Cooking

Gods of Grunge in the Kitchen

Why do so many chefs love Pearl Jam? They explain.
Pearl Jam Playlist
Illustration: Kim Graziano/Tasting Table

June is Music + Food Month on Tasting Table.

In 1990, the Seattle-based alums of dissolved band Mother Love Bone picked Eddie Vedder, a surf-loving gas station attendant with a powerfully husky voice, to be the lead singer of their new band, Pearl Jam. A year later they unveiled the album Ten, and the grunge movement was irrevocably transformed for the better.

"I was on board as soon as I heard 'Alive,'" remembers Victor Albisu, the chef/owner of Del Campo in Washington, D.C., and Taco Bamba Taqueria in Falls Church, Virginia. As a teenager, Albisu was in a hard rock-heavy metal band fueled by a steady stream of Guns N' Roses and AC/DC, but "Pearl Jam changed what I wanted out of music," he says (get his playlist). He credits them with opening his eyes to a wider range of musicians, from Tom Petty to Soundgarden. "Pearl Jam's music connects like-minded people, which is just one of the reasons I think they're one of the greatest American rock bands ever."

Eric Korsh, executive chef of New York's North End Grill, plays a mental connect the dots between Pearl Jam's debut album with his own start in the restaurant business. "I distinctly remember listening to Ten as I washed dishes in the basement of Bonbori Japanese Restaurant on Long Island. Listening to that album now brings me right back," he says.

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Likewise, Marc Forgione, of his eponymously named New York restaurant, says hearing "Porch" for the first time "literally shook me to the bone. As a rebellious 12-year-old, it was like a calling to all to get up and live: Jump off something; break something; shout as loud as you can; get a guitar; start a band. It was like waking up."

The synergy between Pearl Jam and a life in the kitchen is undoubtedly robust. There's a raw candor, cynicism and angst infiltrating the band's lyrics that many a passionate, perfection-chasing chef is drawn to. "The evolution of the band through an era of music that could have consumed them—but only made them stronger—is similar to the ever-changing dining scene. The honesty of their work and art makes it relative to what we do," Albisu explains.

Charlie McKenna, chef/owner of Lillie's Q in Chicago, is another fervent Pearl Jam fan. "They stood for rebellion, thinking for yourself and doing what you love to do; not always following the path that's of least resistance or that's expected by society," he says. "Chefs are free thinkers and relate to going out on your own and doing something you believe in. It wasn't too long ago that being a chef wasn't considered all that glamorous."

Because "chefs tend to be hardworking and in constant need of inspiration and energy," Korsh finds the push-pull of Pearl Jam's music especially appealing. "The slower songs can be heartbreaking, and the faster songs have killer momentum and force," he says.

A chef's love for Pearl Jam, however, may just boil down to the Ticketmaster-boycotting band's affinity to "tell it like it is and do it their own way, no matter what some haters might say," Forgione says. "Chefs have to do the same on a nightly basis."

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