Snacky Tunes podcast creators turn their mix of music and food culture into a new book
The collection of food-related back stories of more than 80 chefs includes half women and people of color.
Growing up in Bala Cynwyd and coming of age as DJs during the ’90s punk explosion that continued into the early ’00s, twin brothers Darin and Greg Bresnitz, now 38, have long understood a creative bond between food and music.
It started at home, where their mother, Gloria, cooked lavish meals and their father, Eddy, spun pop and rock records. They further felt the connection over Peking duck at Sang Kee in Chinatown, followed by the Pretenders at the Tower, or late nights at the First Unitarian Church, capped by middle-of-the-night breakfasts at the Llanerch Diner.
In the mid-aughts, the Bresnitzes launched the cooking-music TV show Dinner With the Band with chef Sam Mason, and in 2009 started the weekly Snacky Tunes podcast on Heritage Radio Network, which hosts mainly food-related shows from a studio set up in shipping containers in the back of Roberta’s, a Brooklyn pizzeria.)
The first half of each hour-long Snacky Tunes show is dedicated to a food guest, and the second half is an interview and live performance from a musician or band. After 400 episodes, through which they’ve spoken to thousands of musicians, chefs, and combinations thereof, the Bresnitzes and producer Khuong Phan have written a book.
Snacky Tunes: Music is the Main Ingredient, Chefs and Their Music (Phaidon Press) is a collection of food- and music-related backstories of more than 80 chefs, more than half of whom are women and people of color, from all over the world. “Sharing food and music connects people, not just to a larger community, but also to their truest selves,” the Bresnitzes write.
Each chef tells a story, provides a playlist (now on Spotify), and shares a recipe.
The Bresnitzes spoke with such creatives as Michael Fojtasek, a 2020 James Beard finalist for Olamaie in Austin, Texas (who shares chef Ashley Christensen’s tomato pie recipe); Pooja Dhingra, founder of the patisserie chain Le15 in Mumbai (who bakes cupcakes while listening to Frank Sinatra); Selassie Atadika of Midunu in Ghana (who shares a recipe for mushroom with wrewre sauce and describes two styles of music she listens to with staff); and Alex Atala of D.O.M. in Sao Paulo, Brazil (who grooves to Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” while offering scallops, cashew, and marrow with rôti).
Among the chefs included who are from closer to home is Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri, also an accomplished guitarist. Phan, who worked in public relations, knew him and asked him to contribute a story. “One of our early holy grails was, ‘Can we get a really big chef who also was a good musician?’ said Greg Bresnitz. “And Marc said yes.”
Vetri’s story for the book is deeply personal. “Up until 11th grade, I was a loner,” Vetri said. “High school was just survival for me. When I got home from school, I was like the Spinal Tap guy — turn the amp up to 11 and just blast Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water.’ You could hear it for blocks. My guitar was my friend. I played with some people, but I was too shy to be in a band and play out in public. In 11th grade, however, I started to be more open about it.”
Vetri’s bluesy playlist includes “The Lemon Song” by Led Zeppelin, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (the live version) by Stevie Ray Vaughan, and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. His recipe is a simple strip steak, which his wife, Megan, loves.
I chatted with the Bresnitzes via Zoom.
What made the creation of ‘Snacky Tunes’ possible?
Darin Bresnitz: We’ve definitely been able to see the rise of food and pop culture over the years, and [we saw] the food world progressing to the [point] that we could start doing events and having more interaction. We were doing a thing called the barbecue blowout in Brooklyn, where we would bring in high-end chefs. ... And they would do four-star, $10 plates of barbecue, grilled food in the back of a dive bar in Brooklyn, and so we were taking that sort of same DIY punk rock ethos that we grew up with, going to shows like Stalag 13 [in West Philadelphia] or the First Unitarian Church [near Rittenhouse Square] down in Philly and then applying that to food events.
We were using the radio show as a way to expand the world and say, ‘Sure, we’ll have these big chefs on,’ but here’s this new generation — the Roberta’s guys and everyone else who is coming out of Williamsburg and Bushwick at the time and saying, ‘We like bands. We also like chefs. They have a similar ethos.’ [Take for example] Brooks Headley, who used to be a punk rock drummer who was working at Del Posto and then opened up Superiority Burger as a vegan burger place.
How has the show evolved?
Darin Bresnitz: It still has that DIY spirit. It used to feel a little bit more radical and now feels like a little bit more like we get to be a part of the conversation because it’s so widely accepted.
Which of your interview subjects impressed you the most?
Greg Bresnitz: We are so humbled by the generosity that we have from all the chefs in the book. A lot of these people were strangers. We knew some of them beforehand, but a lot of them were cold emails. And we realized that while many of them have had media training and [have] talking points when talking about their restaurants and their dishes and the concepts, most of them have never really had an in-depth interview about music and how it shaped them.
We just cut through all the fat. Everyone got the same questions and then we just let them talk. ... And what we got were open, honest, and raw conversations.
I understand you two used to shuttle between Philly and New York a lot. Tell me an example of what made you come back.
Greg Bresnitz: We’ve known [producer/DJ] Dave Pianka, aka Dave P, for a million years. We used to sneak into his parties when we were underage and have had the wonderful fortune of becoming friends with him. I remember him texting us [in 2010], ‘If you guys can get here in the next 24 hours, I’ve got tickets set aside for you for the LCD Soundsystem [show at the Navy Yard]. Before we hung up the phone, we were already running over to the train station and came down. That was probably one of the most magical shows ever and such an incredible setting.
Darin Bresnitz: I will take it back to our childhood a little bit, because that’s really where the whole food and music thing really happened. I can’t state it enough that growing up on the edge of Philadelphia was such a huge inspiration for us, for both food and music.
You know, the music has always been the Philadelphia sound and the underground punk scene being so close. We would walk from our house to the Merion train station, take the train down, go to the Troc, see someone like Public Assembly or Bouncing Souls. And then we’d go to Chinatown or we’d go down, we’d go to Lorenzo’s on South Street. So, like, just having that access. So even though we were in the suburbs, being able to have a taste of that food and music and then coming back home. ... There’s such a huge world out there, you know?
What was your takeaway?
Darin Bresnitz: I thought I knew music. And then I did this book and I was like, “I don’t know anything. I know like four bands compared to everyone that we’ve dug into for this book.”