It’s been more than forty years that the American musician Shawn Phillips is followed by a dedicated audience. He worked with Eric Clapton, J. Peter Robinson, Donovan… And was also in the studio with The Beatles, recording the choruses of Lovely Rita! He has spent the month of September touring in Québec with his new album Continuance, so it was the perfect occasion to ask him our questions about food. Spoiler alert: He has revealed us his best recipe!
What is your relationship with food? Do you like to cook?
My relationship is ambiguous! Primarily, it’s fuel. Taste and the distinction of a delicacy of the palate are not my strong suits. Coming from Texas, I’m pretty much a meat and potatoes guy. Having said that, however, I have traveled all over the world, experiencing the myriad cultures of food that exist in the places I’ve been. I’ve eaten Breadfruit cooked in the ground in Tahiti, raw octopus in Japan, (I love Uni, with a raw Quail egg (Sea Urchin) as Sushi, Crocodile in South Africa and as benign as Fish And Chips in England!)
I can cook 3 things. Unless there’s a recipe for anything else, it ain’t gonna happen.
1. Eggs. I can make really good scrambled eggs. I use butter and 1 tsp of heavy cream.
2. Mac and Cheese. I mix in tuna and mayonnaise.
3. Steak. Seasoning of salt, pepper, and butter only.
What is the first recipe you learned to cook? Can you explain it to us?
Believe it or not, I lived in a village in Southern Italy called Positano, from 1967 to 1980. I never learned anything about cooking during those years, but some 10 years after I returned to the states to live in Los Angeles, I returned to Italy for a tour and I learned how to make a Northern Italian pasta sauce.
Which food could you never live without and why?
Bacon, eggs, toast and orange juice! I am primarily a composer. I never know when I’m going to compose or write a song. For almost 50 years now, I never eat during the day. I only have dinner at night. Only when I am actually on tour, I will eat breakfast, because I need the energy it provides to do the work required for a concert. When I am not touring, if I so much as have a sandwich during the day, I am an instant couch potato! Nothing gets done for the rest of the day… The process of digestion robs me of that vital energy I need to exist in to feed the creative monster.
What kind of food are you eating when you are on tour?
As I said, only on the days I actually have a concert do I eat breakfast. On the off days, even though I’m not home, it’s just a force of habit, or ritual, if you will, that I don’t eat during the day. So breakfast on the day of a gig, is it, with only an allowance for water until after the concert is done and I’ve completely packed the gear back in the van. Then, comes the hard part….many places, if they serve food at the venue, I will choose something from their menu and they will prepare it before the kitchen closes and warm it up for me when I’m ready to eat, or if they’re still open, fix a meal for me. If it’s a theater or has no kitchen, what I get to eat depends on how late it is by the time I’m packed up. I’ll tell you, 90% of the time after a gig, there are no open restaurants, so I’m reduced to places like a 24 hours MacDonalds and many times, even places like that are closed. If worst comes to worst, it’s a sandwich or two from an open gas station.
What is the worst meal we’ve ever served you?
Oh, probably something like you would get at a Denny’s at 3 in the morning, where the cooks don’t give a shit and if you order a steak, it comes out like a dried piece of shoe leather.
I’m coming over your place tonight for dinner, what meal will you serve me? How do you prepare it?
Ok… 8 whole large fresh tomatoes, (use a potato masher to crush the tomatoes into a rough paste), or 2 medium-large cans of unsalted whole tomatoes in a high-sided pot. (Drain most of the water from the cans)
Add enough extra virgin olive oil so there are at least 2 millimeters of oil above the tomatoes.
4 to 6 large fresh basil leaves or 1/2 packet of small store-bought basil leaves, (never powdered dried basil) finely chopped up and sprinkle over the tomatoes.
2 to 3 cloves of peeled garlic, or 1 clove of peeled elephant garlic, also finely chopped to the pot.
2 tsp of salt, or to taste.
2 tbsp of sugar.
1/4 to 1/2 tsp of ground red chili peppers, or, again, to taste.
Stir it all up. Turn on the heat till it boils!!! As soon as it boils, reduce heat to a very low boil, (it slowly bubbles) and cook without a cover, until ALL the liquid has evaporated, stirring every 5 or 10 minutes, and continue using the potato masher until the tomatoes are the consistency of smooth paste. After ALL, the liquid has gone, let it cook for a sustained 10 to 12 minutes without stirring, keeping an eye on it, let it burn on the bottom for just a tiny tiny little bit, stir again, then remove from heat.
Dependent on how many tomatoes you’ve used, cooking time as directed above is 3 to 4 hours.
I’ll use enough to serve both of us, then the remainder goes into freezer bags for another time. It’s actually better after it’s been in the freezer for a while.
A suggestion…..bring a book with you into the kitchen and read in front of the stove.
PS. Should you like a pasta sauce a la crema, add 4 or 5 tbsp of double cream to the sauce. It’s delicious!