Natural Ingredients

When Yonder Mountain String Band's lead vocalist and mandolin player, Jeff Austin, caught up with New Times a couple of weeks ago, we expected to gauge where he stood on bluegrass tradition. Although the Boulder, Colorado,-based group has turned this venerated musical form into a career, none of its members were fans of the genre until they were adults. Be that as it may, even a cursory listen to the band's material shows their deep respect for traditional bluegrass music. Still, we could hardly get him to stop talking about his other passion: cooking. Considering that Austin even volunteers at his friend's deli just to keep his cooking skills sharp, it wasn't surprising.

New Times: You spend a lot of your time off cooking, which can really inspire music because both have similar properties in terms of how the ingredients interact.

Jeff Austin: Definitely! I would agree wholeheartedly. The way that different instruments talk together, you get the same thing in food, like the way this spice goes with that ingredient, the way that protein goes with that vegetable. I'm a freak, man; in my little writing book, I've got more recipes than songs that I've written during these last three months off. [laughs] Different marinades, ideas, salads, soups, or cool little amuse-bouches. It's something that's always been a passion of mine. When I was 5 or 6 years old, I was watching Martin Yan on the local PBS and the Frugal Gourmet, and for some reason, it really hit me. Shit, before I did this interview, I was watching cooking shows on PBS. For dinner tonight, I'm making homemade soba noodles and a broth out of ginger and chicken. And if there's a great bluegrass band playing in town tonight, [my] girlfriend will come up and we'll probably go out and see some music, and I'll come home and jot something down.

Or you could set one of your recipes to music.

[laughs] The kitchen is actually in the center of my home. Everything else revolves around it.

How often do you get to cook for the guys in the band?

Not that much, but on this next trip, I'm officially bringing a mobile kitchen. I've got this slow cooker that you can actually put ribs in. It'll almost steam-cook them like a smoker. You can pull up to a venue, pop this thing open, and throw in a pork shoulder. Eight hours later, when the gig's over and everybody's starving, well, guess what? We don't have to order pizza.

Those guys are going to be happy now.

We're a big foodie band anyway. One of our goals this year is to create a restaurant database.

What's an amuse-bouche?

It's a fancy French term for something that stimulates your palette. Like if you're getting ready, especially in a French restaurant, to have a few courses, they'll start you off with an amuse-bouche. Usually, it'll be like a little soup or a little gel. There's this wonderful restaurant in Vegas, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I'm completely addicted to the place and fly to Vegas two or three times a year just so I can eat there. It's scary. I've become friends with the GM and everything. The last time I was there, the amuse-bouche was a celery gel on the bottom. They had infused a celery broth with gelatin, and they topped it with Parmesan foam. You stir it all together, and when you eat it, it wakes your tongue up. It's kind of like drinking the right wine with the right dish.

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Saby Reyes-Kulkarni