I will admit to, on several occasions, having judged a book not quite by its cover, but by the photos it contains. This is especially true of cookbooks; I know it's bad, but those without photos are generally unlikely to end up in my literal or Amazon shopping basket. I know I'm not alone in this; quite often, it's the mouthwatering photo of a dish that catches your eye and makes you try something new. Ingredient combinations that sound weird on the page suddenly make a whole lot of sense when displayed there in photographic reality.
Love Music Love Food: The Rock Star Cookbook from Quadrille publishers takes this to an entire new level. It will have you gawking at its pages in a way probably no other recipe book ever could.
From the eye-catching cover photo of Juliette Lewis straddling a guitar and sitting in a pool of berries spreading a crimson, blood-like stain across the floor, the photography in this book is absolutely exquisite; it immediately becomes apparent that this is less of a cookbook than a coffee table tome to be savoured and treasured. Its photographer, Patrice de Villiers, has won many awards for her work, and a quick flick through the book shows you why. As Heston Blumenthal in his foreword asks, "Who else could get a pop star to pose naked in a bath of noodles?"
"If music be the food of love, does that mean that the love of music and the love of food are somehow intertwined?" the preface to Love Music Love Food asks. The book works on that premise, interviewing musicians about their food likes and dislikes, capturing them in provocative, exciting and occasionally risque poses with said foodstuffs, and accompanying each feature with a recipe (written by Sarah Muir, who cooked for bands and their crews for over 20 years) based on the musicians' revelations. It was produced in support of Teenage Cancer Trust; the artists appearing in its pages are primarily those who have supported the charity over the years.
In the afterword, Patrice discusses the story behind the project. It started with a chat with Matt Bellamy from Muse, who talked about making his own pasta. "Having just seen the band amidst twenty thousand screaming fans this seemed a little incongruous, but even rock stars have to eat. So why not find out what rocks their foodie boats and, as a food photographer who loves music, put these two things together, combining two huge passions in a collection of images?"
Over 60 musicians feature in the book; some notable names include Paul Weller, Sugababes, We Are Scientists, Tinie Tempah, Buzzcocks, Cliff Richard, Katie Melua, Noel Gallagher, Brian May, Biffy Clyro, The Kooks and Jo Wood. Each have a lot to say about food; some are rather serious, others more tongue-in-cheek, but every interview is entertaining and revealing. Sushi appears to be a common theme, with raw fish recipes ranging from sashimi to ceviche taking up a large portion of the pages. There's a gorgeous photo of Katie Melua posing with a guitar that appears to be almost entirely made out of sushi rolls. Mum's cooking seems to be another common theme, especially if it's a roast, as does quintessentially 'British' fare such as fish and chips, Heinz baked beans and sausages ("English soul food", according to Mani of the Stone Roses and Primal Scream).
Important discoveries include: "rock musicians like anything with chilli in it. America can put a man on the moon but they still can't make a decent cup of tea. Rock musicians really like sushi...And rock musicians really, really like curry". Rolf Harris confesses that he gets withdrawal symptoms if he doesn't have curry for a few days, while Rhys from Goldie Lookin' Chain apparently eats so much that "my missus says I smell like a jar of it".
West London rapper Example reveals himself to be an enormous fan of Nando's, so much so that he launched his album with a 'world tour' of London's branches of the chicken restaurant. However, his featured foodstuff is Jaffa Cakes. Why? "I feel like I've given a lot of love to Nando's. They're doing well. Jaffa Cakes are a different obsession. There's nothing that tastes like them....there's a bit of orange in there so you can tell yourself you're being healthy. It's one of your five-a-day, really".
The Kooks turn out to be gastronomes after my own heart, blaming cheap food and industrialised farming for animal cruelty, not meat-eating itself. They too are hankering after a trip to the Fat Duck, although worried that "afterwards, everything else might taste rubbish". Band member Hugh admits he is "into weird food, food that scares you". He recalls a time in Hong Kong where he ate "what is supposed to be the best part of a chicken, which is the brain - right out of the skull with chopsticks. And it was a kind of creamy, cheesy, smokey, buttery goo of loveliness, like melted foie gras. It tasted like a delicious cloud". Fortunately, the accompanying photo and recipe do not involve chicken brains; the Kooks are also big fans of lamb, and the photo depicts them sitting in a country kitchen eyeing up a large sheep standing on the table, with a recipe for Arabian lamb skewers.
On top of the exquisite photography, the book is full of interesting insights:
- "Sausages were rubbish when we had a Tory government...then Labour got in and they became great! The moral is, vote Labour if you want good sausages." (Mani from the Stone Roses and Primal Scream)
- "The sun and the grapefruit have a lot in common, don't they? The great yellow orb...there may be some cosmic resonance there. Perhaps the grapefruit is mimicking the shape of the sun which gave it life? There is so much we don't understand..." (Brian May of Queen)
- "If you're hungry enough, any meal is going to taste like manna from heaven" (Kelly Jones of Stereophonics)
- "The love of a good pie is a powerful thing" (Suggs of Madness)
- "An English Sunday roast is a special ritual all of its own" (Simon Nicol of Fairport Convention)
- "Asian breakfasts can be a bit tricky. It's a bit too textural for first thing in the morning" (Newton Faulkner)
- "Musicians are highly sensitised to things that have a lot of craftmanship in them...and cooking is one of those things" (Brian 'BT' Transeau)
One of my favourite interviews is with Noel Gallagher, who is even pickier about his Yorkshire Tea than I am ("Milk goes in last. Put your sugar in first, with the teabag, then fill it up to about an inch from the top and leave it for a good while. It's got to be the exact same colour as the Quality Streets toffees in the yellow wrapper, or it's going down the sink"). Apparently Paul Weller's tea making "leaves a lot to be desired. It's pretty watery and the colour's not right", and you can't get decent tea in America because "the whole country runs on coffee, caffeine and people talking a load of shit". The accompanying recipe is for the 'Perfect Cuppa', and is provided by Taylor's of Harrogate, who make Yorkshire tea (as I have a good deal of Yorkshire in my blood, I approve of this immensely). The accompanying photo features Noel standing next to a guitar case overflowing with Yorkshire teabags.
As Brett Anderson (of Suede) remarks, "Music, food and sex are the three most important things in life". This book often combines all three, from the beautiful shot of a naked VV Brown dripping with marmite to the picture of Siouxsie Sioux lying back, clad in thigh-high boots, on a bed of boiled eggs and beans on toast.
I love "the most Scottish and the most metal photograph ever taken", featuring Biffy Clyro stripped to the waist and brandishing swords impaled with haggis. There's Johnny Borrell embracing an enormous salmon, Brian May surrounded by spinning grapefruits designed to look like orbiting planets, White Lies dressed up as Domino's pizza delivery men accompanied by huge stacks of pizza, as well as several stylish shots of guitars and amps covered in food (wrapped in noodles, dripping with sticky fig syrup, oysters perched on top...).
In fact, this book is more about the photography than the food. The recipes are interesting, sometimes gimicky (Jaffa Cake Semifreddo, anyone?) but they're quite small and appear more as afterthoughts to the interviews and the accompanying pictures. However, if you are a really ardent fan of some of the musicians in the book, I'm sure you might be inspired to give some of the recipes a go; they range from the simple (Pie & Mash) to the rather more complex (Giant crab salad nigiri with wasabi tobiko).
Predominantly, though, this is one of those photo books designed to sit on the coffee table and attract delighted attention from visitors. Its sturdy hardback presentation and glossy pages feel incredibly luxurious as you leaf through them (I always prefer hardback cookbooks; they feel so much more durable and special); far too good to be splattered during cooking. I want to keep the pages open on display somewhere; it would be a real shame to tuck this delightful relic away on a shelf. The hard work and creativity that has gone into its pages are evident everywhere.
I'd urge you to go and get a copy of Love Music Love Food, especially in the run up to Christmas - it would make a perfect gift for anyone with even an idle inclination for music and/or gastronomy. It feels truly special, not disposable or merely functional like some cookbooks. This book exudes vibrance, glamour and style, and - in a metaphor combining the book's two selling points - is truly a feast for the eyes.