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'Dinner With the Band' First Look: Rufus Wainwright joins Sam Mason

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On IFC’s cooking-talk show-concert hybrid series Dinner With the Band (new season premiering tonight, 10:30 p.m.), New York chef Sam Mason invites indie musicians to his kitchen for a meal and music. To kick things off this season, Rufus Wainwright stops by to help prepare a German-influenced menu including schnitzel, spaetzle and sauerkraut. We chatted with Sam about the show, his musical tastes, and why music and food go so well together.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the show come about?

SAM MASON: The producers called me. They called me six years ago. Darin called me, [said], “I have an idea for a cooking show you might be interested in,” so I said OK. We met up and he told me this grand story about this cooking show that involves live music and indie rock bands. He Google searched tattooed chefs. Six years ago, apparently I was the only tattooed chef. I’m not a big fan of [the story].

Are you a big music fan?

I am really into music. I’m a little all over the place with my preferences. It kind of worked out really well. It was a good marriage.

What is it about cooking that makes it a good combination with music?

I feel like the mediums are kind of the same. They blend well. Music and food start in the same place and end in the same place. They’re this creative idea. You know kind of where you’re going, but you might not quite end up there artistically. But at the end of the day you’re happy with your product. They go through the same motions. Any musician I’ve talked to about this agrees. I don’t think any other art form is quite like it. You have this idea in your head and you try to lay it down on paper.

How do you pick the musical guests?

Originally I was kind of like overwhelmed. I was like, you guys do what you have to do to make this work. It was always a lot harder in the beginning [to book guests]. And now, it’s starting to get momentum and the bands have a reference point now. It’s a lot easier to get them now so I get to help pick them.

Who is your dream guest?

Elvis Costello. But there are a lot of bands I’m not familiar with and they’ve always been the bands that are the most interesting to cook with or the most interesting once you see [them] live. I like being turned on to new music more than anything.

Who have you discovered through the show?

The Mountain Goats this season turned out to be really fantastic.

How was it to have Rufus Wainwright in the kitchen?

I couldn’t believe I’m was in the same room with this guy.

After watching the first episode of this season, we see that Rufus isn’t the most, er, expert chef. Is it more fun to cook with a culinary novice or someone who’s more experienced?

The one thing I’ve learned is there are no real variables for what makes good TV. A lot of these new up-and-coming bands are very knowledgeable about foods. They’re these Internet foodies. They’re really up-to-date on cooking, which makes for a great episode. But there’s something to be said about the Rufus Wainwright approach which makes for great banter and makes for sincerity. I feel like that did really come across as fun because his lack of food knowledge or confidence in his cooking abilities. I approach each show independently

What’s the difference between your show and the other cooking shows out there?

I always say I enjoy the show the most because it’s a great venue to bring artists out of their comfort zone, which is from behind the piano or the instruments or their other identity. You put them somewhere where they’re less comfortable and you see them in a different light. At the same time, I’m kind of out of my comfort zone because of them. That’s part of the feeling of the show, part of what keeps it real. I don’t want it to ever feel like a format. I want it to be an organic scenario. That’s the hardest part – to keep that in your head. I don’t want them to each feel like they go through the same thing. That’s our job – to make it not feel like a blueprint.

How do you pick the dish for each episode?

That’s one of the keys to the dialogue. We interview them. If it was a dish they had no reference point to, it would make for a really stale environment. We make sure they have a story about. Once you involve them, then they start to pull out these stories and funny anecdotes you would’ve never ever gotten without an intimate dish. You’d be surprised where the dialogue and banter takes itself to. It makes for the intimate storyline.

Interested in making this German dinner? Try your hand at Mason’s recipes below:

SCHNITZEL AT LAST

ZEBULON SPAETZLE

NEW YORK SAUERKRAUT

COCKTAIL: THE JUDY

SCHNITZEL AT LAST

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

1 whole rabbit

3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, from loaf with crusts removed

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons milk

All-purpose flour for dredging

Kosher salt to taste

Lemon wedges

PREPARATION:

Begin by butchering rabbit.  Carefully remove both rabbit breasts with loin and back meat still attached.  Place a piece of plastic wrap over each breast/loin portion. Using a meat mallet, pound rabbit until you achieve an overall even thickness, approximately ¼-inch.  Repeat with remaining rabbit breast/loin.  Reserve remaining rabbit for stock/jus (recipe to follow).

Combine fresh bread crumbs, grated lemon peel, and salt and pepper on one plate. Whisk eggs and 2 tablespoons milk in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and kosher salt to taste to another plate.  Dredge rabbit cutlets with flour; dip into beaten egg mixture, then coat cutlets with the breadcrumb mixture. Transfer to a plate.

Heat oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add rabbit cutlets, 1 at a time; cook until crumbs are golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer cutlets to 2 plates. Serve with lemon wedges, spaetzle (see recipe below), rabbit jus (see recipe below) and sauerkraut (see recipe below).

RABBIT JUS

INGREDIENTS:

2 lbs rabbit bones

1 tablespoon fennel seed

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon anise seeds

1 white onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 fennel bulb, chopped, fronds reserved for garnish

3 tablespoons butter

PREPARATION:

Break rest of rabbit down for stock.  Remove rabbit saddle for a later use.  Make a sachet with the fennel seed, peppercorns, bay leaves and anise seeds for the stock; set aside.  In a medium stock pot, sear rabbit on high heat until well browned.  Remove rabbit and add onions, carrots, celery, and fennel bulb.  Saute 5 minutes until browned.  Add rabbit and spice sachet to stock pot.  Cover in cold water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and gently simmer, uncovered, skimming froth occasionally, 3 hours.

Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and discard solids. If using stock right away, skim off and discard any fat. If not, cook stock completely, then chill, covered, and discard any solidified fat.

Place rabbit stock in a sauce pot and reduce by half.  Rabbit jus should coat the back of a spoon.  Begin whisking in butter until jus is glossy.  Season to taste and set aside.

ZEBULON SPAETZLE

INGREDIENTS:

4 large eggs

12 oz all purpose flour

½ cup Dijon mustard plus 1 tablespoon

3 tablespoons Colman’s dry mustard

6 oz crème fraiche

3 tablespoons butter

PREPARATION:

In a medium bowl, mix eggs, flour, ½ cup Dijon, dry mustard, and crème fraiche.  Mix until well combined.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with very cold water and set aside.  Working over barely simmering water, force half of batter through spaetzle maker until long strips form.

As spaetzle float to surface, transfer to bowl of cold water using a slotted spoon.  Remove from cold water and drain.   Toss drained spaetzle in a bowl with oil to keep from sticking.

In a large skillet set at high heat, cook butter until browned.  Add spaetzle, sauté until golden on the edges, 5-10 minutes.  Season with 1 tablespoon of Dijon, salt, and pepper.  Set aside and keep warm.

NEW YORK SAUERKRAUT

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz grated parsnip, grated on fine box grater

½ teaspoon toasted caraway seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

PREPARATION:

Add grated parsnip to a small bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Toss well and let sit at room temperature, covered, for 2-3 hours.

THE JUDY

Serves 1

INGREDIENTS:

4 oz Riesling grape juice infusion (see recipe below)

2 oz club soda

1 bay leaf

Glass – White Wine Glass

Build Drink:

In white wine glass, add 4 oz Riesling grape juice infusion and 2 oz club soda. Garnish with fresh bay leaf and grapefruit rind.

Riesling Grape Juice Infusion

INGREDIENTS:

750 ml Riesling grape juice

10 fresh bay leaves

Rind of 1 grapefruit, pith removed

2 tablespoons toasted crushed coriander seed

PREPARATION:

Combine the ingredients and let sit for several hours. Strain through fine cheesecloth into a clean vessel.

Photo: Richard Stokes/IFC

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