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Apr 18 / Josh

Robert Walter’s 20th Course

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We recently spoke with Robert Walter, founding member of the Greyboy Allstars and his own solo group, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress. We’ve seen him at so many music festivals over the years. Today we get a great window into his life on the road!

EM: When you were growing up, how big was food in your life?  Did you parents cook a lot?  How did you see food growing up?

Robert: Well, the big cook in my family was my grandmother, and she was from the Midwest.  So all her food was fairly bland by the standards of other parts of the nation.  But she made all sorts of comfort food, like chicken dumplings, that I will always remember.  She’d make it for my birthday every year, and she eventually taught me how to make it myself.  So all that sort of ‘homestyle’ comfort food will always have a little bit of nostalgia for me.  You know, mashed potatoes and gravy… midwestern farmland country food–there’s just something about it that I can’t help but love.  Mexican food, too, like taquerias, were a big part of my growing up.  And that’s just about a 24-hour thing here in Southern California.

When you’re on tour, do you have any certain cities that you love especially for the food?

RW: When I’m on the road I try and eat whatever is regional, depending on where we are.  Sampling the food from different places is to sample their culture.  So when I’m in Memphis I get some barbecue; if I’m in New York City I’ll definitely hit up a deli or grab a slice of pizza.  San Francisco is a great city for food, but of course New Orleans I love, since I lived there for quite a long time…

I recently spoke with Stanton Moore, who as you know is a New Orleans native, and he broke down the traditional differences between Creole and Cajun.  If you had to pick, which do you prefer?

RW: Well, that’s interesting… In my opinion most of the food in New Orleans is some combination of the two.  I’m definitely a fan of what folks down there have been doing recently, which is to take a little from both traditions.  But if I had to chose, I guess I’d say I have more of an affinity for Cajun food, which tends to be a little bit more about ingredients.

When you’re not touring, what else are you working on these days?

RW: Well, I’ve actually been working on some film projects lately.  The project we just finished is called The Heat, and was directed by Paul Feig, who did Bridesmaids, and is starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

When you’re on tour, do you bring particular foods with you?

RW: When I’m on the road I usually don’t cook.  I do try to eat healthy, though.  And I do have spots that I usually look forward to, so I’ll wait until we get to that particular city.

Any favorites on the East Coast?

RW: Well, I always try to sample new things, which is easy in New York City.  There’s just so much variety.  I do enjoy New York’s bagels and schmeer, especially smoked whitefish salad.

Where’s home for you now?  What are some favorite hometown spots you frequent?

RW: I’m just east of Los Angeles, but I’m in a real food desert out here in what we call the ‘Inland Empire’.  It’s pretty barren apart from some hamburger joints over on Rte.  66.  Once you head into Los Angeles that changes, of course, but I honestly don’t go out to eat all that much when I’m home.  I really like to cook, I find it very therapeutic.

Absolutely!  On that note, do you have a recent dish you’ve made that’s impressed you?

RW: Well last summer I was really into eating jasmine rice.  I would add turmeric and shallots and I’d top it with a combination of lime juice and fish broth, and add in any fresh herbs, like a mint-basil-cilantro.

I really try and cook seasonally, so in the fall I eat a lot of winter squashes.  I’m really into roasting vegetables right now.  And I make a lot of gumbo at home because my son loves it, and of course it reminds me of my time in New Orleans.  Plus I have an orange tree in my yard, too, and my parents bring me avocadoes usually once a month.

Any breakfast dishes you really enjoy?

RW: This breakfast dish, chilaquiles.  It’s basically fried corn tortillas with a chili or mole sauce top, and instead of pulled chicken on top I love to put a fried egg for good measure.  An awesome breakfast and a great hangover food, too.

What’s a go-to food for you when you just want to pig out?

RW: My guilty pleasure is definitely nachos.  I remember making those on the tour bus years ago, but I’ve since tried to quit all those things.  But sometimes, man, nachos just hit the spot!

What about a particular stand-out for the worst meal you can remember?

RW: Years ago, when I first started touring… this was at a place near Chicago I remember, a Steak ‘n’ Shake I believe.  We were pretty desperate and hungry at the time, so the whole band ate there, but unfortunately we all got pretty sick soon thereafter.  I definitely remember that night, it’s hard to forget when your drummer is throwing up during the gig.  But to his credit, he played great!

Alright, how about some rapid fire questions…

To start: coffee or tea?

RW: Definitely coffee.

Favorite dessert?

RW: Although I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I’d have to say that the salted banana tart from Herbsaint in New Orleans is one of my all-time favorites.

Beer or wine?

RW: I don’t really drink beer, other than on a hot day at a music fest sometimes, and it’s gotta be in a plastic cup and it’s gotta be cheap and crappy–part of the experience, you know?  I don’t really enjoy the real hoppy micro-brews… They’re just not my palette.

On that note, are there any particular music festivals that you really enjoy?

RW: Well, in terms of food, the best festival in my opinion is JazzFest in New Orleans.  That festival has a great number of things that you just have to try.  Most people love the crawfish monica, but I myself really love the cochon de lait po’ boy.  Every year you try and sample one new thing, and half the time that becomes something you just have to eat again the next year.  So now it takes me a couple of days of Jazzfest to hit all my spots.  At this point I almost don’t even go for the music anymore!

As far as music festivals, though, I’ve been doing JamCruise every year, for many years, and that experience is just incredible.  And I love Bear Creek Festival, down in Florida.

Robert Walter’s 20th Congress has an album coming out on June 25th, and the Greyboy Allstars released a new record, Inland Emperor, earlier this week! You should listen to samples and buy it here!

Thanks to Aaron for conducting another killer interview with another killer musician.

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