"Have you ever played the trumpet?” chef Curtis Stone asks of Kim Gordon. Standing before an open hearth in the kitchen of his new restaurant and butcher shop, Gwen, he hands the iconic artist an iron blow poke. “The idea is to get it close to the flames,” explains the Australian native, 40, of the didgeridoo-shaped tool they will exhale into. Because before the two can sear the Fred Flintstone-size rib-eye steak Stone has selected, they must build a fire together. “What a cool setup,” says Gordon, after sparks confetti up from the embers.
Though the restaurant they stand in certainly stuns with its chinchilla-brown leather bar stools and Art Deco-inspired chandeliers, it also captures the primal way in which fire can feed and, as is the case today, unite complete strangers. Named for Stone’s maternal grandmother, a farmer from rural Victoria who didn’t have electricity until she was in her 40s, the 7,000-square-foot space on Sunset Boulevard and its $95-per-person tasting menu honor the chef’s deep appreciation of meat. “If we know we’re cooking for 100 people, we prepare 100 portions,” he tells Gordon, whose great grandparents were also farmers. “When you have respect for where meat comes from, you don’t let it go to waste.” The in-house butcher shop, which supplies the kitchen and is open to the public seven days a week, offers everything from rabbit to $140 per pound Australian Wagyu beef.
While the butchery environment historically has been a masculine one, it is unsurprising that Gordon is at ease stepping into a meat lockers where nearly 40 carcasses hang to dry age. From 1981 until her 2011 split with husband and guitarist Thurston Moore, she challenged gender binaries while changing the indie rock landscape through her devil-may-care vocals and bass playing with Sonic Youth.
Yet despite the band’s identity being intertwined with New York’s downtown scene, Gordon was profoundly shaped as an artist by her childhood in Los Angeles. “Even when I went out East, I carried this place with me,” says Gordon, who relocated to the city earlier in 2016 and will release a live LP titled No Waves (Matador) on Nov. 11 with her Body/Head collaborator Bill Nace. “I guess in a way,” she says, biting into the steak, “this place is home.”
You’ve both lived in many places, from Hong Kong to London. How have those places affected your palates?
Gordon: Hong Kong was really an earthy place, it was dirty and loud and smelly -- there were pigs on trains with their snouts sticking out it, ducks hanging; it was a real cacophony of smells and flavors. It made me really open to Asian cooking.
Stone: You pick a little something up from everywhere you are. For me, Los Angeles has the most beautiful ingredients that I’ve come across. There are so many micro-climates, I can buy root vegetables from the high desert where there’ll be a frost in two weeks, but at the same time of year buy tomatoes at their peak in San Diego.
Gordon: My dad, who always experimented with food, had a giant jungle of tomato plants in our backyard in West L.A. I used to have to water the tomatoes when they went South fishing every summer in the Klamath River with their other gourmet liberal friends. They rented a trailer, very blue collar, but they would spend a month fishing and cooking and eating. It was some of the best food I ever had in my life, salmon right out of the river.
What was the secret to cooking today’s lunch?
Gordon: Curtis was saying that you have to cook it over the coals for flavor and keep the bone facing the flame to absorb some of the heat.
Stone: Yes, and you have to take it off the heat and let it rest over and over again. It took about 40 minutes to cook the steak, but it was only on the [asador] for like 10 of those minutes.
Ever considered going vegetarian?
Gordon: Mostly when I was poor. When Sonic Youth was starting out we had no money; we ate a lot of pasta, potatoes, grits, hot dogs. I remember making onions with ginger on them, which is actually pretty good. (Laughs) We would go visit Thurston’s mom in Connecticut sometimes and she would give us a pork roast. Because we would never really have meat, it was kind of a decadent thing for us.
Stone: No, I love meat. My first job was in a butcher shop. When you have a good understanding of the whole process -- the farming, ranching, slaughtering, butchering, aging and cooking of meat -- you’re closer to it. You think differently about throwing those chicken breasts in the trash that you didn’t get to cook that week. We think of meat as something that comes from the store wrapped in plastic. People refer to it as gross and use towels to pick it up out of the package. To me, that’s disrespectful.
Have you spent any time with the Aborigines, chef?
Stone: I have. It’s quite an unbelievable experience. Imagine what you can learn from people who have existed for thousands of years without clothes, without wheels? The big thing I learned from an elder was they always have seen themselves as a part of the land, part of the wild. [Westerners] see ourselves as the owners of it.
Gordon: (To Stone) What is the food like?
Stone: They’re hunters and gatherers, so they’ll hunt things like kangaroos or goannas in unbelievable ways, using spears and boomerangs. They lived for so long without any problems: They never created garbage, never had to think about water conservation at first, because they never f—ed it up.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Gordon: When Sonic Youth went to Barcelona, we drove from France and had no Spanish money. It was so late there was hardly anything open, and we were starving. So we stopped at this place and they didn’t really speak English but said, “We’ll bring out some stuff.” They came out with a platter of periwinkles. There were so many of them, it was like salty snot. (Laughs.)
Stone: I was in Tanzania last year with the last hunter and gatherer tribe in Africa, the Hedza. They invited me to go on a baboon hunt. We see it as strange that you would eat a monkey; they hunt because they need to eat. So they shot a monkey, lit a fire and cooked it, and handed me a piece.
Gordon: (To Stone) Wow. Was it tough? They’re so muscular.
Stone Tough, and brutal because the last thing you want to do is eat it, right? But you don’t want to offend these guys.
Has food shaped your journey as an artist, and music your journey as a chef?
Gordon: I don’t know, but my approach to cooking is like my approach to art: It involves some knowledge of structure but it’s going to have an intuitive core.
Stone: I always say there’s food for every emotion, and there’s certainly music for every mood from classical to EDM. What is music, really? A bunch of sounds that a human creates to express something, and you can choose to express certain things through a plate of food for someone you might not even know.
But what about the music playing in the restaurant today? It has been an eclectic mix of ’70s, ’80s and top 40.
Stone: Well, we’ve got some Stevie Wonder going on right now. I mean, what do you even play for someone like Kim? It’s too cheesy to play her own stuff, right?