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December 23rd, 2011

by Tom Stieber, CEO

You know that list of fantasy dinner party guests, alive or dead?  Admit it.  You know you have one.  Everyone does.  In my imagination, I’ve had dinner parties with Oprah Winfrey and even Saddam Hussein.  I like a little danger with my amuse bouche.  I’m thinking about this as I’m sitting on an airplane, sharing in the annual human pilgrimage to visit family for Christmas, and I’m pondering who would be fun to have at the table.  I haven’t decided yet.

Lucky for me, Christmas comes early for me each year, namely in the form of Hanukkah.  You see, I had the good fortune to marry into a Jewish family and not only eliminate holiday conflicts but also vastly expand my yearly allotment of fattening, celebratory family dinners.  Right now, I’m wishing I could shake out some crispy latkes and apple sauce out of my puffy bag of honey roasted peanuts, but my daydreams are quickly quashed.  Just peanuts.

I am, however, enjoying one of my Hannukah gifts – a food journal from an unlikely but compelling writer, which is turning out to be one of the best I’ve read.  One of my favorite things about it is that I’m not reading it on a Kindle, Nook, or iPad, but in a (gasp!) paperback book.  Completely removed from the maddening clutter of indistinguishable online food bloggers, this book’s old-fashioned tactile approachability, complete with cartoonish drawings of sausages and sad-faced toilets, evokes an artsy, retro tone that I find ideal for reading about food.

The book’s premise mirrors its source, as the author is none other than Alex Kapranos, lead singer and songwriter of the talented Scottish pop band Franz Ferdinand.  In Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand, Kapranos details myriad globe-trotting gastro-adventures while on tour with his bandmates.  Combining an unexpected previous career as a drunken misfit chef in kitchens too rough for his sensibilities with an insatiable craving for new culinary experiences, Kapranos stitches together a series of vignettes that he originally wrote for a successful column in the UK’s Guardian.

Whether he’s “munching donuts with cops in Brooklyn” or swallowing bull’s balls… …in Buenos Aires,” his stories carry a raw in-your-face wallop that’s somewhat reminiscent of Anthony Bourdain, only with a genteel Scottish whiff of whiskey on the breath.  Oh yes, he gives us similar locker room stories about the wild hijinks that take place in restaurant kitchens, but more of the book focuses on the more relatable perspective of a foodie who is ready to discover every possible culinary experience from the filthy to the sublime.   Instead of letting us into a crazy, off-limits world like Bourdain does, Kapranos is part of our world.  He’s the food nerd that every fledgling blogger and social media addict aspires to be, because while they tweet blurry photos of pho at this week’s hippest restaurant and clamor to write ‘the most ironic. Restaurant. Review. Ever,’ he’s created an enduring homage to that sublime mix of food, atmosphere, and conversation that makes for great personal stories and memories.

I’d like to call Kapranos a romantic, but maybe it’s just that he’s European.  On my most recent trip to Europe this past spring, I was giddy over the fact that in a week’s time, I only saw one single laptop at the many cafés around town.  People in Europe don’t text; they talk and linger for hours.  And while a crop of new high-tech culinary businesses are encouraging American restaurant customers to increasingly dehumanize their dining experiences by ordering food on iPads, Kapranos reminds us that “the best background noise in any restaurant anywhere is the warm murmur of people enjoying their food and each other’s company,” while “the worst background noise is the… …bland house wash that appeared in the mid-nineties in hip minimalist bars and restaurants.”  I happen to strongly share his sentiments and aspire to incorporate them into Big City Chefs’ vision to give our clients much more than a beautiful plate of food.  The pleasure of eating is about connecting with our humanity, and whether you find it at a private dinner party or read about it in Kapranos’s stories, you’ll remember to slow down and notice life’s details.  Hey, I may just want to invite this guy over for Christmas dinner.

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