Give Me Gin or Give Me Death – My Interview with East Bay Ray

I really wanted to incorporate “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” into the title of this interview since it’s, well, a food title but could not come up with a spin that was appetizing. So, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death it is…I’m a dork, I know.

Ray and I have mutual friends but we’d never met. I didn’t just reach out and ask for this interview, I bought it. Ray did a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for his wrist surgery. I sympathize with wrist issues, I’ve had them for years and was out of work for three years, unable to use my hands for much of anything. When I saw one of the offered rewards was getting a drink with Ray, I grabbed that one. I could help out a phenomenal guitar player continue to play his classic, historic, punk band and I could meet the guy. WIN-WIN!

We met for drinks Vesuvio Cafe in San Francisco. The plan was to meet at a much less divey bar/restaurant but the first place was closed so we crossed the street and, really, if you’re going to get a gin and tonic with a member of the Dead Kennedys, shouldn’t you go to a dive bar?

I have to say, it took a little convincing to get Ray to agree to the questions. He was suspicious. Once we got into the questions though, I think he had fun with it.

Chantrelle: What is your favorite comfort food?

East Bay Ray: Canned California Lindsey Olives from the supermarket. They’re the black olives that you could put on your finger. But they have to be Lindsey brand, they’re higher quality than the other kind. It’s the flavor. I liked them as a kid and I like them as an adult.

Chantrelle: I don’t like olives so as a kid I’d put them on my fingers and feed them to my mom because I still wanted to put them on my fingers! You just have to do it!

EBR: You should try them now, but they have to be the Lindsey ones.

Chantrelle: I don’t like olives…any of them…they’re on my list. I have a list!

EBR: And you’re a foodie?!

Chantrelle: I don’t like cheese and I’m a foodie! There’s a perfectly good explanation though, I’m a supertaster.

EBR: I’m a supertaster too. Brussel sprouts are poison. I think you’re using the supertaster thing as an excuse.

Chantrelle: I actually dyed my tongue blue and the most of my tongue was still white because the tastebuds don’t dye.

EBR: Yeah, but I’m a supertaster and it’s mostly the alkaline tastes that are a problem. Stuff that is related to poisons.

Chantrelle: I guess my extra tastebuds are in a different part of my tongue.

Our drinks arrive, cutting short the argument about whether or not I’m actually a supertaster! ;-)

EBR: Second comfort food…GIN! Cheers!

Chantrelle: Cheers!! OK, What is your best childhood food memory?

EBR: My grandmother would babysit my brother and I and she’d make this thing called Italian delight which was a spaghetti casserole: spaghetti, hamburger, and black olives sliced up, with tomato sauce. She’d bake that and it was really good.

The other thing that she and her sister made, during the depression, they had an enchilada stand. They made and sold enchiladas during the depression. She had a recipe where the gravy was made for 24 hours. In the east bay there was a restaurant with handmade tortillas. It was fabulous. The recipe went with her though. My uncle tried to revive it but he really couldn’t.

Chantrelle: Was she in the East Bay at that time then?

EBR: Yeah, she was. She was born in California too. She and all of her sisters. I’m third generation.

Every once in a while I’ll run into something in the same style but…

The other thing she made was sourdough bread. I still have some of her sourdough culture. A long time ago Alfred’s Steak House used to make the same style of bread. It’s not French style, it’s really a California style. They don’t make it anymore. That’s another comfort food. I guess all my comfort foods are dead!

Chantrelle: Acme sourdough bread just doesn’t do it?

EBR: That’s really good but that’s different. A different style.

Chantrelle: If you could only eat food from one country or region for the rest of your life, where would you choose?

EBR: That’s EASY! Italy. Middle and Northern Italy.

Chantrelle: I’m all about Tuscany. I want to live, breathe, eat, and drink Tuscany.

EBR: I remember at the corner store, the equivalent of a 7-11, they were selling fresh tomatoes on the vine. Tomatoes that are green but ripe. Here people think they have to be red. Fresh mozzerella. And who was the first to put prosciutto and melon together?

Chantrelle: A GENIUS!

EBR: There were probably a thousand other combinations that didn’t work but that one worked.

Chantrelle: That’s one of our son’s favorite things on the planet.

EBR: Years ago a historian wrote a book about how you can tell a civilization by its tomatoes. American fruits and vegetables are made for shelf life and to look good but not for flavor.

Chantrelle: We tend to do farmer’s markets and CSAs. I get a box every week from a local farm. I don’t know what will be in it, it’s always a surprise.

EBR: That’s like, when we first went to Italy, the restaurants didn’t have menus. It was what they had that day which was what was at the market. That unfortunately seems to be rare now.

Chantrelle: It seems to be more Americanized now.

Wine Asshole (Chantrelle’s hubby): Some things don’t change. We were in Siena earlier this year and apart from the steady flow of Priuses that are the local taxi, it’s the same as 100 years ago. If you want to find the places worth going to, you have to ask a local. There’s no facade, no advertising. Anything on a piazza, forget it!

EBR: We were in Rome at a restaurant on a side street near Campo di Fiorio, it had a sign but it didn’t open until 9:30 at night. That’s old school.

Chantrelle: OK…Your last meal?

EBR: Truffle Pasta. I had a $40 plate of pasta they grated truffles on to. Best pasta ever. Worth the $40! But can I add my grandma’s enchiladas, her bread and those black olives?

Chantrelle: Of course! It’s your last meal, you can have whatever you want.

The conversation spiraled away from food and into a rant, justified it seems, about Google and the revenue that doesn’t go to artists. Ray’s opinion has been documented extensively, this article is a good one so is this one. If you follow him on Facebook you’ll get caught up on the problem pretty quickly too. I think it’s fitting that we got to be a part of an anti-corporation rant by the DK guitarist.

You’re a star-belly sneech
You suck like a leach
You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch
So you can get rich
But your boss gets richer off you

–Dead Kennedys, “Holiday in Cambodia”

Chantrelle: It’s your turn to cook dinner, what do you make?

EBR: What do I make?! I guess can grill a steak. I know how to taste food. Learning to cook takes time, I just don’t take the time.

Chantrelle: Grilling is a skill! That counts. Not everyone can grill a steak.

Chantrelle: Last question: What’s the sexiest food?

EBR: (Looks slyly at his girlfriend…) Do you mean food or flavor?

Chantrelle: Oh my! Well, let’s just leave it at that!