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Eat to the Beat: Gabriel Rucker

Gabriel Rucker, the freshly crowned James Beard Award-winning Rising Star Chef, and owner of Le Pigeon and Little Bird in Portland, OR, serves up his thoughts on snacks, grub, and rock & roll.


What do chefs and rock stars have in common?
They’re both creative expressions: you can have two people working in the same genre but they put their own spin on it.

First times: what’s the first record you bought? First meal you cooked?
The first record I bought was Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward when I was seven or eight - I had the choice of getting a Ninja Turtle action figure or getting that tape and I got that! And a bit later, as part of my chores, I would cook dinner one night a week. I made homemade spaghetti - my parents hated it, but I loved it so I cooked it a bunch of times.

Let’s talk starters: what’s your ultimate side one, track one, and what’s your ultimate appetizer?
A Million Years” by Alex Ebert, the singer for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. My ultimate appetizer would be a big ol’ tub of caviar with red onions, sour cream and blinys. You can’t go wrong with that.

Let’s talk seduction: what’s your go-to soundtrack for getting it on, and what’s your go-to meal for getting a lady in the mood?
My wife and I have a bunch of Donovan on vinyl, and we always listen to that when we’re cooking. For food, our favorite is a really nice rib eye and a salad of cucumbers, tomato, red onion, and avocado with Caesar dressing. That makes us pretty happy.

On the road: what’s your ultimate road food and what are the best driving songs?
In ‘N Out burgers without a doubt. I go with three single cheeseburgers with raw onions, that way I can eat one later in the day. For driving, I usually make a mix, but recently I’ve been listening to a lot of T.I. His album King is really fun.

Food and music pairings - can you pair a dish with:

The Builders and the Butchers
They’re a Portland band that I like, and they seem to be into old English-y things, so I’d go with Beef Wellington, and then poached chicken, celery, and blue cheese salad with sweet breads and a buffalo sauce.

Grateful Dead
Fuck, anything with pot butter in it, man. Ice cream made with weed.

Notorious B.I.G.
I’m from the West Coast, so I used to like Tupac, but now I like Biggie more. I think he’d have the bigger appetite too, so I’d serve him a whole roasted rib eye with a big tub of creamed horseradish.

If you could invite all of your favorite artists to a dinner party, who would you invite?
Will Oldham would probably be pretty interesting to have, plus Doug Martsch from Built to Spill, all of The Dead Milkmen and Biggie Smalls, just to round it out. And Dolly Parton, so my wife could have a guest to keep her entertained.

What would you cook?
Fish tacos with Pacifico and tequila. I make pretty fucking good fish tacos, man. My secret is to mix the sour cream with a shitload of limejuice and lots of chopped cilantro, and use that as the sauce, then I’d make a mango-avocado salsa.

What makes certain music suited for cooking?
I have a guy that works with me that really likes Dave Matthews Band and that’s about the only thing that’s off-limits. He even had a song the other day that was U2 with the Black Eyed Peas live: you can imagine how bad that was. So his iPod is banned if I’m working but other than that, it’s a democracy.

What about for eating?
The funny thing is when we opened up our second restaurant, Little Bird, which is a really classic French bistro, we made all these French playlists and people hated that. They all wanted more of the typical Portland indie rock.

Who is the one artist out there now that you want to see live?
Probably Girl Talk or Andre Nickitina. Actually, let’s go with Dre Dog. He’s from Frisco and I like him a lot.

And what’s the one restaurant that you haven’t eaten at that you’re looking forward to?

Pied du Cochon in Montreal. The chef, Martin Picard, is kind of crazy with foie gras and over-the-top rich things, and it’s really unique.

What is your rock & roll fantasy?
Hanging out backstage with Led Zeppelin. I want to hang out with the groupies too. I bet they had some good groupies.

If you had access to a time machine and could have a meal anywhere, any time what would it be?
I’d be really curious to eat Paul Bocuse’s food in 1960 or ’61.