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Cooking With Steve Albini

You can take a stairway to heaven.

Or a stair master to heaven.

Chicago rock musician-engineer Steve Albini recommends the “Jimmy Page Diet” on his popular blog mariobatalivoice.blogspot.com. The diet prohibits wheat and mushrooms. No sugar tonight, as the Guess Who once sang. Albini loves pasta but when he is on the “Jimmy Page Diet” he substitutes risotto for pasta.

“Heather’s (his wife) on the Jimmy Page Diet at the moment,” Albini told me a couple weeks ago over some mighty fine orecchetite he prepared in the kitchen of his Chicago studio. “Almost everything I’m cooking is ‘Page Compliant.’ Heather came to visit me in England when I was working on the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant record (1998’s “Walking into Clarksdale”.) She complained she put on weight while I was out of town because I wasn’t cooking for her. Jimmy Page volunteered that he knew a great weight loss diet………”

…Heather Whinna is general manager at the popular Second City theater in Chicago.

Second City actors such as John Belushi, John Candy and Chris Farley hit the big time by being fat.

Whinna went on the “Jimmy Page Diet” and lost a bunch of weight.

“It boils down to nothing fermented unless also distilled,” Albini

explained. “No gluten. No beans, nuts or poultry. No citrus. Its

basically a low-carbohydrate diet that has specific restrictions on

what fruits you can eat. I don’t know where it comes from, if it is

related to a religious diet of some kind or if a doctor came up with

it. But she lost weight very easily. For the next few weeks everything

on the blog will probably be Page Compliant, or J.P.

” I don’t know if Jimmy Page minds his name being use in that fashion and I haven’t asked. I’ll presume it’s okay.”

Albini, who turns 49 on July 22, was reared in rural Montana. His

father Frank was a research scientist for the Northern Forest Fire

Laboratory in Missoula, Mont. his mother Jeana Louise Maritenelli was a

homemaker. Their parents were from Northern Italy.

“I learned to cook from my Mom,” Albini said. “Most of what I ate

growing up was Italian cooking. We were pretty much together every

night. I have one brother and one sister. My father was an expert

hunter so we ate a lot of wild game when I was growing up in Montana.

That helped broaden my pallate generally, but I know it informed my

distaste for factory farms and unspectacular commercial meat. When I’m

in a restaurant I don’t eat red meat. It doesn’t taste like anything.

But if a friend of mine is grilling stuff at his house, its almost

always great.”

Albini said he built his north side studio with a kitchen so bands

could make their own food as opposed to ordering out. I told Albini how

Mavis Staples said that during her sessions last year at the Wilco

studio, several blocks north of Albini’s digs,

producer Jeff Tweedy catered

lasagna, macaroni and cheese and salads for Staples, her sister and

their band. Mavis said no one had ever done that in her

50-year-recording career.

“If somebody is going to be in the studio for a week or more, its

important for them to feel at home or comfortable,” Albini said,

“Little things like being able to have what you normally have for

breakfast doesn’t sound like a big deal but it matters.”

The studio living room adjacent to the kitchen is filled with DVDs and

VHS tapes, usually for band members to watch during down time. Albini

doesn’t have any favorite food films, but he has studied instructional

cooking videos of acclaimed French chef Jacques Pepin. “It’s really

amazing,” Albini said. “He goes through a bunch of basic kitchen

techniques and shows you how to execute them so they’re not

mysterious. My friend Tim Midgett from Bottomless Pit (formerly bassist for Silkworm) is a fantastic barbecue chef. He likes Jacques Pepin. He

proposed there should be a television program of nothing but Jacques

Pepin cutting vegetables for an hour. He is so good with his hands. He

looks so effortless. I would have loved to apprentice under Jacques

Pepin when he was a working chef.

“I’ve studied that video like the Zapruder film.”

I love food, music and travel all for the same reason. They speak to my

sense of adventure. One night I have Southern reconstruction chicken

and greens, another night I will have Thai. One night I will listen to

Curtis Mayfield, another night I will listen to Merle Haggard. Life is

short. Why worry about barriers?

Albini has recorded rockers PJ Harvey, the Pixies and Nirvana.

Visitors to his studio are met with a poster of bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley.

“With music a lot of people are not comfortable listening to stuff they

don’t understand,” Albini said between bites of orecchiette. “Then

there’s a celebration of discovering new food. In any given period

there’s a whiff of exotica about certain food that makes it trendy.

Sometimes that translates to music, but not often. Hmn,” he said

looking at his lunch. “This came out all right. I’m okay with it.

Probably should have trimmed the routini a little bit. They’re a little

long.”

Actually, I often have knife envy. I don’t think I have enough cool chef’s knives.

“You really only need one knife,” Albini said, wielding a nine-inch

chef’s knife with a black handle. “If you have one good chef’s knive,

you’re all right. The vast majority of things I cook I use one knife.

This was a wedding gift from an old friend of mine. If you talk to

anybody who cooks, the majority of what they do they do with very

simple tools.”