Rock, cook, and roll

Local musicians perform in the kitchen

Guitarist Lando Martinez’s chili pairs well with Sgt. Pepper’s
  • Guitarist Lando Martinez’s chili pairs well with Sgt. Pepper’s

Fat Lando’s Chili

  • 2 cups corn
  • 2 cans kidney beans
  • 20 oz can tomato sauce
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Onion – one cup chopped
  • Garlic – to taste
  • Bell peppers – two cups chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • McCormick’s garlic powder

“How many tomatoes?” repeats Hocus front man Lando Martinez, aka Fat Lando, as he hovers over the kitchen cutting board. “I don’t know. However many it takes to fill a cup and a half.” He concentrates on his chopping.

“He’s so cute when he cooks.” If Jeannie, Lando’s wife of 20 years were a cat, she would be purring.

“There.” Lando holds up a measuring cup. His fingernails are painted black. “I use roma tomatoes because they have a more tomato-y taste.”

Strands of Christmas lights outline the contour of the ceiling inside their rented Imperial Beach home; a Marine Corps portrait of their son Emilio is centered on the far wall. Lando says Hocus will record new material soon.

“In five years, we’ve had five different bassists, eight drummers, and two guest guitars.” He laughs and says, “By the end of a day, Hocus is basically me.”

They’ve been nominated three times for a San Diego Music Award: “In 2010 for Best Local Recording, in 2012 for Best Rock Band, and in 2014 for Best Alternative Album. We lost to Burning of Rome. No burn on them,” he says, floating right over his own play on words, “but they’re like Switchfoot. They’re in the SDMAs every year.”

Hocus played a set the night before at a neighborhood bar named the Salty Frog. “And people followed us home afterwards,” Jeannie says. “And we didn’t get to sleep until about six this morning.”

She remains coiled on a nearby sofa.

“Garlic,” Lando says. “I don’t use that much. You don’t want that much of a garlic taste.” He comes up with a single glistening clove: “This much.” Martinez shipped out with the U.S. Navy when he was 17. He stayed in for 20 years. He works for them as a civilian now, monitoring access to secured areas. “They first sent me to Italy,” he says. That’s where he learned to cook.

“I got to hang out with Tim Pyles today. He does a 91X thing at Pit Bull Audio. He gives Hocus a shout-out on his radio show now and then.” Lando continues chopping, dicing, slicing ingredients into a large pot. “I’m making a calmer chili,” he says, “because Jeannie doesn’t like it too spicy. I’m using bell peppers to give it zing. Not a spicy zing, but a zing.”

Ground beef browns in a skillet. “I guess I’ve been making this all my life, this chili. By the way,” he says, “some people drain off the bean juice. Not me.”

It all cooks down for another 30 minutes, and then we each try a bowl with a side of Fritos, seated under the Christmas lights, watching a vid of Cheap Trick performing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club from front to back. Heavenly — Lando’s chili is heavenly.

Two-stage Italian cuisine with Picus Maximus

The sauce:

  • Pork loin
  • Tomato sauce
  • Tomato paste
  • Italian sausage
  • Heavy cream
  • White onion/red bell pepper
  • Salt/pepper to taste

The pizza:

  • dough
  • prosciutto
  • provolone cheese
  • pear slices
  • arugula, chopped

“No, we never actually ate any of this at the Ballroom, but we had it at home when I was a kid.” Jim Soldi stands over the range in Rick Sparhawk’s kitchen, working on a pot of pasta sauce he says was his mother’s recipe. Soldi’s parents owned a stake in the famous Bostonia Ballroom during the 1950s; they also owned Valley Music in El Cajon. Both enterprises are long gone. The sauce’s secret ingredient? Pork roast.

“You let it cook in the tomato sauce with a little tomato paste and chopped white onion and chopped red bell pepper for about five hours. Then, you take it out so as not to dry out the meat. Italian sausage goes into the sauce next.”

Soldi’s sauce pot is balanced over the burner on the flat side of a brick.

“So it doesn’t burn,” he explains.

Sparhawk says, “That’s a Ramona brick, by the way. I lifted it out of my walkway before I came over here tonight.”

Soldi lives in Ramona with his wife, dog, and some chickens.

During the 1970s, Sparhawk and Soldi were members of a popular touring band that home-based here — Montezuma’s Revenge. Post Revenge, Soldi went on to gigs with Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Cash, and Eve Selis. In 2005, Sparhawk and Soldi reunited as a duo for which they borrowed the Latin name of an extinct woodpecker: Picus maximus.

Sparhawk kneads a ball of dough into a flat oval, then presses it onto a round baking sheet. He’s making pear-mozzarella-prosciutto pizza with fresh arugula from his garden. The pears are the size of bocce balls. They, too, came from his garden, as did the basil. The chopped purple leaves smell both sweet and woodsy. Does Sparhawk still own those classic lamb’s wool chaps he wore in Revenge?

“No. I lost them. And my really good ones, the spotted cowhide chaps? I loaned them to a friend for Halloween once. Never got them back. I do still have my Stetson, though.”

Soldi: “I wore a lot of my dad’s old stuff back then.” Soldi’s dad’s nickname was Cactus. “Nudie suits, things like that.

Sparhawk: “You still have that stuff?”

Soldi: “No. I gave it to Marty Stewart.”

Sparhawk: “They fit him?”

Soldi: “No. I think he was just collecting all that stuff.”

Picus Maximus has two CDs out and one in the works. “But we’re not very conventional,” Sparhawk says. “We don’t gig anywhere.”

Soldi: “We’re like Steely Dan.” They both laugh. “But we were on the road together for years. Revenge was ten years for me, longer for Rick.” Why did Soldi leave the band?

“There were personality issues.”

“I never heard that before,” Sparhawk says.

“I never did like you,” Soldi grins and they both laugh some more. Then to a guest, “have you ever seen pasta done like this?” Soldi has it going in a fry pan. “You cover it with water, and when the water’s all evaporated, the pasta’s ready.”

His mom’s invention?

“No, I got it off Facebook.”

By the time we sit down to eat, a thunder storm has begun in earnest, shooting blue-white lightning bolts earthward that are loud enough to trigger car alarms and rattle the 1915-era windows in Sparhawk’s Mount Helix home.

“Six miles away,” he says. “I counted.”

To accompany the meal, Sparhawk has chosen two Italian reds from his wine cellar.

Soldi says, “You can tell he’s not Italian by the way he says the word — eye-tal-y-an.”

“This bottle is Serenissima, a blend from Warner Springs,” Sparhawk says. “And this is from Hunt Cellars, a winery owned by the guy who played keyboards for Ambrosia. I forget his name.”

Soldi: “We played with them once, at Monterey Pops. It was 1976, I think.”

Sparhawk: “Ike and Tina Turner, Montezuma’s Revenge, Flash Cadillac, and somebody really big.”

Soldi: “That would have been Ambrosia. That’s when they were really big.”

Another lightning strike rattles the old bones of the house.

“Four miles,” Sparhawk says.

Spaghetti Squash Surprise

Spaghetti Squash Surprise

Tori Roze’s spaghetti squash surprise

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 package chicken breast tenders
  • 1 tomato
  • sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • lemon pepper to taste
  • basil

“That’s my parents’ spelling, R-O-Z-E,” singer/educator/art model Tori Roze says, sweeping up a dust pan of cat hair from the otherwise spotless yellow oak floor of her row house. Her mother is a member of Tori’s band the Hot Mess, plays flute. Her father is a playwright and director. “They hated their last name.”

Roze and her girlfriend Jody live in the last of a string of foliage-wrapped cottages near Park Boulevard. An Ikea wall unit still in cartons lies on the floor and a compact black cat lies on it.

Tori Roze

Tori Roze

“This is what we’re having for lunch.” Roze holds a yellow squash. “It smells like pumpkin. It kind of looks like a pumpkin. But, it does not taste like a pumpkin.” She cuts it in half, places the halves face-down on a baking pan with an inch of water. “Two tits in a tray.” She grins, covers all with sheets of foil. “It’s gotta bake for 45 minutes at 450 degrees. You know it’s done when the water’s gone. You ever eat one of these? It’s incredible how much food just one yields.”

A Sharon Jones LP finishes; Roze replaces it with vintage Ramsey Lewis. “This was my 20th birthday present to myself,” she says at the controls of a stack of phonograph gear. We sit on camp chairs. A framed Audrey Hepburn poster dominates a wall.

Roze and the Hot Mess have been playing fourth Mondays at Bar Pink for two years. “And, I’m at Ginger’s downtown on Wednesdays with a guitar player.” She says she’s got a third album in the works.

Francesca arrives. One side of her curly dark hair has been shaved, as if prepped for surgery. In jeans and flannel long sleeves, she leaves to fetch drinks and comes back with a pint of hard-frozen chocolate ice cream from which she and Roze chisel slivers and wedges and consume as an appetizer. The squash is taking its sweet time. We stand in the tiny kitchen; heat radiates from the stove.

“Tori’s our resident salad maker,” Jody says, lured into the kitchen by the ice cream.

“Anything with veggies,” Roze adds.

“And mac and cheese. And steak. She made a killer steak — once.”

Roze: “I’ve been obsessed with all these cooking shows.”

Jody: “When she does cook, it’s really good.”

The Ramsey Lewis gets replaced by Fiona Apple off Roze’s iPhone. “This is a time-consuming recipe,” Roze says, “but it’s worth it.” A second cat, black with white feet, comes out of hiding, looks around, and disappears again.

Francesca replaces Fiona Apple with the Sgt. Pepper’s album, the same music that was in play at Lando’s. The squash finally done, Tori chops basil, tomato, cheese, and chicken tenders along with spaghetti squash. There’s enough for the four of us. It was worth the wait.

Champagne risotto with shrimp and prosciutto

John Stubbs and Denise Dabrowski

  • 1½ cup Arborio rice
  • ¼ lb prosciutto ham
  • ½ yellow onion, chopped
  • ⅛ cup olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • ¾ lb medium shrimp, raw
  • 5 cups chicken and beef stock, blended
  • 1 cup of Champagne (or to taste)

“Denise is out getting arboreal rice,” I think John Stubbs says. “It’s a staple in our house, and we’re out of it.” Stubbs, violinist in the San Diego Symphony, sounds mildly shocked about the rice shortage when he greets me at the door. But, arboreal rice? What is it, rice from trees? We Google. No, not arboreal — Arborio rice, so named for a place in Italy. It’s the key ingredient in what he’s preparing on this summer-ish eve: champagne risotto with shrimp. “Only 18 minutes to make it,” he says, “from start to finish.”

Stubbs maneuvers a small plate of diced meat through the screen door to a waiting porch cat while he talks. His wife, Denise Dabrowski, (formerly with the Joffrey Ballet Company in New York and former prima ballerina of the California Ballet Company for two decades) arrives with the rice.

“I had to go to three places before I found any,” she says, standing now as if rooted to the floor of their 1927-built South Park home. Her entire body gesticulates in coordination with her words as if to add meaning. A very large tabby ambles into the kitchen.

“That’s Hammy,” she says. “We named him after Marvin Hamlisch.”

“He was our principal Summer Pops conductor,” Stubbs says of the cat’s deceased namesake.

“Did John tell you what we’re having tonight was the first thing he ever made for me?” asks Dabrowski. “I sat right here, in this very chair.” She points to a red wood chair at the couple’s post-modern gray rectangle of a dining table. “It’s hard not to fall in love with a man who cooks and has an adorable cat.” That was Ray, short for Raymond, long since passed away.

“Ray peed in my gym bag,” she smiles in Stubbs’s direction. He is busy working ingredients into a cooking pot over a gas burner. “And that didn’t chase me away.”

In addition to playing concert violin and creating and hosting a cabaret-level series of classical music events called Luscious Noise (now on hiatus), Stubbs also conducts, and he teaches conducting to young adults.

“There’s the physicality of it,” he replies when asked how one teaches conducting, “the musicianship, and then, the big question — why do you actually want to be a conductor? Is it about the music?”

“Or,” Dabrowski injects, “do you just want to be in charge?”

Stubbs and Dabrowski nod their consent when I mention that I harbor a secret desire to one day conduct Beethoven’s Sixth. “There’s a lot of opportunity for big body language during the first movement,” I say, “that would make an audience think I know what I’m doing.”

Dabrowski: “I wouldn’t want to be a conductor. Women conductors get no respect.”

True?

She nods quietly.

Stubbs: “Conductors come from opposite ends of the spectrum.” Some want to honor a composer’s vision, he says. “And then, there’s the kind that say, ‘What can I do to this?’”

“Put my own stamp on it,” Dabrowski says.

“I prefer to bring honor to the person who maybe spent years writing the piece,” he says. After we eat, Stubbs produces a full-orchestra Mahler score, the contents of which are mind-boggling. Does he own many such scores?

“Oh, yes,” he says.

“Sometimes, John’ll comes home after we’ve heard a really bad performance,” Dabrowski says, “and he’ll go through a score and look for ways he could have done it justice.”

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