By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“We usually use ox heart,” he apologized, watching a friend reach for her third helping. “But today, we could only find hearts from younger animals. We hope that it’s all right.”
Henderson, a slender, bespectacled man whose whitewashed Clerkenwell restaurant is a few steps from the meat market that has been nourishing London for the better part of the millennium, was at Ciudad promoting The Whole Beast, a new American edition of his splendid, offal-intensive 1999 cookbook, Nose to Tail Eating. After the out-of-print original was praised in The New York Timeslast year, Nose to Tailbecame possibly the most prized cookbook in the world for a minute. Before I managed to snag an expensive eBay copy from a bookseller in Harwich, Essex, I and most of the food people I know made do with fuzzy third-generation photocopies that were passed around the food world like samizdat copies of Brodsky. Henderson’s straightforward recipes for things like rolled pigs’ spleens, gratinated tripe and crispy pigs’ tails had the weight of revelation to those of us who had previously had to rely on sketchy instructions from 19th-century housewives’ manuals.
Henderson, who is not just a chef’s chef, but a chef’s chef’s chef, spent most of the evening munching deviled kidneys and discussing one sort of animal protein or another, even plover, a thick-kneed shore bird better known for its delicious eggs.
“We have three types of birds in England,” Henderson said, flinging his arms toward the moon. “There are the birds it is permitted to shoot and eat, and there are the birds it is permissible neither to shoot nor eat. Plovers fall onto a third list: birds that must not be hunted, but may be eaten if they are ‘accidentally’ killed. It’s not often that we get them, and when we do, it isn’t many.”
Is there general rejoicing among the ploverphiles?
“Oh, they’ll call us — they know somehow — and we’ll generally reserve a bird for them if they ask; put it in a bag; write ‘Mr. Brown’s Plover’ on it; and put it in a separate refrigerator. Although to be honest, we often end up cooking the birds for ourselves. It eats very well, a plover.”
In Britain, where the outbreaks of foot-and-mouth and BSE were recently so pestilential that a Cabinet secretary once felt compelled to reassure the populace by eating steak tartare on national television, Henderson’s menu of wholesome, plainly cooked marrow bones and pigs’ heads and lambs’ brains at St. John seemed as revolutionary in the late 1990s as the Sex Pistols, and it became fiercely fashionable to dine on the kidneys, jellied tripe, and even roast beef with horseradish that his customers’ grandparents would have once considered stodgy. Traditional English cooking had become avant-garde. Although it was still English.
“With all of the mad cow and such in England at the moment,” Henderson said, “we are very, very careful to follow government regulations to the letter concerning bones and nerve tissue and such.”
“So you won’t find grilled spinal cord on the menu?” someone asks. “It’s very popular in Argentina.”
Henderson looks unamused.
“No grilled spinal cord. They eat a lot of things in South America, but it doesn’t mean that Londoners have to eat them.”
Anti-turntablism: Vinyl Is Heavy
The instruments of choice at the Knitting Factory last week were six or so PowerBook G4s, one Toshiba, four Dells, one VAIO, one VPR Matrix and something called My First Laptop. It wasn’t a new-music ensemble, but the Los Angeles qualifying round of the Laptop Battle, a national tournament for laptop DJs founded by the Seattle-based, geek-hipster collective Fourthcity Studios. Sixteen contestants each had three minutes to do a live DJ set from their laptops — head-to-head against an opponent in single elimination, à la 8 Mile — before a panel of five local judges and the audience (whose vote counted for half). Winners from the qualifying rounds advance to September’s national battle at the Decibel Festival in Seattle.
“‘It’s like watching someone check their e-mail’ was the cliché about laptop shows,” admits Kris Moon, a skinny and gregarious 29-year-old Seattle DJ, record-store clerk and member of the group that started the one-on-one showdowns. “We were trying to break out of that mold and add a competitive edge.
“It’s the judges’ job to discern ‘Is this hand-crafted or is it just a sample of a Jay-Z loop?’” Moon explained. “And if it is a Jay-Z loop, did he fuck it up, add his own touch?”
Several CalArts students were coaxed into battle by the elder statesman of the competition, Mark Trayle, new-media chair of the school’s music-composition program. Trayle has played experimental electronic music since the late ’70s, and in his spare time improvises around town with avant-luminary types like Nels Cline and Vinny Golia. Of his own style, he said: “I’m a complete misfit. I used to like to call it ‘table-core,’ because I just had everything up on a table.”
Most of the CalArts contingent, who along with Trayle bowed out in the early rounds, played IDM (intelligent dance music) or noise — a defiantly un-danceable subgenre characterized by chaotic experimental soundscapes. Very “computer if computers smoked crack”–sounding and occasionally “Um, hey, is that broken? Could you turn it off? It’s hurting my ears”–sounding. Even so, the crowd was appreciative of the more cerebral music, if not so much inspired to get their swerve on.