Dan Bandman has been a fixture in the Columbus music scene for nearly 20 years, playing guitar in Superstar Rookie, The Handshake and Bookmobile and playing drums in 84 Nash and The Kyle Sowashes. In food circles, he is best known as the hype man/cook behind Kitchen Little, the prepared food arm of North Market Poultry & Game renowned for its hearty stews and succulent meats. We discussed food and music over one of our favorite local dishes, the corned beef hash at Best Breakfast & Sandwiches in Westerville.
Full disclosure: Dan Bandman and I are both in The Kyle Sowashes. I’m actively looking for more musician/cook/foodies who are not my bandmates to interview for this column. Hit me up with suggestions in the comments below.
CC: How did you get into cooking?
DB: I had a job at Hardee’s when I was in high school and I think that‘s the only thing I had ever done that was cooking. When we moved down here, our friend’s older brother worked at an IGA in Linworth in the deli department. He was like “I can get you a job,” so all of us – all of Richland County that lived in Columbus – worked at this IGA. It was old-school so you’d make sausage, you’d stuff it, you’d make ham salad which was the best – there’s never been a ham salad as good as that IGA’s ham salad – and wait on customers. I did that stuff but I did some of the butcher stuff too. So all of a sudden I knew a trade. It gave me the ability to get a job that paid a little bit more, working in a butcher shop. I worked at Kroger for a little while. I worked at Whole Foods because a lot of my friends ended up in the meat department there. There was no spot in the meat department so I worked the grocery for a little while, then went back to school because workaday life was getting stupid and school started to make sense.
CC: How did you end up at the North Market?
I rode my bike there one day on my day off and thought “oh man, this place is great, I should be working here.” I applied at all the meat shops in the Market. The guy with the eyebrows at the chicken shop was interested and I thought “I’d like to speak to his boss.” And it turns out he’s the boss. So they hired me and I started cutting there. They had a kitchen and I showed a propensity to cook or have an interest in food, so I started helping out more and more in the kitchen. As the counter folk left I’d move in and work the counter. When the cooks left I’d go in and work the kitchen. It was a great environment because they don’t have recipes; the one thing they insist upon is that everything is done from scratch and that the ingredients are quality. That’s something that they instilled upon me. Other than that, I could do whatever I wanted. It gave me a chance to learn and I started researching and looking through cookbooks and studying to figure out how to make things better and solve problems with ingredients. That was really fun and I really became a cook there. It was a great environment for it.
CC: You get a fair amount of recognition for what you’ve done at Kitchen Little in the past few years. Do you think you’re more recognized for your food or your music? Which would you rather be recognized for?
DB: They’re different scenes. I think I have more acquaintances through music. Food is different because foodies are like groupies. I’m not going to have as many; I mean, I’m not Ray Ray. I’m just happy to be recognized for anything, honestly. I put my all into both of those endeavors. I feel like more people know me from music, and it’s not because they’re like “oh, there’s Dan, he’s an awesome musician.” It’s because Columbus is a small scene and I’ve been in it for 20 years. I think most of the people who know me as a musician may not know that I cook. And of all the people who know that I cook, only a handful know that I play music. Not a lot of crossover. And it doesn’t seem like there would be. You could say to somebody “you like my food, I also play in a band and I have a show,” that’s a way of soiling it. Then it’s like “well, they’re not going to eat my food anymore if they don’t like (my music).” Now, I know they’re going to like my food. Food is easy to make people like as long as it has ingredients that they like. Music is a lot harder to make people like.
CC: Do you actively try to separate food and music then?
DB: I think it’s more of a subconscious thing. I never have been good about saying “come see my band.” It’s been my least favorite thing about playing music. I like to be in a band that has a mouthpiece that does that, which is one of the bonuses of being in Kyle’s band. I don’t feel like I shouldn’t do it at all, because I should be pulling my weight and I do to some small extent. With food, I think what’s made me notable at Kitchen Little is that we never had an internet presence or a social media presence and we’re kind of invisible there anyway. It was Carrie (Dan’s wife) actually who said “you should start a Facebook page or a Twitter,” so I started doing it. And I think that’s kind of how I became (known for it). People should know I’m not cooking all that food, although if I’m there I’m going to bring a level of quality hopefully to it.
CC: You’ve worked with a fair number of musicians in kitchens. Do you think there’s a crossover between musical creativity and culinary creativity?
DB: Yeah, I think probably. For me cooking scratches a similar itch that making music does. I feel like I’m being creative. There’s something primal about it but also something sophisticated. Playing music is, to me, a more cooperative endeavor. Cooking can be, certainly, but it’s not always. As a musician and also as a cook I always try to think about what works together. “What could make this better?” I’m always tasting and thinking “what can I do to change this.” And when I play music I do the same thing. “What can I do to make this more interesting? What does it need? What doesn’t it need?” The thing about being a musician is it’s easy to take something out when you’re building a song. If you’re making a dish and you’re like “I should not have put that cinnamon in there,” then there’s no going back from that.
CC: You’re kind of a notorious guitar gear head. Do you have a favorite piece of kitchen gear?
DB: The thing I can’t live without at home is my 10” Lodge cast iron skillet. At work I’m pretty much an iron skillet guy. I don’t know how to cook with anything that isn’t iron. I’m screwed when it comes to tomatoes or any kind of acidic ingredient or any kind of reductions. I can reduce in a stainless.
CC: How about a favorite piece of guitar gear?
DB: My Vox Tonebender fuzz clone. Part of that is that I was never into fuzz for 20 years of playing. When you play with fuzz, you have to learn to do things differently and it has a way of making things fresh. Also fuzz is so organic and nasty and it’s something you kind of control but don’t really. I like that it’s not going to go totally off the tracks but it’s going to kind of do what it wants and if I know it well enough I’ll know how to get it back to where I want it.
CC: Is there a kitchen technique or a food that has crept up on you lately the same way that fuzz has?
DB: The thing that I didn’t do until pretty recently, and maybe I do it now to a fault, is I try to make each ingredient that I’m going to add and find out how to make it its best. Pinpoint its essence. With veggies, I’m going to sauté them first or roast them first, I’m going to season them first, and then, of course, all the seasonings you do at the end. That’s something I didn’t think about until relatively recently, maybe the last year or two, because I was just like “you throw everything in and it all gets cooked, it all tastes good.” Not everything, but the Jewish brisket you just throw it all in a pot and it comes out great (see recipe below). Can you make it better? Maybe. Can you ruin by trying to make it better? Maybe.
CC: Who in the Columbus music and culinary scenes do you look up to?
DB: Kevin Caskey from Skillet. I can’t believe the stuff that he’s doing, and the way that he’s doing it is so not pretentious. Gourmet food scares me. I’m a blue-collar, salt of the earth cook guy. It’s not that I don’t appreciate fine food, but I don’t think that you need to dress food up and call it expensive. If you go to a gourmet restaurant, you’re paying for good ingredients done the right way by somebody who knows how these flavors go together. I don’t like the terminology or the fussiness. I mean, Refectory is delicious but I don’t like that somebody in a choker collar comes and takes my order and then somebody else in a different choker collar comes and fills my glass. I like being served, but I feel like some people think that’s the point, but I’m not one of those. Skillet is just like, casual. I mean, you have to walk through the kitchen to go to the bathroom. They have nothing to hide there. They use local ingredients, they do it right, they’re changing things all the time. That dude’s a rock star to me. Liz Lessner, what she does for Columbus, I really appreciate that. I think she’s trying to build Columbus up. Some other people might be more interested in bringing themselves up and not Columbus and I know that she seems to care about Columbus as a whole. I like this place (Best Breakfast), mostly for this dish. I don’t like everything they do, but they make their own bread, they make their own corned beef, that’s all right in my wheel house. It shows that they care. We don’t go out and eat a lot, when we do it’s not expensive. It’s food trucks.
CC: You mentioned Ray Ray’s Hog Pit before and I know you’re a fan; are there any other food trucks you’re really into?
DB: I like El Manantial Latino in the 14-0 parking lot (Hudson and Indianola). It’s Venezuelan or Colombian, I always get it confused. They make arepas which are great. Since I can’t have bread, anytime I can find something that resembles bread that isn’t bread… Los Guachos which now has its own restaurant on Godown, they make good food there. Los Potosinos (on Long street in King-Lincoln). I’m glad to see food trucks everywhere, but it’s kind of like breweries now, you know, “that’s enough, you should stop.” By the same token, if I end up being a full-time teacher, I’d probably want to have a summer truck, but I’m afraid to start my own business. I know I could do it well if I could get it going but I’m afraid to make that leap. Plus, financially I can’t do it. But if I had somebody who was going to help me and had the money I’d say “OK, let’s do it.”
CC: How about local musicians?
DB: Well, Kyle Sowash. I do appreciate what he does for Columbus. How Liz Lessner is with restaurants, that’s kind of how Kyle is about music. Lizard McGee from Earwig, he’s tried to do his own thing. Jon Chinn, who’s not in Columbus anymore, but his studio and all the music he’s ever made, I just really liked what he did. I’m sure there’s a bunch of others, but my memory’s not so good.
CC: What are your favorite tour food destinations?
DB: Katz’s Deli in New York. Salt Lick BBQ in Texas. I would say Hot Doug’s but I don’t like to kill an afternoon to get a hot dog or a sausage. The food is good but I’m in Chicago, I want to do other things. If I go to Driftwood, Texas for barbecue and I have to wait two hours then I’m just at a podunk barbecue in Texas. In Chicago, I get antsy about waiting.
CC: If a touring band was coming to Columbus, where would you send them to eat?
DB: I guess it would depend on where the show is, because you would want to go somewhere close to the show. Skillet, everybody should eat at Skillet. I know it’s a pain: Skillet’s another one where you have to wait a long time to go eat there, and there’s not many places I feel are worth that. Skillet is. When they come to the North Market and we don’t have what they want, I send them to Knead. I think Knead is pretty good. I like Barley’s in that area too. I would probably say Ray Ray’s too. That barbecue is good, man. It’s consistent, which is not easy for barbecue.
CC: Do you get a fair number of bands coming through the Market?
DB: Probably not, and if they are they’re bands that I don’t know. Steve Malkmus (of Pavement) came in. Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) came through. Normally bands playing those places (LC Pavilion) aren’t people I would recognize.
CC: Where does Dan Bandman go next, food-wise and music-wise?
DB: Musically, I’ll always be doing something, and I think that’s why I started the Japanese B-Sides. I can have a cover band, it’ll be fun, don’t have to go out of town, might actually make some money. I was tired of playing originals and having to pretend like I was going to make it. I just wanted music to be like when I was 16 and it was just goofy and fun and I didn’t have those kind of “rich and famous” aspirations. Food-wise, I don’t know. I would like to someday have my own restaurant. Carrie and I always used to talk about when we retire having a diner. I don’t know why we would wait. Of course, now that we have a kid on the way we’re going to be waiting because our time to gamble is probably behind us. We’re timid personalities somewhat when it comes to that kind of pressure. I love cooking. It fulfills something in me that other vocations or jobs won’t fill. I’ll always want to be cooking somewhere. The way I cook is not really short order cooking, it’s not really restaurant dinner service. That stuff is super stressful. My job is stressful but I don’t feel like in the same way. I’d be kind of afraid if I got a job at Skillet or Alana’s. I’ve talked to those guys about working for them and I think if I were to do it, it’d be a real transition. I’m comfortable behind a skillet but I’d be pretty anxious. I cuss a lot back there.
CC: I think most everybody does.
DB: It just feels so good.
The Kyle Sowashes will be playing at The Tree Bar (887 Chambers Rd.) on Saturday, June 22nd with The Karl Hendricks Trio (Pittsburgh, PA) and Marcy Mays (of Scrawl).
DAN’S BASIC “RABBI” BRISKET
1 4-6 lb. beef brisket (not corned beef!)
1 12 oz. bottle Heinz chili sauce
1 12 oz. can Coca-Cola (can substitute with another acidic liquid. Dan likes pinot noir.)
White onions, sliced
Layer the bottom of a roasting pan with celery and onions. Place the brisket on top of the vegetable layer, poke holes in it with a fork and pour in the bottle of chili sauce. Fill the bottle with water and pour that in the pan. Cook uncovered at 325 for one hour. Add chopped carrots and a can of Coke, then cover and cook until tender, about 30 minutes per pound. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and let rest for at least 15 minutes. Remove the vegetables, then skim the fat from the remaining pan juices. Reduce the defatted juices in a saucepan until at the consistency you desire. Trim any visible fat from the brisket and slice against the grain. Serve with the pan juice reduction. Make it once like this, then experiment.