Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Little Bit A Big Sugar

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting down with Big Sugar frontman Gordie Johnson to chat food!  You can read all about how the interview came to be, as well as a glimpse into my day HERE.

For the interview, Gordie and I found a quite corner just off stage and settled in on a stage trunk (a trunk that holds the band's gear).  Sounds of the river flowed on one side, and melodies from the stage drifted down from the other.  The area was filled with activity - Gordie's kids were busy running around, having the time of their lives.   The rest of the band milled about, some on stage finishing up their soundcheck, some down by the river, enjoying a steaming cup of hot tea.

Gordie was really excited to sit down and chat food, so needless to say we got right down to business.  Here's what we had to talk about:

What’s the meaning behind the band’s name? 
It makes reference to the Caribbean influence in our music, you know big sugar was a sort of a catch phrase to describe the sugar industry which is of course, been much vilified in history, a lot of evils have befallen humanity over sugar. So we just try to take that and make something positive out of history’s negative.  

Do you cook a lot with your family?
When I’m home, which is not all the time – when I’m out on tour obviously I have to eat restaurant food a couple of times a day, which sounds really fun and everything but I’m used to eating my own cooking, I do all of the cooking at our house.  Before I go on a tour, I’ll stay up late a couple of nights or cook all day and put stuff up for my wife. You know, manicotti or lasagna or a couple jars of sauce and some meatballs and I’ll put all of that stuff in the fridge so that she can just heat it up for the kids after.

What is your favourite Alberta restaurant?
At a real grass roots level, my favourite food destination is always Lina’s Italian grocery in Calgary, because when I land here and am going to be at the farm for any length of time, I go to Lina’s grocery and I stock up! I fill the grocery cart with all the stuff I need for the summer for cooking.  And she always makes a legendary porchetta sandwich.  A grocery store is my favourite place to eat.

How do you discover hidden food gems when you travel to different cities?
My restaurant radar – just from years of being on tour and needing to get fed a couple of times a day.  When you are travelling, a different city everyday, traveling and putting on a show - Food is the only comfort in your day so we try to eat really well and find something interesting and unique. Just from years of doing that I’ve developed pretty good restaurant radar, where we can just be cruising up main street and I can go “oh, oh, oh, I see a little sign man, what’s that?” Ok man that’s the place to go. I don’t know how we know, but we are almost never wrong.  I’ve got restaurant radar. 

Do you have any guilty pleasure foods?  
I’d have to narrow those down, you know it kind of depends where I am too, like a really good cannoli, I can almost not say no to. A good amoretti – soft Italian soft cookies. I can’t stop myself from having one.  Luckily I don’t encounter them that often but if I see them I got to get them!   My guilty pleasure food though, is if I come home late from a session or something, it’s midnight and everybody’s in bed, I will make a bowl of popcorn for myself.  And just like slather it with olive oil and sea salt.  That’s my big snack food, a bowl of popcorn. I will just make my popcorn myself.  I will put red chili’s with it, or garlic, I will throw garlic in the oil before I pop the corn, I have a couple of little ways of tricking it out.  Popcorn is my go to snack food.

So no microwave popcorn in your house?
No, no, no, no hell no!  I make it on the stove, I’ve got technique!

Can you share some of your popcorn secrets with us? 
Ya, you bet!  First, you need a really good, deep pot, like a stock pot.  It needs to be really tall, and you need to heat up that oil first. You can’t put the corn kernels into cold oil, you have to heat up your oil till it’s good and hot. I do that by putting like 3 kernels in the oil – and as soon as one pops, it’s hot enough.

 Then you coat the entire bottom of the pot with popcorn - you don’t want more corn than your pot can hold. That usually equals the diameter of the bottom of that pot – so, I don’t see that bottom.  Give it a little shake, leave the lid off until it starts popping.

Once it starts popping, you put the lid on it and take it off the heat for 60 seconds.  Take it off of the heat.  I don’t know what that does exactly but it’s like it builds up pressure inside the pot.  The corn gets to just where it wants to pop and then you rob it of it’s popping. Then, as soon as you put it back on the heat, it doesn’t take 15 seconds and they all pop almost at once and then you’re done, real soon.  I rarely burn the popcorn that way.

I usually use extra virgin olive oil on it, I get cases from Tuscany about once a month and put that really good grassy, fatty, mmm, extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt. Sometimes I will put, like I said, smoked paprika, or like smoked ancho chili powder that we make ourselves down in texas.  We dry our own peppers and grind them in a coffee grinder, oh ya.

Do you prefer sitting down at a fancy restaurant or grabbing something from a food truck?
We like whatever it is, as long as it’s good.   I’m used to eating from a taco truck or sitting down to a fancy dinner – I can roll either way with that.

Worst food on the road?
For me, it’s the mundane.  If you’re getting just enough food to put in your stomach to make it stop rumbling, that’s a drag.  

Do you have a pre or post concert food ritual?
Pre show food – I need to eat a good breakfast on a show day because I am going to eat less and less as the day progresses.  For me my all-time favourite pre gig food is like really good Arabic pita bread, and hummus with olive oil, I find that gives me enough energy food and carbohydrates to be really fueled for a show.  Maybe that and a banana and a glass of wine or something.  We try to eat really moderately on a show day before a show.  But I’ll eat a big breakfast, I will eat – I will have spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast something like that.  I eat steak and eggs for breakfast on a show day. On a show day that’s good cause 10-12 hours later I’ll still be rockin’ it.

What's in your concert rider?
For us, the best thing on the rider the olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, that hummus, fresh fruit, we don’t like cut fruit. we like to get some nice fresh fruit, things like that.  Red wine is also good, to me that’s a food, you know it’s not like, we don’t drink it while we are partying, it’s part of our nutrition.

Favourite olive oil?
The one I like the best is called "Olio Carli", and like I said we get that imported about once a month from Italy, we get a case of it from them, I’m kind of a member – I have a membership to "Carli Oil" Orchard.

Next to Italian food, what's your favourite type of cuisine to prepare in the kitchen?
I can cook all kinds of food, Jamaican food, east Indian food, Italian, Mexican food. In fact, I make a really killer Mexican chili, I make a chili that takes like 37 hours to make, oh ya.  There’s  a lot of different steps to it when I do it, a long list of ingredients that all need some kind of preparation.  If I make chili it’s going to be for like, 12-20 people’s worth of chili. I have a cast iron skillet that’s like the size of a base drum head, I make a lot of chili. My son’s baseball team and soccer team those kinds of get togethers I will always bring my chili. 

First memory of cooking
My first cooking memory, I was the oldest of 4 kids and my dad worked a lot, my mom would be just run ragged trying to take care of all of us, soon as I showed any interest at all, as soon as I showed interest in cooking, my mom would be like “ok, so here’s your sauce, here’s what you put into your sauce, you brown your meat first like this, this is what you do", so she just showed me “this is how long you cook pasta for, if you do this it’s too long and it’s done” so she really showed me what to do and it turned me loose, like “hey, you’re making supper”.  It was great – if I was putting on supper I was putting on whatever music I wanted into the kitchen, Led Zeplin, Jimmy Hendrix, there’s this loud racket in the house, but the boy is cooking so…

What’s your favourite thing to listen to when you’re in the kitchen?
I go any which way when I’m cooking, jazz is really good.  Usually when I’m home by myself and cooking late at night especially I will listen to Jazz when I’m cooking. 

What veggie did you hate as a kid, and do you like it now that you’re an adult?
Brussels sprouts, that was the one thing I could not get with, I could not understand why or how someone could eat Brussels sprouts. But, ya, I subsequently had them in a few places. When someone can make Brussels sprouts that you dream about, now that person can cook.   

Be sure to check back a little later today to find out which recipe Gordie will be sharing from his personal collection!

Big Sugar has offered to send 3 lucky readers a copy of their new CD "Yardstyle", which is a compilation of their greatest hits all in acoustic.  Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

Good Luck! 

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