Chef Chat, Part 1: Robert Del Grande of RDG + Bar Annie, Part 1
EOW recently got to sit down with Robert Del Grande of RDG + Bar Annie (plus a host of other restaurants around town -- The Grove, Café Express and two new ventures about to open at West Ave, just to name a few). Though we could have asked him how it felt to be one of the pioneering chefs during the Southwestern food movement or how it was to cook with Julia Child on PBS, we instead decided to try a different approach and see if we could learn something new about this famous chef.
Eating Our Words: We just heard this curious rumor that you are in a band with Dean Fearing (of The Mansion at Turtle Creek and Fearing's in Dallas fame) called The Barbwires. Please tell us more.
Robert Del Grande: Oh yes, that is true. It's the best eating band in America.
EOW: What is your role in the band?
RDG: I play guitar and I sing. I used to play guitar back in high school.
EOW: So you were that guy in high school, playing guitar and wooing all the ladies.
RDG: I guess I should have taken lessons in the "wooing the ladies" part. When you start off as a French Horn player, you think you're always the guy in the back. No, but it's a much more social instrument, more fun. But then I ended up getting attracted to the classical guitar. The problem with that, then, is you just kind of slip off into your own world, because it's kind of a world unto itself.
EOW: It's more of a loner instrument?
RDG: Yeah, I guess so. It falls more into the cerebral, less of the "windmill jumping around."
EOW: I can see that. Which do you enjoy more: recording albums or playing live?
RDG: Both can be cruel. I played a show back in September, and here's the thing. If you're drinking and the audience is drinking, then it can be a lot of fun. But the microphones don't drink. They are always sober. So you're having a few drinks, recording your album, and saying "Yeah this is great!", but then you play it back and you realize, "That's a stone cold sober microphone you got there." And then you realize, "I really don't like that so much." And even worse, every time you play it back, it sounds exactly the same. The great thing about live shows is, as you keep drinking, the show gets better and better.
EOW: Besides your burgeoning music career, we also know that you have a PhD in biochemistry. How do you think that has affected your work as a chef?
RDG: It has allowed me to really kind of BS with anybody. The whole scientific path is all about "things happen for a reason," and then when you know those reasons, you know these two inputs generate this output. Most biochemistry outputs, however, are not edible. Oh we're having formaldehyde for dinner tonight. Wonderful! There was one important lesson though that I got from a teacher when I was an undergraduate in the lab. He would always tell us, "Don't cookbook the experience." That means that all the steps in the lab are laid out for you, all the directions, and if you follow every step and you weigh everything exactly, and do exactly what it says in the directions, you will get the result, and you will have no idea how you got the result or why you did it. To cookbook the experiment was to ignore why things were happening. So if I follow steps 1 through 5 of a recipe, and everything is going well and then it says to cook "15 minutes or until done," then what? If I am not thinking about the steps and why they are happening in the sequence they need to be happening, then I don't really know what's going on. So coming from an experimental background, I think "What's this step all about"?
EOW: You are a true scientist even in the kitchen. And it shows by the beautiful miniaturized shrimp burger that just came out.
RDG: I suddenly feel like we're at Disneyland.
Join us tomorrow, when Robert Del Grande discusses the most important aspects of a perfect meal.
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