Gastronaut: Getting the Band Back Together

You ever wonder what all these chefs did before they became chefs?

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Back in the day, when I was still cooking dinner for strangers rather than writing about it, there was a kind of running joke that went through all the kitchens I worked in. At the end of particularly long nights, the crew and I would look around and say, “Shit, for a rock band, we’re not a bad kitchen crew.”

The first half of that bon mot would change occasionally, place to place: Shit, for a web-design company … For an artists’ colony … For an architecture firm … The joke was funny because back then, almost no one came to a kitchen as a first choice. Most of us had done something before, failed at it (often spectacularly), then discovered kitchens as places of no-questions-asked reinvention.

But mostly, it was “rock band” that made the gag. I worked with a lot of former musicians. And while many, many things have changed about the kitchen lifestyle since I left it, apparently one thing hasn’t: cooking as the fallback job of aspiring musicians who couldn’t quite pay the rent solely by utilizing their skills on the theremin.

Examples? Glad you asked. You guys know Marc Vetri, right? The only reason you do is because he’s a great chef, not because of the time he spent in Los Angeles as half of the band Mild Mustard (which has to be one of the worst band names in the history of worst band names). Mitch Prensky from Supper spent years in New York City as a working musician. He was making money, but not enough money, so he supplemented by cooking here and there, until eventually he traded in his drum sticks for knives full-time.

Ben Puchowitz of Matyson and Cheu Noodle Bar went to college for audio engineering with the intent of becoming a studio tech and musician; Scott Schroeder fronted a punk band called Blind Spot back in Detroit. He tells me that’s how he ended up with all those tattoos.

Speaking of tattoos, George Sabatino’s first—a bunch of Chinese characters running down his spine—was supposed to spell “Rockstar,” because he went to college to study guitar and piano, recorded three solo albums (“All acoustic, lovemaking or pot-smoking soundtracks, basically,” he says), and played in everything from jazz groups to black metal bands. Instead, the chef’s tattoo reads “Rock Loves Boy.”

Jeremy Nolen, chef at Brauhaus Schmitz, might have held tightest to his rock-and-roll dreams. He was signed twice, as part of two different bands (one of them right out of high school). He toured. Got on the radio. The whole thing.

But eventually it all fell apart, and he, too, put on the whites. Just recently, however, he put together another band, made up mostly of food-service personnel. Puchowitz plays guitar. Guy Juravich (also from Brauhaus) plays drums. And Gregg Gordon from Johnny Brenda’s sings. The band is called Big In Munich, and as of this writing, they’ve played two gigs together without hurting themselves or anyone else, so there’s that.

Because you know what? For a kitchen crew, they aren’t a bad rock band.

First apperared in the November 2013 issue of Philadelphia magazine.