A week has come and gone but the flavors and sounds of 88Nine RadioMilwaukee’s annual SoundBites fundraiser still persist.
The event, which celebrated its third year, pairs dishes created by 13 area chefs with the music styling of Radio Milwaukee’s on air personalities and guest musicologists. The aim: to provide a simultaneous oral and aural experience for attendees.
To facilitate, each guest is equipped with a pair of headphones which plug into mp3 players that are queued up with music at each tasting station.
I must admit, there is an inherent awkwardness to attempting to plug in and unplug while juggling beverages and small plates, especially since there wasn’t a good location at each station where diners could rest their plates and glasses while listening. So, there were times when the effort prevented me from taking advantage of the full experience.
That said, there are theoretical advantages to reducing the number of audio distractions and being able concentrate directly on the flavors of the dish and how they pair with the ambiance created by the music selections.
In fact, when the concept works, it really works.
Take for example, the pairing of Chef Kevin Sloan’s "Island Club," with Tarik Moody’s musical selection of Nick Mulvey’s new single "Cucurucu".
The song, which possesses an innately islandy feel, made a great match for the dish, which readily evoked the tropics. The subtleties of coconut milk braised goat and smoked ham bled easily into the complexities of sweet plantain and jicama relish and mint jalapeno aioli. Meanwhile, as Moody noted, the slow, deliberate build of the music "starts off slow like the way you would prepare smoked ham and a braised leg of goat."
Similarly, there was real synchronicity in DJ Marcus Doucette’s pairing of "Comanche" by Jorge Ben with Buckley’s Chef Thi Cao’s fijoada, a traditional Brazilian stew.
The upbeat charm of classic bossa nova mixed effortlessly with the spicy pork sausage and briny shrimp rice crisp which were perfectly balanced by the brine and bitter of pickled kale and turnips.
Other highlights included Meritage’s Chef Jan Kelly’s confited and fried duck legs paired with Ken Sumka’s selection "Bonnie & Clyde" by Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot which meleded the silky rich textures of classic French cooking with an electro-pop sound, bidding the listener to get a little bit dangerous with gangsters, Bonnie and Clyde.
David Swanson of Braise pulled out the stops with his seasonal rutabaga arancini with sorrel dressing, a dish made even more delicious by the pepper "Jam on it" – an adept play on words that DJ Dori Zori took full advantage of by pairing the dish with Newcleus’s take on the classic song. In this case, the pairing was less about a deep connection between the music and the food, and more a successful effort in pairing a deliciously rich dish with a fun, upbeat tune that made it difficult not to break out in a little private listening dance.
In between tastings, the shared experiences between attendees adds an additional layer to the event.
As the food and music are experienced, guests share their impressions – a cacophony of reactions, emotions, and opinions. The recollection of sound and taste memories – of resonations and dissonances.
Ultimately, great food shares a great deal with great music. There are themes, movements and – when performed well – even a narrative arc. The pleasures we experience in eating, drinking and listening are sensory and non-verbal. And when the experience is over, it is gone – it cannot be relived, except through memory.
Until next year.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.