Indie rock band Braids are kind of local heroes in Calgary, the city that Julie and I both live in. The band relocated to Montreal a number of years ago, but with their tremendous success and their delicate sound, led by singer Raphaelle Standell’s beautiful voice. Braids’ new album Deep in the Iris was released yesterday and the band just started a huge tour that will take them to Europe and then through North America over the next few months. We caught up with the band’s resident foodie Austin Tufts (though to be fair, it sounds like ALL of the members of this band are pretty into food) to talk about eating in Montreal and making the perfect red sauce.
Rolling Spoon: Are you more of a cook or an appreciator of food?
Austin Tufts: Definitely both. I’m from a family where eating was always a top priority. My mom’s saying was “It’s all about the food,” always. She worked and managed Community Natural Foods and Planet Organic for years. So we always had lots of amazing produce in the house. So I grew up in a food-oriented family and that sparked my appreciation for it. So I love cooking eating and sharing food around the dinner table with my friends.
What do you like to cook?
When I’m cooking for someone for the first time, I usually roast a chicken. I have a really nice dutch oven and I like to do Thomas Keller’s simple roast chicken in the oven with vegetables and onions around it. His cream corn recipe is really good and I’ll do that on the side with kale and garlic and lemon juice. It takes and hour and 15 minutes all in and everyone really loves it. And it also breaks the ice because you get to carve the chicken at the table and everyone gets to be part of this festive environment.
So, it must have been exciting to move from Calgary to Montreal. Calgary has a great food scene but Montreal is considered one of the best food cities in the world!
I was a point in my life where I was really young and still living with my parents when I lived in Calgary, so I’d never done much exploration cooking or developed my own cooking style when I lived in Calgary. Generally speaking I didn’t have a ton of money because I was in school, so I wasn’t going out for really fun meals. When I got to Montreal it was my first time on my own and I really had to find my feet as far as being a provider for myself. If I wanted to make a group dinner for Thanksgiving or something, suddenly it’s all on me to cook something. Montreal has been a really great city to find my feet in and find what I really like to cook. The produce her is just unparalleled. There’s all these markets like Jean Talon market and Atwater market where you can go and it’s just normal that there’s 10 different butchers and 30 different fruit and vegetable stands and every one has a different kind of tomato.
And for eating, it’s just amazing. If you don’t want to cook and just go out and try something. I was seeing a girl for three years and we never bought each other presents. If it was a birthday or Christmas we’d just take each other out for dinner. So over the course of those three years I got to explore all the best restaurants in Montreal. Like Au Pied De Cochon and all of these places doing such interesting things. I think going back to Calgary now though, six and seven years after moving out here, I really feel like the food scene is blossoming. There’s really cool stuff like Farm and Boxwood and Model Milk. They do a cool Sunday dinner. Calgary’s doing some really great things.
The restaurants there seem fun too! Sometimes when you go to a world famous restaurant you feel like you’re going to church and need to be on your best behavior.
Yeah, it’s pretty chill. Most of the really great food is not in the hoity toity restaurants. Au Pied de Cochon for example, it’s almost like peasant food. The have an excellent wine list, but they also have 10 different beers on tap and most people are just sitting there drinking pints in lumber jack shirts. I love it when you can have something really well thought-out, but not pretentious. And homey.
It looks like you have a pretty hefty tour in front of you. Is touring fun for you from an eating standpoint?
It’s a very very exciting thing. Taylor from our band keeps saying “I’m so excited to go and eat.” He doesn’t talk about how excited he is to go play. Being on tour exposes you to a lot of different food and touring around the world lets you experience all these different cultures and food. Even touring in America you have Southwestern food, and California cuisine and barbeque culture. We love barbeque so much. We go for barbeque whenever we’re in Kansas or the Carolinas or Texas. Anything in that area, we’re eating barbeque for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But maintaining a healthy diet is really difficult.
Anything you’re really looking forward to this time around?
Well, our first show is in Paris. I love eating in France. European hospitality for bands is just so different than anywhere in North America.
But also, we’re going to Japan for the first time and I love Japanese food, so we’re really really excited about that. And we’re also excited to go through Memphis again for good barbeque.
Do you eat together often as a band? I know sometimes bands use meal times to break away from each other for alone time.
No, the complete opposite! When we’re on the road we eat every single meal together. And when we recorded this last record we did retreat-style writing excursions. So we went to Arizona for seven weeks and lived in a cabin in the woods together totally isolated so we ate every meal together. And then we went on tour, and then we went on another retreat in upstate New York, and then another retreat in Vermont… so we ate pretty much all the time together. At home we generally eat breakfast and dinner apart but almost always have lunch together. We definitely break bread a lot.
What is your favourite kind of pie?
Voice in the background: What about the pie I made?
Austin: Put on the spot! Raph just came in and she does make really good pie. But my top three favourite pies are sweet potato pie from a restaurant just down the street from our place. Raph makes a really crazy strawberry rhubarb pie with the lattice on the top.
Raph: No! It was just rhubarb! And I did do a lattice.
Austin: Yeah, she was sitting there with all of those strips of pasty. It took her about half an hour to do the lattice. I think it’s cool because it covers it, but it’s also exposed so the top kind of crisps up and releases the moisture. But if I was to just walk into a diner I always order key lime pie.
Austin wanted to give us a recipe and he told me that his go-to is an adaptation of Frankie Spuntino’s four-hour tomato sauce. This sauce is a winner. A winner. Basically you infuse olive oil with garlic and then cook down a bunch of San Marzano tomatoes for four hours. It’s rich and thick and mind-blowingly delicious. Austin and his pals change up the recipe just a little bit, upping the garlic and reducing the olive oil. “It’s the most simple straight-up tomato sauce that I’ve ever eaten,” Austin says. “But also the most flavourful and tasty”:
Four Hour Tomato Sauce
3/4 cup olive oil
15 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large pinch chili flakes
4 28 ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
4 tsp salt
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan until it starts to shimmer. Add garlic and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook the garlic until it turns golden brown (but doesn’t burn), shaking the pan occasionally (turn the garlic over a few times if it’s not fully submerged in the oil). Add the chili flakes, allowing to cook for about 15 seconds.
Meanwhile, pour the tomatoes in a large bowl and crush by hand. Once the garlic oil is ready, carefully ladle the tomatoes into the saucepan, add the salt, and increase the heat to high, bringing the tomatoes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the tomatoes simmer for four hours, stirring frequently. Use as you would with any other red tomato sauce. Keeps for a few days in the fridge or a couple of months in the freezer. Makes about 2.5 L.
Now, with all of this delicious tomato sauce in my fridge, I needed to make some shakshuka, which is basically eggs cooked in tomato sauce. Warm up some sauce in a pan, crack a couple of eggs on top, cover and cook for a few minutes, until the eggs are cooked to your liking. Serve with toast.