The Five Questions: Owen Lee
November 3, 2010
Owen Lee is a “man for all seasons.” He is a writer, a chef, a drinker and a gifted videographer. I became his friend and now I’m sharing his passion for the things behind his persona. Thank you Owen for revealing your inner spirit to the readers of Wild River Review and Wild Table.
In his words: I’m obsessed with food, music and culture. My roots are in Latin America. My voice is in many places on the web.
1. You were the road chef for the Rolling Stones. What wisdom can you impart on being on the road and eating healthy food?
I’m not sure that those two concepts are all that congruent! Living a life on the road does not really lend itself to a healthy lifestyle. The hours are long and the travel is grueling. I worked on the Steel Wheels tour in 1989. Mick and the boys had access to trainers, doctors and a masseuse. We had access to copious amounts of substances. If you are traveling for a living, my advice is to get plenty of sleep and stay away from chain restaurants. Always have plenty of water, healthy snacks and fresh fruit for your hotel room. I also used to travel with a single cup coffee maker and good coffee beans. Gotta have good coffee on the road!
2. What is your earliest culinary memory? Who taught you to cook? Mother? Father?
Neither of my parents were really into cooking all that much. My father was a newspaper reporter and was always traveling. My mother was a teacher and loathed the responsibility of coming home from work every night and putting food on the table. Although, she had a small repertoire of dishes that she could prepare well. She studied microbiology in college and that meticulous nature of getting things right came through in her food preparations.
My interest came from my mother’s family. Her father was Cuban and his relatives liked to cook their traditional dishes. Her mother’s sister also owned a restaurant. And that brings me to one of my earliest food memories. When my siblings and I were kids, we would spend a week or two with my grandparents during the summer. It was an idyllic setting for a child’s summer vacation. They were surrounded by woods and farmland. At the bottom of the hill where they lived, stood the restaurant owned by my Grandmother’s sister. They made everything from scratch there, including some sumptuous sticky buns. They would bake them in the early morning. We kids were often given the task of fetching the mail everyday and delivering it to the back door of the restaurant. I still remember that intense smell of cinnamon and caramel as we approached the kitchen door. We were always rewarded with a warm treat in return for our postal services! Even now, when I walk by a bakery, I have a Pavlovian experience as those familiar smells remind me of that time.
3. When did you have your first run-in with Mezcal? What is your favorite Mezcal today?
I suppose most of us have tried bad mezcal in high school or college. The rot gut with the worm in the bottle was my first experience. I found out later during my travels that the worm is purely a marketing ploy. It actually feeds on rotting maguey plants, long after any self respecting distiller would consider using them for production. Today, it’s hard to find the artisan brands coming out of Mexico. Yet there are several. I’m afraid that Americans only think of tequila when it comes to alcoholic beverages from Mexico.
My favorite right now comes from a company named Del Maguey. It is a distributorship owned by a gentleman named Ron Cooper. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron for my TV show and visiting one of the village distilleries that he buys from, in the Oaxacan highlands. Each village has it’s own recipe, including one bizarre concoction called Pechuga.
Pechuga is made with Minero; mezcal that is twice distilled. In preparation for a third distillation they place about 75 liters of mezcal in the still and add about 25 lbs of wild mountain apples and plums, red plantains, pineapples, a handful of almonds and a few pounds of uncooked white rice.Then, a whole chicken breast, skin removed, bone structure complete, is washed in running water for about three hours to remove any grease. This is then suspended by strings in the atmosphere of the still for another 24 hours. The vapor passes over the pechuga and condenses into a crystal clear liquid that has an amazing flavor.
4. Do you have a recipe that brings a tear to your eye when you prepare it? Does it remind you of a person or a place?
I love gazpacho. I have a recipe that I have been tinkering with for years. I always think of my grandfather’s older sister Elena, when I prepare it. She was a special person whom we all adored growing up. She had that Latino passion for food and family.
5. Are there foods that you have yet to try that intrigue you? What are they?
Orange wine is one that comes to mind. I recently discovered its existence on a trip to New York. Although, after scouring the city for a store or restaurant that carries it, I came up empty. Since returning, I have found that it is available at City Winery and Momofuku.
The process is one of the most ancient methods of wine making, dating back 5000 years. It gets its name from the orange tinge that a white wine acquires from its extended contact with the grape skins. The wine has a cloudy appearance and the profile is autumnal, ranging from licorice, honey, floral, cinnamon, cider to even reminiscent of a red wine. It’s produced inSlovenia, Croatia, France, Germany, New Zealand, California and Italy.
I’ve never tried abalone and would like to work with it. I understand it’s pretty tough and needs to be tenderized like some meats.
I’m working on a project testing recipes using vegetables in dessert preparations. I am a bit obsessed with beets at the moment. I’ve been using them in everything from cakes to mousses. They are a perfect dessert ingredient with their inherent sweetness.
Thank you Owen for answering my Five Questions. I appreciate your efforts! wb
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
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