe with Albanian and Epirote music after junking some old 78s of this music in Istanbul a few years ago while on vacation with my wife and daughter. This (un)naturally lead to an obsession with many of the artists from this region that played this style of music which is frankly more powerful, unvarnished, and "heavy" than any other music I've yet to encounter. In fact, it is so unpretentious and stark that I doubt that many would even regard it as music... it is more like a profound tonic or salve for our wilted spiritual wounds. I noticed that while I got deeper into this harmonious language. one artist, Alexis Zoumbas, proffered something in his music that was subtly distinct from many of the others. My inquiry into what this difference was led me to acquire almost all of his 78s (there were about three dozen solo violin recordings that he made from 1925 to 1930), travel to Southern Albania and Northern Greece to interview his surviving family (he died in 1946), and essentially reconstruct a narrative of a man whose life was largely mythologized and erroneously represented. The music of Zoumbas is meant to enrich us all or at least to offer some succor.

I recently had some success with smoking a turkey at Christmas and a pig on New Year's Day. You do a lot of grilling and smoking... would you care to offer any tips?

I love to grill as it reconnects me with my Scotch-Irish-Neanderthal ancestry. The only tip I can offer is "Fire is good." It is also the case that I avoid grilling and smoking the more "innocent" of the meats... only the old, infirm, and more experienced animals should be prepared in this manner.

What do you especially like to cook? I know chicken and chorizo shows up on the King menu quite often.

As indicated above, I have a particularly fondness for the "innocent" meats... veal, spring lamb, suckling pig... something that really hasn't developed a memory.

Any ingredient can be bettered by cooking it with pork since swine have a great deal of intelligence and obviously, memory. So, cooking a suckling animal in a porcine substrate is like surrounding innocence with experience... a Bergmann entree or a Bruno Schulz appetizer?

The renowned drummer Clyde Stubblefield once equated drumming to cooking: "Sometimes you gotta slow cook some stuff over here, and sizzle fry some stuff back there..." Do you draw any correlation between music (or art, in general) to cooking?

I see no relation between drumming and music.

You compile music from many diverse geographic areas (Louisiana, Virginia, Greece, Albania)... is there a musicological frontier out there that you look forward to exploring?

The thread that runs through the music I collect and explore is rural and raw in nature and so I'm hoping to weave myself up through the Balkans into Macedonia and into Anatolia. For some reason I'm drawn to musicians born in the 1880s.

What are some things you don't like to do in the kitchen? What are some of your favorite things to do?

I fucking hate to do dishes.

My favorite thing to do is the "fine-tuning nervous hovering," the addition of ingredients 30 seconds or so before the meal is served. With Thai food this is the adding of the fish sauce, in Greek food it is the adding of lemon juice, in mid-Western cuisine (especially from Cleveland) it is the adding of anything to overwhelm the blandness (this, of course, does nothing).

Who do you cite as big inspirations -- in or out of the kitchen? Why and how?

John of Patmos, especially Revelation 3:16:
"So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."

Who are some of your favorite boundary-pushers -- in food, music or anything else?

My favorite "boundary-pusher" is Andrei Tarkovsky. Not only did he have an infinite (and justified) self-confidence but he had a vision that could only be regarded as "spiritual." His determination and his accomplishments came from a strictly followed set of rituals that prepared him for his day's work, his week's work, his year's work. The guy fasted before starting a film and maintained a focus and obsession until the film was done. He staunchly protected the integrity of his work. A while back someone said: "Facebook! It makes being a friend easier!" Tarkovsky, if he were alive, would have replied "Friendship is not supposed to be easy. That is the problem... everything is too easy nowadays. Things should be hard. Friendship should take effort and care. Go paint an ikon and then tell me that ikons make religion easier."

Please tell me about your upcoming trip to Greece this summer.

The trip to Epirus/Albania is the result of being awarded a Cultural Exchange Grant from the Mellon Foundation and APAP under the auspices of the National Council For Traditional Arts. I am planning on returning to Epirus (Northern Greece) and Albania this August where I will be recording, interviewing and documenting Roma musicians that perform at feast-dances in Greece and Albania. I also hope to research the sublime clarinet player, Kitsos Harisiadis, who recorded in the earlier part of the 20th century. I also intend to consume many lamb entrails.

Talk to me about books: who are some of your favorite writers? Will you please name three of your favorite books?

In no particular order: Bruno Schulz, Franz Kafka, Patrick Fermor, Amanda Petrusich, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Gary Shteyngart, Jim Potts, Stanislaw Lem, Flannery O'Connor, Fydor Dostoevsky, William Burroughs, Ishmael Reed, Ismail Kadare, Albert Camus. It is difficult to name just three of my favorite books but likely for pure pleasure: Roadside Picnic, Street of Crocodiles, and Mumbo Jumbo.

You're not a big dessert eater... what's your favorite meal-ending dish, besides whiskey?

I am intolerant of sweets but I greatly enjoy a little Beaufort D'ete to close a meal.

Thank you, Chris. Do you want to provide me with a verb for that last sentence? And would you entertain one more question? What are some of your favorite musical groups and records?


How about: ODB (RIP) and Alexis' Zoumbas' Epirotiko Mirologi

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I LOVE Shimmy Shimmy Ya.

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Chris and Stuart in the kitchen...