Want to cook like Matt Abergel? Here’s the music to help you
The chef shares his musical and culinary passions in our new book Snacky Tunes
Matt Abergel believes a life on stage has a lot in common with a life behind a stove. “Like being a musician, being a chef means being both selfless and super selfish,” he says in our new book Snacky Tunes, a deep and delicious investigation of the musical and gastronomic arts, from the team behind the podcast of the same name. “There may be years and years in a musician’s life where they don’t have to care about anybody else. Same with chefs — things we love, like our relationships, might go to shit. We often abuse drugs, alcohol, things of that nature. If you hold on long enough, maybe there’s a turning point where people start to appreciate what you’re doing; they get you.”
Abergel began his career working in Japanese restaurants back in Canada, before relocating to New York, then Hong Kong, where, in 2011, he opened Yardbird Hong Kong with his business partner Linsday Yang, finding plenty of appreciation among the local clientele for his unique take on yakitori cooking, as well as his love of good music.
As Abergel explains in the new book, he became a music obsessive as a teen, where he would hang out at “this massive, extensive, world-famous record shop in Calgary called Recordland,” he explains in the new book. “It’s owned by this Moroccan Jewish family and I’m also Moroccan Jewish. They were the most eccentric, hilarious people. The store is still there. Back in the day, I would go with a good friend of mine, Dean Clark. He’s still a musician and DJ in Calgary. I was maybe fifteen at the time and he was a good fifteen years older than I. Dean showed me what music IS. The music I discovered through Dean and Recordland became the lifetime foundation of the music I love.”
When he came to set up Yardbird, he made sure the sounds were as good as the food. “We invested a lot of money in the sound at the new Yardbird space,” he says. “We put in a proper acoustic ceiling; we got Funktion-One speakers. Sound engineering is arguably the most important part of design in a restaurant. Our sound system is pretty much the thing I really care about most. We want to work backward from acoustics. The plain white walls don’t bother me. Neither does the lack of pendant lighting. I don’t give a fuck. But if the sound sucks, that’s going to affect the quality of everything.”
This appreciation of sound as well as taste informed Abergel’s second restaurant, RŌNIN, which he and Yang opened in 2013. “When we first opened RŌNIN, the idea was that all of our food would just be ‘versions,’” he explains, “the basis, or basics, of a dish defined through various rhythms. Like a rendition of a song, you’re putting a spin on a dish. When you think about it, how much time did these guys have in a studio in Jamaica? How many songs were they trying to get out? It was more about showcasing the fact that they had the right ingredients. It’s the same thing as a chef deployed in a farmers’ market.”
Of course, anyone wanting to try their own spin on Abergel’s cookery should really get Snacky Tunes. The new book not only features long, revealing interviews with big name chefs such as Abergel, Alex Atala, Nina Compton, Dominique Ansel and Virgilio Martínez and Pía León, among many others, it also has a playlist and a recipe from every interviewee, allowing you to recreate both the tastes and the sounds of these kitchen greats.
You can stream Abergel’s one, which he's dubbed Good Old Daze and features tunes from Bob James, Herbie Hancock and Donald Byrd, among others via Spotify. And, if you want to cook along too, get the Snacky Tunes book, which includes the chef’s recipe for quail karaage (that’s a a Japanese style of deep-frying) with sansho peppercorns and orange. Find out more and order your copy here. Meanwhile, for more on Yardbird Hong Kong take a look at Abergel’s book, Chicken and Charcoal: Yakitori, Yardbird, Hong Kong.