Fame Bites -- Jeff Austin of the Yonder Mountain String Band
Fame Bites goes inside the belly of the entertainment beast. We're dishing out where the celebrities are eating, what they're eating and who they're eating with.
Though he lives in Colorado now, Jeff Austin will always call Chicago home, and that, perhaps, is a rather unlikely place to spawn a professional mandolin player. On the other hand, the Windy City is ripe for churning out foodies, and if you follow Jeff on Twitter, you'll know that food is one of his favorite topics.
Most people, however, simply know him as one-fourth of the Nederland, Colorado-based Yonder Mountain String Band with which he tirelessly tours to audiences around the world.
When the progressive bluegrass band rolled through Atlanta on their current Cabin Fever Tour, CNN joined Jeff for dinner at Rathbun Steak where we managed to order probably enough food to heartily feed everyone in attendance at their sold out show at The Tabernacle. Alas, nothing was left but bones...
You chose dinner tonight. Why Kevin Rathbun Steak?
My before-show meal 99 percent of the time is steak and a pile of greens. It was recommended to me extremely highly by somebody I trust 1000 percent with a restaurant recommendation.
Explain -- if you can -- just what the hell we ate tonight.
It was an array of food porn, including jalapeño creamed corn, smoky braised greens and lobster fritters. We had steak for three and steak for two. There's four of us -- it's completely logical. And they were gone. There's nothing left. I actually picked up the bone at one point and was chewing on it.
How do you like your steak?
Medium rare for the cuts that they're serving here, which were absolutely butter-meat. I think to go further than that would be a little disrespectful to the animal and to the process.
Do you have any food rituals before you go on stage?
I keep it to a protein and a green. Every now and then a little shot of some silver tequila. Eating before a show is so important because it sets the tone for the entire experience. I don't stand still on stage - I jump around like a friggin' pogo stick. I need something to burn off. Like tonight, I'm jacked.
What are your special requests for catering backstage?
I usually take a buy-out so I can go get dinner by myself. I have a list going on about five, six years on my phone of restaurants. So if we go somewhere our tour manager every now and then will go, "What do you got?"
Where did you develop your culinary interests?
Growing up it was just my mom and I, so I was kind of a latchkey kid. I was allowed as much PBS as possible, so I was fascinated with Julia Child, The Frugal Gourmet (Jeff Smith), Martin Yan - he's like an Elvis to me. If I could ever meet him I would flip because that was the beginning of my fascination with Asian food. He was so entertaining and charismatic.
We also lived in a homeless shelter; I lived in St. Sylvester's Catholic Charity Shelter in Chicago. My mom was working four jobs and places were still too expensive to live. It really made me appreciate food in a big way. I ate from the city pantry very often. You know, you go down to the Rolling Meadows pantry and you walk in and you show your Catholic charity's "we're poor" card and they give you your bag and you fill it up and that's your food. That's why now when somebody asks, "Would you like more truffle butter?" I not only say yes, but I genuinely understand what it means to be without.What's the best meal you can remember from being on the road?
Best meal of my entire life -- sorry Mom, sorry everybody -- was at Le Chemin des Eaux in Chomelix, France, seven years ago. Lunch. Lasted for three hours - the most magical and amazing experience. We were doing the Rendezvous Festival in Haute-Loire -- it was the whole band, the whole crew. There was this cold red wine in thick green bottles. "This wine is fantastic. Where is it from?" And he points down the street and up the hill. "Oh, these eggs are incredible. Where are they from?" And he said, "Oh, if you listen you'll hear them in the back of the restaurant." We watched them walk across and pick the greens to put into our salad. The best meal I've ever had in my life. Hands down.
What are your guilty pleasures on the bus?
I'm a gummy bear freak. There's a place called the Candy Shoppe -- Concourse B, Denver International Airport -- they have these little gummy strawberries. They suck me in and I can't help it. That, and little tiny microwavable soup cups, because sometimes when you wake up and you just feel like crap -- three and a half minute later (smiles). It's so processed. It's so over-salted. But sometimes, you just need it. As far as fast food -- I'd rather not eat. I'll grab an extra ground lamb and peas and stash it in the fridge for those times when you pull off and there's nothing. And people are looking at you going, "Where did you get that?" "Oh, you mean these ribs? From the little smokehouse in Lexington? I got my tricks."
When the tour ends do you cook at home?
I cook pretty much every day when I'm at home. God, I love doing fried chicken. God, I love doing ribs. I love doing steak night for myself at the house. I have a salad dressing I'm pretty proud of. I make my own pasta. I make my own butter. I make my own ketchup and mayonnaise and all that stuff.
You live in Colorado, but are from Chicago originally. What do you miss from home?
The diversity. I'm very blessed to live where I live -- I love the silence and the peace -- but I miss turning the corner and hitting a killer Korean restaurant. I miss walking down the street to my fishmonger. That kind of stuff almost wants to drive me to go back to Chicago.
Do you have any food addictions?
Chips and Dean's French onion dip. Can't do without them. It's just a childhood thing. Chips and dip -- it's so good. When I have had a couple of long, long weeks on the road and I get out of the bus on a day off and I crawl right into the hotel room, the first thing I do is find out where the best Chinese place is in town and I order a bag of food that I eat for the entire day.Have you tried to give up any foods?Fried foods. I've lost thirty pounds over the last year. It's the hardest thing giving up fried foods. We were in Nashville last night -- you finish the show and there's a table full of Prince's Hot Chicken Shack. Yeah ... I had some.
What's the strangest thing you've ever put in your mouth? Food.
Fish head soup with eyeballs in San Francisco. I thought, "I'm here. Let's do it." My palate as far as texture has really grown up. Marrow is one of my favorite things in the world. Anything involved with the face or the head. Head cheese. Cheeks. Jowls.
Do you have a simple recipe you can share.
For steak night for one or two: Rub for your steak with equal parts: Fresh cracked black pepper, smoked Hungarian paprika and smoked kosher salt.
I know these may sound like fancy ingredients from a fancy place, but, you can get these from pretty much any general grocery store or organic market. I recommend a ribeye cut - dry-aged - however, a basic grocery store cut ribeye will work perfectly.
Rub whatever cut you have with intention with the steak rub and let it come to almost room temperature on your kitchen counter - almost 45 minutes or so.
I know it may seem like a long time but allowing your meat to warm up for a while will stop it from overcooking; the less temperature stress on your steak, the better.
Grill your 1-inch to 1-1/2-inch steak at the highest heat possible on your grill for a total of 7-8 minutes - 4 minutes max per side. Time is your friend. Remember, your beef will continue to cook while it rests so don't overdo it, OK?
Once you are done grilling, try this salad dressing alongside your steak:
Pinch of tarragon
Pinch of kosher salt
Dash of smoked paprika
One or two shots of hot sauce - Frank's, Crystal, any good cayenne sauce
Two shots of Worcestershire sauce
3-4 grinds fresh black pepper
1 tsp agave syrup
1 1/2 Tbsps apple cider vinegar
4-5 Tbsps olive oil
Combine in a shallow bowl and whisk until combined. Best if tossed with watercress or baby arugula.
Allow steak to rest for 10-15 minutes. Serve salad alongside for the perfect pre-show meal or a great steak night for two.
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