San Francisco singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet knows what he’s talking about when he advises, philosophically, “Eat when you can, sleep when you can, and always be prepared to go on.” After thirty years of making records and touring heavily, he’s a master of on-the-road protocol, a seasoned expert on the virtues of a disco nap followed by a double espresso, and a weary critic of the dreaded “band menu.”
Prophet just wrapped up a lengthy fall tour of Europe and the US in support of his thirteenth solo album, the irreverent, guitar-driven Night Surfer (with Peter Buck sharing the driving duties). Paste connected with him over email about Mexican food in England, chorizo and chickpeas in Spain (check out his recipe, below), and a terrible epidemic he calls “gig-a-toni.”
Paste: When you’re traveling, what food from home do you crave?
Chuck Prophet: Mexican food. We’re in the middle of a six-week European tour at the moment. And there’s no Mexican food in sight.
Oh sure, I’ve tried to get Mexican food in Britain. They try but… they just don’t get it. Maybe they don’t have cilantro in that part of the world. Curry is not the answer.
Paste: Is there anything special you like to eat before you play a show? Or anything you definitely do not like to eat before you play?
CP: I suppose you shouldn’t eat a big meal before you go on. But sometimes, what can you do? You gotta eat when you can. I’ve adapted—or evolved—over the years. I can sleep sitting up and drink lying down and I rarely wear anything I’m not prepared to go on stage wearing. Eat when you can, sleep when you can, and always be prepared to go on. That’s what I say.
Paste: Do you have any superstitious pre-show drink rituals?
CP: I don’t think so. But if I fall into a disco nap before the show, sometimes a double espresso might give me the bump I need to get up there and essentially jump around and yell for two hours. Which is one way to describe what I do on stage.
Paste: Can you tell me about a meal or a particular food that you were supposed to like but didn’t?
CP: Actually, that rarely happens. How about the other way around? At Mission Chinese, a pop-up kitchen in San Francisco, a chef reimagined the McDonalds menu one item at a time. It was pretty epic. They even had that yellow wax paper. The McRib sandwich was just beyond. I am not messing with you.
Paste: What restaurant in the world do you most look forward to visiting when you’re on tour?
CP: When we used to stay at the Columbia Hotel in London, I always took the band out to Khan’s for a celebratory meal. Khan’s is a legendary Indian food joint. It’s the same place my old band Green on Red was taken back in the ‘80s. It’s probably the first place I ever had proper Indian food.
Also, I’ve been to Mexico City a few times now, and there are secret places there. Let’s just say there’s a lot of competition for tacos there. And so it gets next level pretty fast.
Paste: What’s your worst on-the-road food story?
CP: This isn’t any one story. It’s more of a recurring problem. An epidemic, if you will. There’s a dish we not so affectionately refer to as “gig-a-toni.” It’s a dish often found on the “band menu.” The band menu is the menu you’re given with four or so items. Often on the band menu you’ll find a jacket potato or pasta.
If the gig has a restaurant as part of their business, it’s sad when there’s a kind of kids’ table band menu. More often than not, you’ll find gig-a-toni on the menu. It’s basically a jar of sugary supermarket tomato sauce over some undercooked noodles. There’s one club in DC that takes it a step further and opens a can of black olives and pours them over it.
Paste: What’s the best meal you’ve had lately?
CP: We played a show in Basque Country last August at Mugoritz, a Michelin 2-star restaurant. We were a little confused when the show was at 8 p.m. but they wanted us to be there at 2 p.m. so they could feed us lunch. Turns out it was a 20-some course lunch. The kind of meal that novels are written about. We were taken back to the kitchen to meet the chef and—I kid you not—it was like meeting the pope or Bob Dylan. My wife can back me up on this, but I actually cried.
Paste: What’s your favorite thing to cook? Do you have a specialty?
CP: I like quick and easy. But, you know, someday I’m hoping to perfect the chorizo/chickpea/ sherry/garlic dish that they seem to crank out so effortlessly in Spain. I make a variation of it at home.
Here’s how I do it:
Chuck Prophet’s Chorizo/Chickpea/Sherry/Garlic Dish
1 can chickpeas (don’t drain)
Garlic, minced—as chunky as you dare
Spanish Chorizo, chopped into bits
Directions: Empty can of chickpeas and liquid into a saucepan. Add sherry, olive oil, garlic, paprika, and chorizo. Heat through and serve with a baguette.
Freda Love Smith is a writer, drummer, and lecturer living in Evanston, Illinois. She was a founding member and drummer of The Blake Babies, and has since played with Antenna, The Mysteries of Life, Gentleman Caller and Some Girls.
She writes about food on her blog, lovesmiths.blogspot.com.
Follow her on twitter: @fredalovesmith