Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

INFO+RECIPE: Isaac Brock: Rock Musician, Chef

Modest Mouse is not my favorite band. It is one of those bands that everyone around me loves and I am overwhelmingly indifferent to. I can think of one song of theirs that I like.

I saw them live one time and came away with the impression that I like the music, the vocals just leave a lot to be desired.

That vocalist is Isaac Brock. Isaac Brock has never come off as a nice person to me, when reading his interviews about music. I'd basically written him off as a bad vocalist, and arrogant twat.

Then, I read an interview with him in the Believer. The interview was not about music, it was about food, and cooking. And I was shocked. It was like I was reading about a whole different person. A
person I liked and wanted to know. A person like me.

I discovered that he was born a mere two days before me. If astrology has anything to say about it, then he probably IS a person like me. Not quite the same ... that two days makes a difference to the stars--things move around a bit in that time--but someone very similar. I will say that I think I could sing as well as he does. Cooking, he's probably better than me at. Here's what I learned:

Like me, Mr. Brock believes that when baking you should always follow a recipe, but when cooking, you don't need to. Where we differ is that he can just go into a store, look around, and decide what he wants to cook based on what he sees in the store. If I do this, I always cook the same three things: sauted chicked "with other stuff," pasta "with other stuff," or a sandwich "with stuff on it." I like to use recipes as guidelines to give me ideas to start with, and then I can adapt from there. One sandwich may turn into a completely different sandwich, a soup may turn into a guacamole. You just never know, but getting the germ of the idea helps with variety for me.

Mr. Brock's mother was a head chef and he worked the line at her restaurant, so cooking always surrounded him, growing up.

He also talked about how if something doesn't feel right, or the house feels empty or lonely, he just cooks onions, and the scent of cooking onions changes everything. It makes it feel like people live in the house and it's busy. It was also something his mother did, if people had had a bad day, she would start cooking onions and the scent would make everything better. I understand that ... cooking smells mean that your home is functional. It means that someone who lives there cares enough to prepare food for themself and for the others who live there, rather than just letting everyone fend for themselves, or order in or eat out all the time.

For me, it's banana bread. One of the few things that I've always known how to make is banana bread, and whenever I was left at home alone for a few days, I would make banana bread, because that warm baking smell means, like he said, that someone is home and is doing something, even if that someone is just yourself, the smell means "being taken care of." And with the banana bread, then, the smell comes back every time you toast yourself a hunk of it.

I haven't made banana bread in a long time. I would need a recipe now, if I made it.

So now I have a different picture of Isaac Brock. The way he talks about his childhood based around cooking is far different from the overall story his youth tells, a story of moving around in religious circles, of his mom leaving his dad for his uncle, of his mom moving into a trailer and himself staying in the second floor of their flooded home until evicted by police. Then living in friends' basements until finally settling in a shed next to his mom's trailer.

He talks so differently about food than he does about music. My picture of the guy who loves to cook for his family and who cares deeply about his kitchen and wishes for his own little junk shop to just sell items he loves that has a bar with six seats and a restaurant where the only options are "vegetarian" or "non-vegetarian," is a picture of a guy I like, compared to the interviews in music magazines where the interviewer is drunk and Isaac is drunk and they both seem like a couple of assholes. It's nice to see him having a serious, sober conversation with someone who cares about what they are doing--conveying a story.

As he was interviewed, Mr. Brock made tilapia, one of my favorite fishes to cook, garbage fish or no. To me the lack of "fishy" flavor means that you can inject whatever flavors you want into it. And it's a super good fryer. But here is Isaac Brock's tilapia recipe:


In a shallow saucepan, cook a handful of garlic cloves in olive oil over low heat until soft. Pour in 1 can whole coconut milk, stir and let simmer. As the coconut oils separate, add approx. 1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring often until sauce thickens. Add salt to taste.

Gently lay tilapia filets into the pool of sauce, add a dash of cumin and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. (Due to the flaky consistency of tilapia, halibut cheeks--which are firmer in textrure and therefore hold together--may be substituted.)


In a shallow pan, roast 2 cups whole almonds in 2 Tbsp. sesame oil over low-medium heat.

Add red cabbage, garlic, green onion, Sri Racha chili sauce and Bragg's Amino Acids to taste in large Cuisinart.

Once almonds are through roasting, remove from heat and add to Cuisinart.

Dice well.


Add 2 cans organic black beans with juices to medium saucepan, cook over low-medium heat.

Add approx. 2 Tbsp. cumin, a dash of Old Bay Seasoning, and a handful of diced, fresh cilantro.

Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring consistently.


Add 1 can whole coconut milk to 1 cup white rice, stir. As rice absorps coconut milk, add 1 Tbsp. cumin.

Once all components are prepared, dish even portions onto plates, serve hot.

Serves 4-6.


Very cool. And, I didn't have to stare cross-eyed at my computer screen to witness the transformation.

I think this is a really great post. I learned a long time ago, that if you get to REALLY know even the most fantastic a**hole, you will eventually stumble across something, some part of their being, that completely changes your perception of them and you find a connection. What's really frightening is when that total a**hole become someone you admire.

I'm not implying that Isaac is the aforementioned a**. I'm not familiar with Modest Mouse. Being a legal type, you will understand the need for my disclaimer.

It seems to me that somebody who came through such childhood adventures as Isaac would be a better lyric writer. Pained people are usually more adept with words.

Thanks for the post.

said by Acme Instant Food at 4:37 PM Delete

Oh yay! You came back! I'm glad I kept my promise.

I imagine that his lyrics are quite good. It's the sound of the voice that is unfortunate to me. I have seen scads of internet things where people have endless discussions about the lyrics of the band, so there's probably something there.

I am very glad I read this particular interview, because, while reading it, I couldn't remember why I thought this guy was such a jerk, and then a quick scour of the internet before writing this post, and I noticed how very many of the interviews took place in bars and/or involved states of drunkenness. It seems to me that he's merely guilty of being a bad drunk, which is its own problem, but is very different than just being a butt in general.

Glad you liked the post!

said by KT at 4:48 PM Delete

Hmmm. Weirdly, that does nothing to absolve my picture of Brock as a jerk. It's kind of like the [i]Crash[/i] phenomeon: just because you saved a woman from a burning car doesn't absolve you of sexually molesting her. Atonement is a weird thing, but you definitely have to mean it.

Anyway...I don't like bananas, but banana bread, especially toasted, which I have never tried -- sounds good!

said by Anyanka at 3:05 PM Delete

I guess I don't think of it so much as atonement, as more, there's a lot I didn't know about him and it makes him seem different in my eyes.

There's something else that may account for the lingering bad feeling of us both, but I'm not going to bring it up here. It's bad laundry.

Toasted banana bread, with butter, is one of the best things I have ever, ever eaten.

said by KT at 3:11 PM Delete

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