The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: It's the ultimate rock question of allegiance. Do you want to hold her hand or spend the night together? Should you just let it be or let it bleed? Arguments have erupted, feuds have simmered, and books have been written. I mean, literally, Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot—the two most prominent music critics around and hosts of WBEZ's Sound Opinions—actually wrote a book about it. (Spoiler alert: The feud was not settled.)
But, you ask, what does this have to do with food? That was my main question to DeRogatis, Kot, and two local chefs—Jared Van Camp and Stephanie Izard—who are getting ready to put together a Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones multi-course dinner this week.
How did this start? My belief is that you can mostly blame Jared Van Camp. As the chef at the soon-to-open Nellcôte (which we just previewed last week), he's obviously in the Stones' camp considering he named the restaurant after the villa where the band recorded most of their 1972 masterpiece, Exile on Main St. He's been thinking often about how he can cook more like The Rolling Stones.
To make the argument even more interesting, Kot and DeRogatis brought in a registered Beatles fan, Stephanie Izard—chef of Girl & The Goat—to create her own meal based on the Fab Four. Though the meal is completely sold out, I chatted briefly about what it takes to cook like the two most popular bands of the 20th century.
Van Camp's Stones obsession started early: "I actually had a poster on my wall in 8th grade of Keith Richards at Nellcôte," said Van Camp. "Now I'm opening a restaurant named after the place. It's crazy." As for how he is going to translate the band into a meal, Van Camp hopes to avoid a literal interpretation. "It's much more of a feeling," he said. "The food was inspired by dishes that I had when I was at Nellcôte in France. I went specifically to eat and see what was actually there, and what the Stones would have eaten."
Stephanie Izard, on the other hand, seems to be tackling The Beatles head on, naming dishes after specific songs on The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album): including a "Glass Onion" soup with brown butter crab, "Back in the USSR" confit goat belly with 'Russian' dressing, and "Blackbird," which will swap the petite fowl for duck.
Considering they wrote a whole book on the subject, both Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis had a lot to say about the subject of mixing music and food. DeRogatis compares it to the time when it seemed like all basketball players wanted to be rappers: "Well, chefs want to be musicians, and you could say that they actually are rock stars. That's where the idea of this came from."
I talked with both separately about where music and food meet, and I've combined both interviews below. Just like their radio show, both are extremely knowledgeable and yet rarely seem to agree on anything.
Have you ever listened to a Beatles or Rolling Stones song and thought, "You know what, I'm hungry?"
Greg Kot: "Rock 'n' Roll is about that appetite. It's about wanting more of everything. It's a 'lust for life' as Iggy Pop once said. Music, food, and wine—those are the good things in life that you want. I get that."
Jim DeRogatis: "No. 'Glass Onion' has never done it for me. I don't really equate music and wanting to eat."
Is there a specific time period for either band that you think would be particularly delicious?
Greg Kot: "Well, that lip smacking logo came out circa Sticky Fingers, which was followed by Exile—that would be a good time. They'd drop off a cliff soon after, because you can't live that hard for that long. Jim and I have talked a lot about that time period in Nellcôte. But what price did they pay? For The Beatles, I think about the band playing in Hamburg, when they were basically a punk band in leather jackets. That was their 'lust for life' period. They had an appetite for everything."
Jim DeRogatis: "The whole psychedelic period is fantastic, and it's my favorite period of each band. One of the side effects—at least, I have been told—from ingesting certain substances is that sensation is amplified. You can often get synesthesia, where you experience sound as color, like a visual sound. So there is a connection, and that's what I'm excited about."
What advice would you give to Jared Van Camp and Stephanie Izard to mimic the Stones and The Beatles?
Greg Kot: "Well, for Jared, don't take the Nellcôte vibe too seriously. He'll be great, but just remember to dial back before things go off the cliff. Stephanie is a superstar. There is no doubt about it. In that respect she is like The Beatles of Chicago. People talk about her all over the world, and we're honored just to have her. Like The Beatles it's about constantly reinventing herself. What's going to happen next. That's the only way to stay on top. The parallel to The Beatles is pretty apt, because from 1964 to 1970, they were about seven different bands when you think about it. How to maintain the status is a testament to her ability."
Jim DeRogatis: "Oh my god, never trust a critic that says, 'If I was writing this, or directing this, I would do this.' Of course, last week I said I didn't like the production on the new Leonard Cohen album. But I didn't say that I should have recorded it."
In your book, The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, you both seem to agree that the Stones had a sarcastic and darker tone from the very beginning. Can food be dark and sarcastic?
Greg Kot: "Yeah, absolutely. I've eaten at a lot of sarcastic restaurants over the years. Humor is one of my favorite things in music, but you have to be good at it. I don't want it to be obvious. But I love that feeling when you break into stupid grin because you underestimated the situation, but then it came and hit you right between the eyes. I had dismissed risotto for years, but then I had some a few years ago that kind of blew my mind. That kind of thing. The humor thing may be more like a surprise. You're not expecting to like it, but in spite of yourself you do."
Jim DeRogatis: "Oh, hell yeah. What is pork belly if it's not dark and sarcastic? It's interesting. I'm not Anthony Bourdain, so I'm not interested in truly weird stuff, but I would have liked goat head's soup—at least conceptually. When you have chefs of this talent, whatever. It'll be awesome. They have fun, and they think it's cool. And that's the only only time we are ever considered cool."
People must constantly ask for music recommendations. But do you have any restaurant recommendations you'd like to dish out?
Greg Kot: "I'm hesitating because I don't want everyone to descend, but I'd love to give one a little plug. It's up in my neighborhood, Mia Figlia. Another place I really love is The Portage."
Jim DeRogatis: "Oh my god, yeah. I love Graham Elliot, I think it's amazing. I love all of Paul Kahan's places. Girl & the Goat is obviously great. I tried for like a decade to go to the French Laundry, and we just had the best time. I got to say, if that the was a 10 out of 10, then the dinners I've had from Chicago's best chefs would be very close at a 9. Or, if you want to be like Pitchfork, they're at 9.6. Of course, it's not all fine dining. Wishbone is by my office, and if I'm meeting up with someone, that's where we go.
"I have to say, if the music world came together in Liverpool in 1964 and New York in 1977, then Chicago 2012 is what it is for food. It's amazing. There is a lack of pretention. The chefs care passionately, and they are very much like Chicago musicians, Curtis Mayfield and Jeff Tweedy. Stardom is for someone else. I'm going to keep my head down and make great stuff. It's the 'city that works' feeling here, and it's in the whole art scene here."