Aidan Knight is having ramen for the second day in a row. The Vancouver singer-songwriter is in Toronto to promote his upcoming third album, Each Other, and while he was aware that this interview would be taking place at celebrity chef David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar location in Toronto, he went ahead and slurped up a bowl of warm, brothy Japanese noodles the night before anyway.
Knight is an avid fan of ramen, though, and doesn’t mind this sudden mini-tour of carb-filled delights. In fact, a scroll through Knights’ foodie tweets and you’ll find this hot take: "[R]eal talk though, ramen is the best pasta noodle."
When Knight isn’t busy writing, recording or touring behind his music — his latest effort is a rich, textured collection of songs that builds with quivering guitar riffs, bellowing bass lines and layers of brass instruments — he’s focused on building similar layers of flavours in the food that he cooks. Not only has he publicly chronicled his bastardization of Italian recipes on his social media platforms, but Knight has also expressed much interest in diving into the worlds of sauces, soups and pierogies. (He even made more than 200 servings of pork buns and pierogies for his own wedding.)
It’s fitting that Knight’s string of ramen-related tweets led us to Momofuku Noodle Bar, as Chang’s take on the Italian pasta dish cacio e pepe — using ramen noodles instead of the standard tagliolini, bucatini or spaghetti — is what the musician was trying to recreate when he shared his controversial thoughts with fans online.
"It just makes sense to me to use a noodle that you really like even if it’s not Italian," Knight says. "I made it myself and I agree that it’s a better texture than just regular spaghetti noodles. I think Asian noodles are superior in terms of texture and that’s why I tweeted that."
While food is a basic necessity we all partake in to some degree, it has been of particular interest to many musicians over the years. Whether it’s a touring band just trying to find a place to eat before a show or a musician who has gone so far as starting their own food blogs (M. Ward and My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Beastie Boys’ Mike D, the Avett Brothers’ Joe Kwan, Death From Above 1979's Sebastien Grainger), artists are given the ultimate opportunity to tour cuisines around the world while promoting their music. Knight admittedly doesn’t have a food blog (not a private one anyway; he once created a cereal-themed Tumblr page), but his serious interest in all things food has seeped into his social media presence, making him one of the most entertaining people to follow online.
"A lot of my time is spent thinking about food," Knight says, when asked about the apparent theme in his online posts. "I read a lot about food, I think about developing my own skills, cooking and testing the limits of my palate to see what I like and what I don’t like. Food is sort of life’s greatest pleasure, for most people."
Throughout our lunch, Knight talks at length about Canadian cuisine, manufactured foods and the foods he grew up eating with palpable fervency. He’s excited to share what he has discovered through his years of experimenting and perfecting recipes, but he is also eager to learn more. It’s very much the same passion he displays for his music and, while Knight restrained from making too many correlations between food and music, he couldn't help but make this analogy when explaining his love of good bread:
"A great loaf of bread is like going and listening to a great record or seeing a great show in that it takes a very long time to develop the skills and the raw stuff to make the bread, but it’s incredibly enjoyable, and at its core, it’s quite simple."
Food wasn’t always a great love of Knight’s. Growing up with "hippie, granola" parents, he was embarrassed to go to school with his prepared meals because of a “feeling of dread and the inability to trade for any food item because I just had way more vegetables and green things.” But Knight credits his sudden interest in food to the time he moved out of his parents’ home, therefore having to cook for himself, and his need to question authority, a.k.a. go against the strictness of recipes by trial and error as well as reading about the science behind cooking food. For beginners learning the essentials of cooking, he recommends Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.
A staple in his mom’s arsenal was a savoury Turkish pastry called borek, made from flaky filo dough and often filled with feta cheese and spinach. Though understandably weird compared to other kids’ PB&J sandwiches and mini pizza Lunchables, it’s these traditional recipes that Knight feels most proud of now. He hopes to pass them along to future generations in addition to creating new ones, like the pork buns he has become so accustomed to making. (It’s not a trip to Momofuku without a plate of pork buns, which we ordered as a fatty, delectable side to our mains.)
“I’m going to learn how to make borek with my mom some time because she’s just been making it for so long,” Knight says. “She made it for her wedding and I made pork buns for my wedding. I really wanted to be part of that tradition of making food for your celebration and I want to continue the family line, but I also want to start my own.”
So what do Knight and his bandmates do when they don’t have the luxury of kitchens on the road? While Knight doesn’t hide his love of McDonald’s fries, fast food is rarely an option due to a long history of allergies in the band. Instead, they opt for grocery store runs. “There aren’t a lot of hot foods but you can sort of go in there and just go to the produce section and get fruits and vegetables, which sort of works.”
“Whenever we have a little time off, I definitely try to look up good restaurants to go to, something a little more extravagant,” Knight adds.
Although Knight and his bandmates have failed to get a table at Denmark’s two Michelin-star restaurant Noma, Knight does recall one of his favourite meals on tour in Canada.
“I had a really good experience after having a really horrible experience,” Knight prefaces. The event stood out so much that he remembered the exact date (Oct. 23, 2012), incidentally also the release date of his second album, Small Reveal, and his birthday.
“We were driving away from Calgary and we started skidding out on the road and spun out into a ditch so we wrecked the van and the trailer and had to get towed back into Calgary,” he explains. “I was like, ‘OK this day sucks, what are we going to do? Let’s go eat something,’ so we went to Charcut, which is Top Chef Canada contestant Connie Desousa’s restaurant. It was a really expensive, extravagant meal but it made me feel better.”