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Mar 5 / Josh

Jeff Austin, Butter Extraordinaire

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Today’s interview is with the fabulous mandolin playin, bluegrass singin Jeff Austin from Yonder Mountain String Band. During the interview, Jeff nailed why we do what we do at Epicurean Musician. Anyway, to say that Jeff is into food would be one of the biggest understatements ever.

Growing up with food

“It was just my mom and I growing up and we had pretty lean times. My mom did a lot with very little. My relationship with food started there. I was a very picky eater when I was little, I ate maybe 5 things. Growing up in lean times, you appreciate simple things, not overdoing it… I had pretty much open access to as much PBS as I could want. When I was a kid, I really remember Second City TV, Saturday Night Live and PBS. The Frugal Gourmet, Martin Yan who did Yan Can Cook, Justin Wilson – this crazy lineup of people all day long. I just really connected with it. I liked the whole process of it.”

Food Network programming

JA: “Some of their programming is not only bad, its damaging. Here’s the deal, watch an episode of American Idol. Tell me if some of those people can sing, or if they just look the part. Mainly, it’s looking the part. I like Tyler Florence. He cooks, makes the food, puts it on a plate. If I watch anything its him. I find myself watching a lot of Rick Bayless. I steal from him. When you’re traveling on the bus, you have cartoons and food, that’s basically your life.”

EM: Is chef Rick Bayless related to Brendan Bayliss?

JA: “I asked Brendan this the first time that I met him, and he said ‘No. If I were I’d be about 450 pounds’”.



Chicago restaurants

Ed’s Pot Sticker House is on the south side of Chicago. Its as real Chinese food as you can get. When I go in, I’m the one non-Chinese person that’s in there. I went there recently with a friend of mine, a microbiologist doing research at USC, and we sat there for 3 hours. We said ‘We’re not afraid, lets have it’. Things started coming and they embraced us. The chef made us this special caramel apple dessert thing. You grab a hot piece of apple and caramel, dip it in water and it crisps right around it like candy.”

“I always go to Portillo’s. It’s a chain now. When I was a kid there weren’t so many.”

“There’s a place called Joe and Giuseppe that’s out in the suburbs. This guy had a real successful restaurant in the city. It got too hectic for him so he closed down and moved to this half-empty strip mall a few blocks from my moms house. Joe comes around to everyone’s table and says hi to everybody. He’s covered in flour and sauce. He’s back there making it all, your gnocchi, everything.”

Restaurants in other cities

Apiery in New York City – “clean, whole food”

Brix in Flagstaff, AZ – “Not to be too foody, but I had the best steak frites there I’ve had outside of France. I was like “What are you feeding me?”

Asanebo in Los Angeles, CA – “The best sashimi place in LA. Its amazing, a little, tiny hole in wall, maybe 10 tables. They have a thing caboshebameet [sp?], which I’ve never had before. Its beyond kobe or wagu, there is just so much fat and its so soft. They barely hit it, they torch it and give it to you.”

Eating Before Concerts

“For me, before a show, on certain nights the thing I have to eat is steak or a little red meat and some starch, and that’s it. Our shows are 3 ½ hours a night, I’m working my ass  off, so that protein shot right before the show is what I need”

Foie Gras Musings

“Remember when they outlawed foie gras in Chicago? It’s a fucked up practice to make foie gras, but you know what, I love it. I’d put it on a shoe.”

Festival food

“It’s not a festival, but if you ever play a show with Dave Matthews Band, their catering is legendary. We did 3 shows with them last summer at the Gorge and they’re feeding hundreds, maybe a thousand. In this down economy, they are down to like 15 semis. Their food is just great.”

“Not to self promote, but we do a festival in Oregon called the Northwest String Summit at Horning’s Hideout. We have a tradition: the guys on the crew go down to a farm and get this pig. We do this huge family style barbecue where they smoke this pig for the whole day. So on Sunday, by the second set, right before we’re closing the festival you can smell the pork aroma coming across. Friends and other musicians call me, they say “Hey, can we play the festival? Can we play on Sunday? We hear you do this”. It’s corny, but its this real family picnic vibe that I haven’t found at any other festival.”



Jeff the Cook

JA: “I like making everything. There are a few things that I’ve made since I’ve been home. There are a few essential things I have to make. Ranch fried chicken, that’s a big one. When I retire from music, I’m going to go on the circuit and I’m going to compete. I’m ready. My favorite thing to do is to make homemade pasta and homemade Bolognese sauce”

EM: “You make your own pasta?”

JA: “Yea, I began doing that 2-3 years ago. There are some dried pastas that I like, that are easier. But I just made a batch last night. Not to be hippie dippy, but it’s a very organic thing. You can get into it and work it and your consistency can be so great. Also, my girlfriend works 9, 10 hours and she comes home and her eyes just light up.”

“I like making my own butter. You know its not time intensive. There are a few ways you can cheat. You can mix by hand or you can do it in a Cuisinart. You put cream in there and you separate the butterfat from the buttermilk. It’s like if you make whipped cream from scratch and you beat it for too long and it gets yellow, you’re almost making butter…Out of one container of cream you make a significant amount of butter. Then you can do whatever. You can put truffle salt in one of them, you can put tarragon in the other, you can do one with black pepper.”

In Control of Food

“I’m trying to get into this point where you can control everything I eat. I live at 9,000 feet, so unless you have a greenhouse you can’t grow your own stuff. You can be in control of your pasta, butter, getting your milk, ordering half a pig or half a cow, something like that. I go in with friends we buy half a steer, half a pig. I can take apart a chicken no problem. I’m learning about fish, my girlfriend is teaching me…This whole ‘do as much for yourself’ is important. [For example], with all the faults of Boulder, there is one of the best farmers markets out there. You can go down and buy everything. For me, when I’m on the road I don’t have control. When I go home I love to be in control. My girlfriend asks if I’m going to make dinner tonight, ‘of course I am’! I’m in my kitchen, I know what’s going in. When people ask if I make my own pasta, its like when you start cooking, you bite into it and say ‘that’s what I’m looking for when I pay for it at a restaurant!’ ”

Performing on stage and being in the kitchen

“It’s a very similar thing. The word is multitasking. When you’re on stage, you’re multitasking. You’re thinking, you’re singing, you’re playing, you’re looking at the other musicians, you’re looking at the crowd, you’re focused in on all these different things. When I’m in the kitchen, I don’t make hamburger and fries. I’ll make risotto with mushrooms and a little onion marmalade and a lot of different elements. Its multitasking, it’s the exact same thing for me. If you work it out right, you’ll all end together. If you get all the elements working together in a kitchen, in a restaurant, you’ll end up great. The same thing is on stage. That’s why you get a lot of musicians that are passionate about food… There is a connection. You produce music and people hopefully get satisfied. Same thing with food, it will hopefully produce some satisfaction.”

Hot Dog topping

“Chicago style, straight up. Neon green relish, diced onions, diced tomatoes, sport peppers, pickle, mustard and celery salt.”

Food related music

“We do a song called ‘Crow Black Chicken’. We didn’t write that, we learnt that from Danny Barnes who learnt that from Ry Cooder. The lyrics talk about chicken pie. I think it might be a sexual reference, instead of food. A lot of traditional and bluegrass songs have food references in them. Theres a song called Old Plank Road. Also, Shady Grove has a lyric ‘I wish I had meat for two’. A lot of those songs also have moonshine references.”

Worst meal ever

“I’ll go recent. It’s a meal that we actually didn’t have. It was this past Fat Tuesday, we were down in the gulf shores area right by the Alabama/Florida border and we wanted to go out and bang back some oysters, Appalachia colas, have some drinks and hang out. I looked on the internet and I found this place called Shuckers on the Wharf and they had no website and I looked up the place and it looked like a little shack. We walk in and its full of frat boys who are getting shitfaced. It was me and our tour manager, Todd Zimmerman, who if I’m going out to eat for something cool and exciting, hes coming. We sit down and I immediately have these eerie sensations that we had come to the wrong place. I asked the waitress what kind of oysters they had and her response was “Well, fried, raw and baked”. We ordered a dozen oysters and she came back out with them in 35, 40 seconds. They were so old that the top had this kind of crust on them and they were so dead, they were expanded over the shell. I couldn’t believe that we were in an oyster shack where they had shucked oysters hours ago. I told the waitress “Don’t you realize that feeding someone an old oyster can kill them? Bad shellfish can put you in the hospital”. We looked at each other and we said “if we have one of these we are going to die”. We got in a cab and bailed and headed to Florbama, this guy was shucking oysters in front of us. We went from hell to heaven within 20 miles.”

Last supper

“I need to say L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Vegas. If I could sit there and go through as many courses as I could, I would die. I went to vegas four times last year, I’m in love with the place and the main reason was to eat here. I go to Spring training every year. I’m a huge Cubs fan.  Last year we had an off day and my buddy and I flew from Phoenix to Vegas, ate at L’Atelier and flew right back. We wore suits, we packed nothing, we walked up, they asked us ‘Do you have any bags?’ I had a wallet and my ticket, we were in Vegas for 12 hours. But…it was all worth it for L’Atelier.  The chicken broth with the foie gras ravioli. It’s the best, and you never know when you’ll get a Tom Jones siteing. The last two times I was in there, we were the last two people in the restaurant. He was there!”

Talking with EM

“Our manager called and said there was this website about food, would we want to talk to them? I said abso-fucking-lutely. We can talk all day.”

Jeff Austin and Friends are playing a few shows in Boulder later this month and Yonder will be playing in Amsterdam later this month also. They’ve also recently announced some of their summer tour, check the dates here. Thanks Jeff!



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12 Comments

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  1. Stella / Mar 8 2010

    You are one of my favorite foodies! Can’t wait for our NorCal meals together. Mmmmm squab, lobster and old port!
    Btw, I’ve watched them feed the ducks for foie gras and it was quick, painless and the ducks were totally unaffected by the process. I made sure to pay close attention to their reactions during feeding, and basically there were none. Hope that helps you feel not guilty about eating it. I just shared a burger with Dave and Monica that was stuffed with Veal Cheeks and topped with foie gras. Deadly!!!!! Love you.

  2. Cooking Artciles / Mar 14 2010

    You know, I gotta tell you, I truly savor this blog and the useful insight. I find it to be refreshful and very instructive. I wish there were more blogs like it. Anyhow, I felt it was about time I posted a comment on Epicurean Musician » Blog Archive » Jeff Austin, Butter Extraordinaire – I just wanted to tell you that you did a awesome job on this. Cheers mate!

  3. Brain Sphon / Mar 20 2010

    I just had to take a moment and let you know that I’ve been enjoying reading your posts over the last few months. I have a blog of my own, and would love to switch links with you if you’re interested. You can check out my blog at TV Through The Internet.

  4. I was surfing the net and just found this by accident. Pretty enjoyable, it makes me want to find out just what the rest of your site is like!

  5. Kristin / Apr 20 2010

    I love this man! I love his music and his energy, but I knew it went beyond that…. Next time you are in Orlando, my fiance and I will cook you and the whole gang an amazing meal! Blacked catfish with crawfish ettouffe? You gotta teach me about this butter thing first, though! :)
    Happy travels!

  6. shannon / Sep 9 2010

    I would love to eat a meal with Jeff and YMSB!!

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