“Smoothies, What the Fuck”: Steve Albini on Cooking, Celebrity Chefs, and Why Foodie Culture Sucks

Of all the searing appraisals attributed to Steve Albini — musician (Shellac, Big Black), recording engineer (Nirvana, The Breeders, PJ Harvey, the list goes on forever), owner of Chicago’s Electrical Audio studio, thrower of truth bombs, notoriously fair dude — the one that sticks with me the most comes from the least likely source: his 2012 interview with Bon Appétit. “I hate [the word] foodie because it’s cute, like pretty much all diminutives associated with eating,” he told the magazine. “Veggies, sammies, parm. I eat food, and I cook it: it’s for eating, preferably with friends, and I don’t make a fetish out of it.”

By now, Albini’s love of food is well known, even among the non-rock set. For a few years running (2011 to 2013), he detailed the elaborate meals he makes for his wife, Heather Whinna, in a blog called Mario Batali Voice. Last fall, he led his first cooking class at Pop Montreal; according to Stereogum’s report on the event, the sous chefs who participated in the demonstration referred to Albini as “a natural in the kitchen who spoke with rare clarity and enthusiasm about the food he was making.” He may be the first famous person to big-up both the Jesus Lizard and Jacques Pepin, though lord knows Rachael Ray tries to cop a little of Albini’s style every year at SXSW.

I may have purchased (and subsequently fallen in love with) a beef dry rub from Silkworm bassist Tim Midyett based on Albini’s constant recommendations, but given his philosophical and political considerations of other subjects he knows quite a bit about, I wanted to hear what Albini had to say about the culture of food as it intersects with music. At the time I was reporting this story on how festival and foodie cultures have used each other to gain cultural footholds in the last decade, but Albini being the man of many roles that he is, it took a few months to hear back. It was worth the wait just to hear Albini rage against smoothies: “Unless your jaw is wired shut, just eat.” Read on for the rest of Albini’s brief but salient points on food.

Flavorwire: How and when did you start cooking?

Steve Albini: When I started living on my own after I moved away to college, I could either learn to cook or eat bad food. I decided to learn to cook. It was a long process.

Your blog, Mario Batali Voice, made it clear that your cooking is a function of this practicality — but clearly personal enjoyment too, as your passion for food shines through. Would you ever have an interest in doing something culinary in a professional capacity, rather than a hobby?

I could do a badass cooking show on TV. Mainly because I have interesting friends, and I’d just make dinner for them and we’d talk about how awesome they are.

You disdain for the term “foodie” is well documented. Is it the cutesiness of the word itself that bothers you, or the smugness it represents?

It distinguishes the foodie as special because he eats well, and that’s a shitty metric. Rich people eat better than poor people. People of leisure eat better than working people. People with the luxury of choice eat better than people who subsist. People who don’t have health or ethical concerns about food can eat better than people with disease or conscience.

But the cute aspect being tied by association with that waste and class makes it particularly repellent.

I’ve heard some people, including writers for The Washington Post and The New York Times, suggest that food culture functions in a way that music culture used to, that chefs are the “new rock stars.” That feels reductive at best to me, but I’d be curious to hear what you make of this kind of talk.

To the degree chefs cultivate celebrity, they cease to function as cooks. Look at the way Mario Batali got TV-famous and quit cooking, but has recently retreated from constant TV exposure and increased his productivity and general cooking influence. There [is] even an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show where they made him work as a line cook and he could barely cover his orders. That’s in contrast to the way musicians who tour and record all the time are at the top of their game and working deep into their fundamental skill set.

I’ve spoken to some researchers about the connection between food and music on a sensory level. Do you experience them at all, personally?

Not really, although I think a general aesthetic sensitivity is makes it easier to appreciate good taste in food.

Anything else to add on foodstuffs?

Smoothies, what the fuck. Just eat. Unless your jaw is wired shut, just eat. Smoothies, fuck.