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Cooking With Steve Albini

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albinidave1.jpg


You can take a stairway to heaven.
Or a stair master to heaven.
Chicago rock musician-engineer Steve Albini recommends the "Jimmy Page Diet" on his popular blog mariobatalivoice.blogspot.com. The diet prohibits wheat and mushrooms. No sugar tonight, as the Guess Who once sang. Albini loves pasta but when he is on the "Jimmy Page Diet" he substitutes risotto for pasta.

"Heather's (his wife) on the Jimmy Page Diet at the moment," Albini told me a couple weeks ago over some mighty fine orecchetite he prepared in the kitchen of his Chicago studio. "Almost everything I'm cooking is 'Page Compliant.' Heather came to visit me in England when I was working on the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant record (1998's "Walking into Clarksdale".) She complained she put on weight while I was out of town because I wasn't cooking for her. Jimmy Page volunteered that he knew a great weight loss diet........."


...Heather Whinna is general manager at the popular Second City theater in Chicago.

BluesBrothers.jpg
Second City actors such as John Belushi, John Candy and Chris Farley hit the big time by being fat.

Whinna went on the "Jimmy Page Diet" and lost a bunch of weight.


"It boils down to nothing fermented unless also distilled," Albini
explained. "No gluten. No beans, nuts or poultry. No citrus. Its
basically a low-carbohydrate diet that has specific restrictions on
what fruits you can eat. I don't know where it comes from, if it is
related to a religious diet of some kind or if a doctor came up with
it. But she lost weight very easily. For the next few weeks everything
on the blog will probably be Page Compliant, or J.P.

" I don't know if Jimmy Page minds his name being use in that fashion and I haven't asked. I'll presume it's okay."


Albini, who turns 49 on July 22, was reared in rural Montana. His
father Frank was a research scientist for the Northern Forest Fire
Laboratory in Missoula, Mont. his mother Jeana Louise Maritenelli was a
homemaker. Their parents were from Northern Italy.

"I learned to cook from my Mom," Albini said. "Most of what I ate
growing up was Italian cooking. We were pretty much together every
night. I have one brother and one sister. My father was an expert
hunter so we ate a lot of wild game when I was growing up in Montana.
That helped broaden my pallate generally, but I know it informed my
distaste for factory farms and unspectacular commercial meat. When I'm
in a restaurant I don't eat red meat. It doesn't taste like anything.
But if a friend of mine is grilling stuff at his house, its almost
always great."


Albini said he built his north side studio with a kitchen so bands
could make their own food as opposed to ordering out. I told Albini how
Mavis Staples said that during her sessions last year at the Wilco
studio, several blocks north of Albini's digs,
producer Jeff Tweedy catered
lasagna, macaroni and cheese and salads for Staples, her sister and
their band. Mavis said no one had ever done that in her
50-year-recording career.

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"If somebody is going to be in the studio for a week or more, its
important for them to feel at home or comfortable," Albini said,
"Little things like being able to have what you normally have for
breakfast doesn't sound like a big deal but it matters."


The studio living room adjacent to the kitchen is filled with DVDs and
VHS tapes, usually for band members to watch during down time. Albini
doesn't have any favorite food films, but he has studied instructional
cooking videos of acclaimed French chef Jacques Pepin. "It's really
amazing," Albini said. "He goes through a bunch of basic kitchen
techniques and shows you how to execute them so they're not
mysterious. My friend Tim Midgett from Bottomless Pit (formerly bassist for Silkworm) is a fantastic barbecue chef. He likes Jacques Pepin. He
proposed there should be a television program of nothing but Jacques
Pepin cutting vegetables for an hour. He is so good with his hands. He
looks so effortless. I would have loved to apprentice under Jacques
Pepin when he was a working chef.

"I've studied that video like the Zapruder film."

I love food, music and travel all for the same reason. They speak to my
sense of adventure. One night I have Southern reconstruction chicken
and greens, another night I will have Thai. One night I will listen to
Curtis Mayfield, another night I will listen to Merle Haggard. Life is
short. Why worry about barriers?

Albini has recorded rockers PJ Harvey, the Pixies and Nirvana.
Visitors to his studio are met with a poster of bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley.


"With music a lot of people are not comfortable listening to stuff they
don't understand," Albini said between bites of orecchiette. "Then
there's a celebration of discovering new food. In any given period
there's a whiff of exotica about certain food that makes it trendy.
Sometimes that translates to music, but not often. Hmn," he said
looking at his lunch. "This came out all right. I'm okay with it.
Probably should have trimmed the routini a little bit. They're a little
long."

Actually, I often have knife envy. I don't think I have enough cool chef's knives.

"You really only need one knife," Albini said, wielding a nine-inch
chef's knife with a black handle. "If you have one good chef's knive,
you're all right. The vast majority of things I cook I use one knife.
This was a wedding gift from an old friend of mine. If you talk to
anybody who cooks, the majority of what they do they do with very
simple tools."

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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