Kim Boekbinder is one half of the bewitching Vermillion Lies and is currently recording a solo album. Her voice is unique, her talent amazing. I fell in love with her music when I saw Vermillion Lies open for Amanda Palmer last year. In December, I saw her tweet, “It goes like this: I love food. Food loves me. We both get what we want. It’s been the longest, healthiest relationship of my life.” To which I replied, “I couldn’t agree more!!” and then Kim started perusing this site and wrote: “I’ve never wanted to do porn before. I think I see a new career for myself.” So I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by and I pounced for an interview!
We met for lunch at Ristorante Avanti in Santa Cruz. A long-time haunt of mine who is open for lunch on Mondays! Phew! Not many places are.
How’s this for a brilliant start to an interview….
Kim: What is your site? I can’t remember it.
But it didn’t remain that awkward, we got along brilliantly and Kim is a true foodie.
Kim: That’s so easy. Great, I’m going to tweet about it right now. Do you have a barely legal section?
Chantrelle: Yes, Barely Legal is the homebrew.
Kim: Right, my homemade absinthe could be in there.
Chantrelle: It could! But to the matter at hand, the menu…So, everything is good. The butternut squash ravioli is great.
Kim: That’s what I was thinking, I also like duck a lot, it’s like bacon with wings.
(This is my favorite quote! I have already passed it along to friends in conversation!)
Chantrelle: It’s really, really rich
Kim: That’s why I like it! That’s the key to my heart, cover it in fat.
Chantrelle: That’ll work! My husband and I were pescatarian. We just lost our taste for meat for years. One day I just woke up and thought, “Steak sounds good… that’s weird” and I had one and it was great! He still really doesn’t like a piece of meat but is really into thinly sliced pork products in everything.
Kim: I think hamburgers are my favorite thing. I’ve been vegetarian on and off my whole life. I was raised mostly vegetarian. Everyone once in a while we would eat one of the chickens that we raised. A couple of years ago I had a burger at a barbecue at somebody’s house that was from a cow that they had raised and I felt so good afterwards.
Chantrelle: I like a good steak. Tender and rare. Really rare…oddly after all those years without eating meat now make it bloody! But I have texture issues with ground beef. The taste is good but the texture not so much.
There’s a burger joint everyone raves about over on Seabright, Betty’s Burgers. It looks really cool, a kitchsy style. I don’t know though, no personal experience.
Kim: I think the only burgers I’ve had in Santa Cruz were at Saturn Cafe so they weren’t really burgers.
Chantrelle: No, that doesn’t really count.
(Our waitress arrives and Kim is still toiling between the duck and squash ravioli. The waitress mentions that the ravioli always makes her think of dessert. Kim runs with that. She orders the duck and a Caesar salad, I get the green salad with no cheese and the chicken cacciatore….and we’ll get the ravioli for dessert!)
Chantrelle: One of the very strange things about me being a foodie is that I don’t like cheese.
Kim: My life would be entirely different if I didn’t like cheese.
Chantrelle: I don’t like cheese, bell peppers, and olives. And they’re in everything. Especially Italian food.
Kim: What about butter? Do you like butter?
Chantrelle: I love butter. I just don’t like milk that’s gone bad: cheese, sour cream, I’m iffy on yogurt. It has to be integrated into dish, not just on its own. I love butter. Butter is a wonderful thing. It makes everything better. If I can’t figure out how to cook something I think, “Fry it in butter! It won’t be bad.”
Then a surprise fact arises, I knew she was a foodie but…
Kim: I used to have a restaurant. In Vancouver, B.C.
Chantrelle: Really?! What kind of restaurant was it?
Kim: It was a breakfast place. And lunch but breakfast was the really popular part.
Chantrelle: A girl after my own heart.
Kim: It was called The Cat’s Pajamas. Vancouver is a good food city. Most cities are good food cities though. I get really excited about going on tour because I start thinking about all the food I get to eat!
Chantrelle: You actually get to eat? A lot of people who go on tour don’t have time to eat between soundcheck, interviews, etc.
Kim: That’s the problem with being successful. You have to stay just unsuccessful enough to have time to eat.
Chantrelle: Enough money to live, enough time to eat. Find that balance. So, did you close the restaurant because it wasn’t financially feasible or you were just moving or what?
Kim: It wasn’t financially feasible. It was in a bad location. It was a lot of work. I was 21 and I was working 14 hours a day and I was all alone. I was in over my head.
Chantrelle: I could never run a restaurant. I love to cook, but that’s it.
Kim: It’s totally different to cook in a restaurant.
Chantrelle: I like to sleep. And I like to eat. Chefs don’t get to do either.
Kim: I look at pictures of myself then and I was so skinny. A painful, unhealthy skinny.
Chantrelle: People ask me that all the time, “Why don’t you open a restaurant?’…”No!” I did this big dinner for my in-laws at the beginning of December. It was 20 people, a 5 course, sit-down dinner. I started the prep the day before. Then got up at 8am and went to the farmer’s market and got everything going and worked all day and was about to collapse by the time everyone showed up for dinner! I can’t be on my feet for 12 hours, it’s just not in me.
Kim: Doing what you love for a living is a great way to stop loving what you do.
Chantrelle: My husband brews beer. Awesome beer. I’m ruined for commercial beer except Guinness when in Ireland. People ask why he doesn’t open a brew pub. But it’s his stress outlet. When he’s brewing, that’s all he can do. He can’t be thinking about whether or not the network is broken, it’s just beer. He has to be focused on temperature and wort.
Now, if I could get FoodPorn.com to make me money, that I could do for a living. But it’s not going to happen. At least not keeping it a site I want to have.
I told my husband that once I get this interview up, if Neil [Gaiman] twitters it, our server will come down.
Kim: You’ll have to Neil-proof your web site.
Chantrelle: When I interviewed him it brought the site down! And that was pre-twitter…7 years ago. He is infamous for breaking sites. He’s gotten so huge in the last year. It’s not like he was unknown before but he’s on everything now.
Kim: He has such a wide range of work and it seems like people are just putting together that this is all the same guy.
Chantrelle: I think my son, at age 5, is as big of a fan as I am. He’s got a Scary Trousers shirt. I love having an author…and the same with music…that we can enjoy together. And then we have a really cool kid!
Kim: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Chantrelle: I don’t know what I wanted to be. I think I changed every year. There was one year I wanted to be a prosecuting lawyer. I wanted to throw bad people in jail. I looked at Berkeley and thought that was nice. But then I decided I didn’t want to be a prosecutor because what if they were innocent?
I always liked to cook though. I use to make deals with my mom where she could go out if she took me to the store and bought me stuff so I could make my own dinner.
Chantrelle: What is your favorite comfort food?
Kim: Hamburgers. Or macaroni and cheese….or sushi.
Chantrelle: What do you put on your burgers?
Kim: Cheddar cheese. Sometimes mustard.
Chantrelle: I always piled my burgers with toppings. Avocadoes, good summer tomatoes… think I liked the condiments more than the burger!
Do you like the crap-boxed mac n cheese or real mac n cheese?
Kim: REAL mac n cheese. I’m trying to think…if I really do need comfort food…..Probably either a burger or sushi.
Chantrelle: Sushi’s a good one for me. If I’m upset it’s very cooling.
Kim: And it’s a lot of protein which I need.
Chantrelle: What’s your best childhood food memory?
Kim: (Long pause…smiling….) I think it was my first burger!
Chantrelle: I’m sensing a theme here.
Kim: Maybe it’s because we’re just talking about burgers. Like I said we were mostly vegetarian, except that we raised chickens. But there was this burger place by our house called Super Burger and they started serving free range meats. We were in rural Canada and this was long before people thought of free range meat as anything. It was all organic. And I think we were renovating our kitchen so our parents took us out to eat. We never got to eat junk food ever. We never got white bread. It was all vegetables and whole grains. It was all farm raised, organic, picking mushrooms in the woods, chopping our own firewood. It was great. Going to a fast food restaurant was huge.
Chantrelle: Of course! Forbidden fruit!
If you were forced to eat from only one region in the world, alcohol included, for the rest of your life where would you choose?
Kim: (Without even a pause) France!
Chantrelle: What in particular draws you to France?
Kim: Cheese! I did a show in the Alps. Right on the border between Switzerland and France. They just ate cheese all the time. Melted cheese fondue at every single meal. I was in heaven. They were like, “Oh my God! I’ve never seen a foreigner eat so much cheese! Do you want something else? Do you need a salad or anything?” And I was just like, “NO! I want the cheese!”
Chantrelle: That’s my problem with France. They don’t understand that I don’t want the cheese!
Kim: But there are so many other things: the bread is good, and just the quality of ingredients.
Our entrees arrive and Kim takes a picture with her iPhone and sends it off to the twitterverse.
Chantrelle: I refuse to use the word “tweet”…it’s my one and only protest to twitter. Otherwise I use it all the time!
Kim: I think it makes a big difference who you’re paying attention to. I’m sure there’s a lot of really, really stupid stuff out there. And there even is with interesting people. It’s stripped down. You can have conversations with people that you would normally never get to talk to.
Chantrelle: If you send someone a message on there you don’t feel like you’re bugging them like you would in an email. If you don’t know them, they can just ignore it and it’s ok.
I sent a twitter to Grant Achatz from Alinea in Chicago. My husband has been to Alinea twice but I haven’t been yet. I was concerned about going there because of the list of things I don’t like. It’s a molecular gastronomy place so they spend days on ingredients and there can be 27 ingredients in one dish so was worried about dishes having things I don’t like in them. So I sent a twitter off to Grant Achatz and he actually replied. He said compared to most people my restrictions are easy! Next time were in Chicago I’m going to Alinea. I wouldn’t have been able to ask him that otherwise.
We are both devouring our poultry. Kim working on her “bacon with wings”, me on my chicken. She reveals that when she likes food she wiggles her toes which is the cutest thing ever and that there is a “food song.” She never sang it, I was sad. I may have to bring her food on stage at a show sometime so I can hear it. She then takes a photo of an oddly shaped potato on her plate and sends it to twitter offering a prize to whomever can identify it. The night before the interview Kim and artist Molly Crabapple had done a webcast together and gave away an absinthe spoon.
Chantrelle: Molly is an incredible artist, oh my God! Wow!
Kim: I know, she’s fantastic. It’s so exciting. She just put so much into every single piece. She’s really dedicated and really on top of it.
Chantrelle: How did you guys hook up?
Kim: I don’t remember who wrote to who first. Either I was looking for someone who had art with girls connected by their hair, because of our song Long Red Hair. Either I found that piece and said, “Hey you’ve got a piece of art that’s like our song.” Or she wrote to us and then I found that piece. Anyway, we found each other and she said, “I would love to work for you some day.” Awesome. So we had her do the cover of our 7 inch. And now she’s doing my paper dolls.
Chantrelle: I want to be a Gorey-esque Victorian pin-up of hers! Have to save money.
Kim: Do it soon while she still reasonably priced! Forget about diamonds. Molly Crabapple portraits are forever!
Chantrelle: What do you want your last meal to be?
Kim: I want my last meal to be my penultimate meal. That’s my final answer.
Chantrelle: No way! Another way to phrase this which I was told by somebody who didn’t want to think about dying was that you’re about to be shot off to another planet, what is your last meal on Earth going to be?
Kim: I don’t mind that dying part, I just mind the not eating again part!!
Chantrelle: I’m assuming there’ll be food in the afterlife… it could be really good depending on where you end up going!
Kim: Well, if I’m going to be traveling at light speed I probably shouldn’t eat too much before I leave.
Chantrelle: Everyone comes up with their own different rules! I feel like your meal would involve cheese.
Kim: Yeah, it might involve cheese… it might be fondue. I recently had my best breakfast ever. We made duck for Christmas with a port-wine reduction. The next day I made french toast with french bread and fried up trumpet mushrooms, the duck and caramelized onions and we had the port reduction on top of that. There was no cheese in it. You would have loved it! It was so good. It was definitely the best breakfast ever. My siblings were dumbfounded.
Chantrelle. That sounds incredible….not light!
Kim: Not light at all. No. I think I ate only raw food for the next week! That could be my last meal, that was really fantastic. Or I would go to Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur because that food is amazing.
Chantrelle: I’ve never been there. I got married really near there but I’ve never been. I always wanted to stay in one of the treehouses though.
Kim: I used to work there. The best ones are the ocean houses. They’re built into the cliff, looking out at the ocean. The treehouses are really cool but they’re connected. And since they’re in trees, even though they’re connected to pillars, they still sway a little bit, which is fine when it’s the natural swaying, but not when it’s someone walking by on the walkways.
Chantrelle: Well, if I’m to spend $1200 on a room…
Kim: Go for the Ocean House.
Chantrelle: I have friends who have eaten down there but I never have. In places like that I expect people to be kind of pompous. The first thing I do is try to break that down.
Kim: The people who work there? No, no. They’re not at all, I could not have worked there. A lot of the guys that I worked with were surfers.They were professional but really, like, “heyyy.”
Chantrelle: I would love to have amazing food in a setting like a subway station. I don’t need the pomp and circumstance.
Kim: It’s fancy but it’s not overly fancy. It’s not white glove service. And you’re looking out at the ocean watching the whales go by.
Chantrelle: It’s your turn to cook dinner, what’s being served?
Kim: I really like to cook pasta. But the most recent dinner party I had I made French onion soup and then we had gnocchi with sage brown butter. Then we had poached pears for dessert. French onion soup is something I’ve been making a lot because it’s really easy and it’s really good.
(Our dessert of butternut squash raviolis arrives)
Chantrelle: That’s a lot of butter! I love that you wanted this for dessert… that is awesome. But…their Pot de Creme…it’s so good… It’s this dense chocolate….basically a ganache. I love it. I usually get it to go and eat it at home over a couple of days.
This place is consistently good. I’ve been coming here for a lot of years. They do locally sourced stuff but also a lot of wild mushrooms. They serve mushrooms that I’ve never seen any other restaurants serve, like Coccoras. they’re related to the death cap. Even after all these years when I find them I’ll say, “Yep I’m positive that’s a coccora…don’t think I’ll eat that.” But they serve them here. I got them here once and didn’t see it whole first, it just came chopped up in the pasta. I was up half the night waiting to feel symptoms of being poisoned! It’s not that I don’t trust them, it’s just my own psychosis I think. I just couldn’t help but think, “What if they were wrong.” I think I need to see the whole mushroom before I eat it.
Kim: Have you been to the fungus fair in Oakland?
Chantrelle: No. There was just one here in Santa Cruz last weekend but I haven’t been to that one in years either. We usually spend Thanksgiving, most years, at David Arora’s. I learned a lot of my mushroom hunting from him and his forays. This has been quite the chanterelle year. They seem to be nonstop everywhere.
Kim: Are they year-round?
Chantrelle: No, they’re around from about November-January depending on the weather. I don’t think there are any mushrooms around here that are year-round. They’re seasonal creatures.
Kim: My favorite mushroom is the morel. But I pretty much have to pick them myself. I’ve tried buying them or having them in restaurants but that is never the same. When I was growing up in Ontario we would go out and find them in the woods. They are so good. Maybe the best food I’ve ever eaten is a morel mushroom.
Chantrelle: Morels and asparagus such the wonderful springtime pair. They’re the first things that come up… you just know everything is coming into season after that. It was a really good morel year here because of the forest fires in Big Sur.
What do consider the sexiest food?
Chantrelle: Really? How is wasabi sexy?
Kim: Because the rush from wasabi is like having an orgasm. It’s really intense. It feels intensely private. Like maybe I shouldn’t be having this experience in public. There’s a lot of turning red and eyes watering…
Chantrelle: Maybe some back arching…
Kim: You might have to bite the person next to you. It’s probably better that we didn’t go have sushi today!
(We split the last ravioli floating in a sea of butter…)
Chantrelle: Where do you like to eat in Oakland? I don’t really know anything there.
Kim: À Côté is a little inexpensive place on College. They do smaller portions. I think the most expensive dish is, say, $15. It’s really made for sharing around the table. It’s not exactly tapas but similar. They have a changing menu. And a really nice wine list.
Chantrelle: The only place I’ve been in Oakland is an Italian place…Trattoria di Siciliana. It’s always packed on weekends. It’s crammed with tables, it’s loud and the waiters are really friendly like they’ve known you forever. The food is great. A friend of mine and I were up there to see Tori at the Paramount. We walked along College, stumbled in and have been back a couple times since. I love it…even with out cheese.
Kim: There’s plenty of Italian food without cheese. French food too.
Chantrelle: We went to France in 2000. We had the most expensive, fancy meal of our lives at L’Arpege. And then had to stay 2 extra days in Paris because my husband had food poisoning from it.
Kim: Oh god!
Chantrelle: The Parisians were really mean to me because I didn’t speak French.
(waitress comes to take away the empty ravioli plate…impressed…and we order the Pot de Creme!)
Chantrelle: We can do it!
Kim: Are we going to make it?
Chantrelle: Probably not!
(There are ceramic containers placed on shelves around the restaurant that people have taken to putting notes in, we decide to read through some…)
Kim: reads “It’s my birthday and I got Coldplay tickets and a new phone” I thought this must have been years old but it’s not…oh man! It’s from July!
There’s a lot of stuff about love in here.
Chantrelle: Well, people get intoxicated!
I left for the restroom, Kim kept dictating notes…
Kim: “Today is the day we became fresh meat in the Santa Cruz Derby Girl League.”
“Brussel sprouts love. It’s a strange fetish but one that should be definitely explored.”
“Wrap yourself around a big snack and let the games begin.”
“It must have been my evil twin…seriously.”
This one’s been rubbed off in places: “The sky’s the limit. You….kid…going.”
“Burt Reynolds is Lord Jesus Christ”
(Kim pulls out her phone to see if there are any winners of the mystery photo tweet)
Kim: People are guessing lots of things: pickle, funny looking grape, sausage…a long potato.
Chantrelle: Did you figure out what you’re going to give away?
Kim: Maybe I should have kept the potato….Here’s your prize! A rotten potato! I wish I would have brought my polaroid, I could have sent him a polaroid of the potato. What I need is a sherpa. Not a personal assistant, a sherpa. To guide me through life and carry my stuff.
Chantrelle: Isn’t that still basically a personal assistant? Just in different clothes.
Kim: I don’t really like Jasmine green tea but I love jasmine. The smell of fresh jasmine makes me really……mmm…
Chantrelle: We have pink jasmine and a datura tree in front of our house. When they’re both in bloom, some nights it’s overwhelming.
Kim: I kind of go into conniptions when I’m around fresh jasmine.
Chantrelle: Jasmine and wasabi?
Kim: Whoa…wow. I might have to try that.
Chantrelle: Eat sushi in front of a jasmine bush and your life will be complete.
Kim: I might need someone there with me to pick me up.
Chantrelle: I don’t know if you want to be alone or with someone…Maybe one of those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” necklaces.
Kim: Probably that would be the way to go. Maybe alone. Maybe recording it. Maybe I can make money off it. Recording myself eating wasabi.
Chantrelle: Not exactly the kind of food porn I do but…it was interesting to see the responses to your mention of Food porn in the webcast last night. People saying things like “sausages?”…No! People always go there!
Kim: There’s a place I want to go to in Berlin. It’s a blind restaurant…it’s completely dark.
Chantrelle: I’ve heard of that. It kind of freaks me out.
Kim: It kind of freaks me out too but I want to do it. The menus are interesting. I’d definitely have to be in the right mood. I’d have to do it. My friends went. While they were waiting in the dark they changed clothes. Which I think is interesting because I don’t think all the waiters are blind. I think some are wearing night vision goggles. I think they thought all the waiters were blind. I mean, some are blind, or sight impaired. And they snap their fingers to let each other know where they are. But some are just wearing night vision goggles and watching people change clothes!
Chantrelle: I don’t think I could do it. I think I’d flip out. I like the idea of going completely by taste, having no preconceived ideas from the look of the food.
Kim: Everything would be about the texture…if you could get over the freaking out part.
Chantrelle: I don’t know if I could do that.
Kim: Maybe at your house.
Chantrelle: But I’m the cook in my house!
Kim: Maybe when your son gets older he can blindfold you and cook for you.
Chantrelle: A LOT older! It’s funny…Since he’s been raised a foodie I go to the farmer’s market every week and every Wednesday I make ahi tartare. It got to the point where he said, “Mom, I don’t want ahi tartare again! Can’t I just have mac n cheese?” What a problem to have.
Kim: He’ll come back though.
Chantrelle: He already has. I went a month without making it and he wanted it again.
Kim: My parents raised me a really healthy, completely without junk food. So when I was on my own I had Mountain Dew every day and french fries every meal.
Chantrelle: I make sure he has access to junk food once in awhile so he doesn’t do a binge. If we’re out and about sometimes we’ll go to Quizno’s and he can have his Doritos and his crappy cookie. He still knows the good stuff. Like with hot chocolate, we get Recchiuti hot chocolate. That was the first chocolate he ever had at, like, a year and a half. He got some hot chocolate at a restaurant the other day and wouldn’t drink it! He just ate the whipped cream off the top. Success!!
Kim: I have a great photo of myself from my first birthday in the aftermath of my chocolate cake. Me sitting in my highchair naked completely covered in cake. Everything around me is smeared. Oooh, maybe my best childhood food memory is from my seventh birthday. My father made me an ice cream volcano. He carved an entire mountain out of ice cream and then poured hot fudge as the lava down the sides. There’s a picture of me looking at my ice cream volcano, my eyes are so wide!
Chantrelle: That’s brilliant!
Kim: The first time I went to New Orleans I knew it was going to be my favorite city because a friend of ours took us to this dinner that happens once a week in somebody’s backyard. It was a chef who had lost his restaurant in the hurricane. He basically spent the whole week sourcing and cooking this amazing meal. They’d set up little picnic tables. It was wonderful.
Chantrelle: Some of the best food I’ve ever had was in New Orleans. But some of the worst food I’ve ever had was in New Orleans!
Kim: They know how to eat!
Chantrelle: And drink!
Kim: The person I hung out with most in New Orleans didn’t drink. So that was probably good person to hang out with. Because everyone else I know I think is a bartender.
Chantrelle: Those are dangerous friends to have.
(Kim decides the winner of the mystery potato picture tweet will receive the label from our sparkling water bottle and one of the notes from the ceramic boxes….Won’t he be bummed?!)
We finished up lunch and managed to waddle our way back to our cars. I’ve never done a formal review of Ristoranti Avanti. This may have to do as one. I’ve eaten there so often I don’t think I could be objective, but having gone there so many times, I think that’s a good endorsement. Thank you to Kim for such a lovely, wonderful, fun lunch…I think I’ll go have some wasabi by my jasmine bush now.