Singer/songwriter/donut namesake Jeremy Messersmith would make a fine “food is the new rock” poster child. Messersmith has been on the road for most of this year, supporting his sterling indie pop record Heart Murmurs, not only performing in rock clubs but also appearing in kitchens and living rooms around the country. Messersmith’s signature “Supper Club Tours” are a twist on the house concert, musical potlucks where food and music get equal billing.
Messersmith is a skilled vegetarian cook (“vegan curious”), a trained baker, and he does honestly have a donut named after him—a honey/gin-glazed, wasabi/coconut filled concoction on offer at Glam Doll Donuts in Minneapolis. Paste chatted with him about vegetarian restaurants, his obsession with mushrooms, and his weakness for Hot Cheetos. We were a bit skeptical about his peanut butter and jelly oatmeal (recipe below), but it has become our absolute favorite back-to-school breakfast.
Paste: You’re at a truck stop, you’re starving, and you have five minutes to assemble a meal. Please describe that meal, and how you feel about it.
Jeremy Messersmith: The truck stop scramble! Finally, the question I’ve been preparing for my whole life!
If I’m feeling healthy (or if it’s the beginning of tour) I’d go for some mixed nuts, crackers and cheese. Most truck stops these days have bananas, so I’d grab one of those too.
If it’s the end of tour and I’m about to crack up, or I’m feeling like junking out, then a bag of Hot Cheetos and a New Glarus beer would be great (assuming I’m at a truck stop in Wisconsin). I’d hate myself for eating a whole bag of Cheetos, but damn it would be delicious.
Paste: When you’re traveling, what food from home do you crave?
JM: I don’t miss one specific thing, but I do miss the process of making food. Cooking is about improvising and being creative within a framework or recipe. I think of songwriting the same way. Cooking firmly roots you in a place. It makes you think of where ingredients come from, how they got there. Cooking is a way to connect with the world and other people. It’s also one of my favorite ways to meditate.
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?
JM: I know some singers have a list of food to avoid (milk or other dairy items), but I don’t. If I eat too much though it does impact my breathing and thus my singing as well. (How’s that for a headline- “Jeremy Messersmith Eats So Much He Can’t Breathe.”)
I try not to eat spicy food before I play. The spirit is willing, but the flesh will pay for it in ways I won’t describe.
Paste: Do you have any superstitious pre-show drink rituals?
JM: I sometimes have a shot of whiskey for nerves. I mean, that’s more fun than working out deep-seeded insecurities right? Right?
Paste: What restaurant in the world do you most look forward to visiting when you’re on tour?
JM: Cafe Gratitude on Larchmont in LA is probably my most frequented restaurant when I’m on tour. It’s all vegan, mostly raw, and it’s fantastic.
The menu items have names like “I Am Graceful” and “I Am Beautiful.” When they bring the food they make eye contact and say “You Are Graceful.” It was so creepy at first, but now I love it. Hmmm. I might’ve joined a cult. I’m awaiting my ritual head shaving and white robe!
Paste: What’s your worst on-the-road food story?
JM: We played a show a few years back that had some amazing pulled pork sandwiches backstage. Most of the band partook. Then most of the band came down with food poisoning in the middle of the set. The encore was a race to the bathroom stalls. I ended up doing a “rare solo acoustic” encore that night.
Paste: What’s the best meal you’ve had lately?
JM: I’m a full time vegetarian, part time vegan (vegan curious?) and most nice restaurants in the Midwest have only one or two vegetarian items. Often they are the least inspired things on the menu. I love veggie risotto as much as the next person, but it can get old. I tend to look for vegan or vegetarian restaurants when I’m in a new town.
Candle 79 in NYC is a first-wave vegan restaurant and they blew me away with a vibrant, filling, sustainable and delicious meal. I had the Seitan Piccata and a bowl of Jerusalem Artichoke Soup. The soup was easy to replicate at home, but making seitan from scratch was much trickier than I thought it would be! I can’t wait to visit when I’m back in New York.
Paste: What’s your favorite thing to cook or bake? Do you have a specialty?
JM: The joke around the house is that I’ll make the same meal for a week, then never again. I like to learn dishes that teach me about an ingredient or a specific technique. Once I learn it, I move on.
In recent years I’ve been cooking with wild mushrooms. I forage in the woods every year looking for Oysters, Hen of the Woods, Chicken of the Woods, Morels, Hedgehogs, Lobsters and Chanterelles. The variety in texture and flavor is astounding. There are mushrooms that bleed latex, stain blue, turn to jet fuel when cooked, and mushrooms that might even save the world (see Ted Talk by Mushroom Guru Paul Stamets for more about this).
King Oyster mushrooms are a particular obsession. They have long stalks that you can slice with a peeler and dice into “noodles,” or you can cut them into a scallop shape and grill them. I like them grilled with some olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon. For a vegetarian, it’s as close to scallops as you can get. I’ve even had a few friends say they prefer them to the real deal!
Paste: Do you have recipe you can share?
JM: This is a simple breakfast that I sometimes make for my band mates on tour if we are lucky enough to have a kitchen. Andy Thompson (my producer and drummer) eats oatmeal almost every day at home and he claims this is one of the best bowls of oatmeal he’s ever had.
Peanut Butter and Jelly Oatmeal
Ingredients (serves 2)
1 cup of water
1 cup of milk or soymilk or whatever
1 cup of oatmeal
Jelly, jam or marmalade
Pinch of salt
Heat the water and milk on the stove until just boiling, then add oatmeal. Stir occasionally and add a pinch of salt. When the oatmeal is done (depends on the thickness of the oats), portion into bowls, then top with a scoop of peanut butter and jelly.
JM:This is the basic recipe, but there are so many variations! I also enjoy “Elvis Oatmeal” with peanut butter, bananas and honey, but really any fresh fruit or nuts are fantastic.