Tag Archives: interview

The Global War on Tribal Islam: An Interview with Akbar Ahmed

Originally published here
Also here
“After 9/11, I dedicated myself to creating bridges of understanding between different cultures and faiths. The relationship between the West and the Muslim world seemed to especially be fraught by much misunderstanding,” says Professor Akbar Ahmed. For his latest book, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, Professor Ahmed focused on tribal areas: The peripheral areas between states and on the communities living between borders.  Ahmed provides an exhaustive survey of tribal cultures across North and East Africa, Yemen, and Southwest and Southeast Asia. The title of the book is a metaphor; the thistle was how Leo Tolstoy described the tribes living in the Caucuses in his book Hadji Murad because, like the flower, they were thorny and prickly. The drone, on the other hand, is a symbol of globalism and the epitome of technological advancement.
In The Thistle and The Drone, Ahmed explores in-depth tribal history, culture, code of honor, and tribal Islam, an Islam that is very different in nature from more mainstream branches of the religion. Drawing on 40 case studies that Ahmed and his team of student researchers interviewed and analyzed, Ahmed couches his discussion in the dichotomy between center and periphery.

The first main finding of the book is that terror towards the West is very much perpetrated by tribal people. 90% of the 9/11 hijackers were from Yemeni tribes. The rhetoric used by Osama bin Laden and many others has always been very tribal in nature, Ahmed suggests.  Thus, he says, “we [the West] are fighting one kind of war when it is an entirely different kind of war to them.” The second major point is that Ahmed believes that there is a way that the tribes can be pacified via peaceful and diplomatic means, citing the example of the Aceh in Indonesia or the relations between Scotland and England.
The central argument of The Thistle and the Drone is that “war on terror” is ultimately a war between a central government and a periphery. In Ahmed’s view, the “center” is nearly always in direct conflict with the tribal societies—a war of the state vs. its domestic antagonists, if you will. These tribal societies are often fighting against modernity or increasing encroachment upon their territories and way of life– the Rohingya in Burma, the Tuareg in Mali, or the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example. “These tribes already have turbulent relations with the central government, which has failed to bring them into the nation, and the war on terror has only exacerbated this tension.” In addition, their own fellow Muslims often look upon the tribespeople as backward as well. This central vs. periphery tension is something Ahmed sees as fixable but not through the use of drones in the war on terror. “Drones have in essence become a symbol of Western arrogance. A far cry from the surgical-precision weapons they are described as, they have devastating moral costs. We often don’t hear about what it is like to live in an area where drones are buzzing overhead all night long—how often the women and the children suffer…”

Cosmopolitan Sex Workers: An Interview with Christine Chin

Originally published on The Stoner’s Journal

Professor Christine Chin came to write her ground-breaking book, Cosmopolitan Sex Workers: Women and Migration in a Global City, somewhat reluctantly as sex work a subject she was not initially interested in and one that is fraught with contention in feminist scholar circles.My first book was about domestic workers in Asia; my second was about global cruise ships. Even though I kept hearing about sex workers, I was not interested in conducting research on the topic initially. One of the reasons was that the debate amongst feminists on how to understand this phenomenon was divided between abolitionists and those who felt that sex workers had agency and that it was a valid choice, with the dominant perspective being the abolitionist. I did not want to get into this debate as I felt it was too binary and picking a side was incredibly limiting.”

Christine Chin: Cosmopolitan Sex Workers

Christine Chin: Cosmopolitan Sex Workers

Dr. Chin instead allowed what was coming in from the field to shape her line of inquiry—for example, news reports of immigration raids were suggesting that not all of the women in the industry had been trafficked. “I started to dig into this somewhat reluctantly, but I also saw how the literature up to this point was so rigid and so…almost morally rarefied; it was very focused on sex trafficking and I felt that there was an unrecognized spectrum of experience that could only be seen by letting the women tell their stories.”
Utilizing an ethnographic method, Dr. Chin interviewed a number of sex workers from all over the world–including Asia, the Middle East, and Russia–living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, shattering  many of the prevailing views on the industry, and turning her research lens on non-trafficked women who willingly migrate to major global metropolises for sex work. Uncovering a wide spectrum of experiences, including the nature of the migration (serial, where women shuttle back and forth between home and a city vs. circular, where the women move within the global cities of a region and then move to another region), whether the workers moved with the aid of a syndicate or independently, and the motivation for their involvement in the industry, Cosmopolitan Sex Workers paints a complex picture of the structural forces of globalization at play and how the women very keenly understand and respond to them.
When I sat down with Dr. Chin to discuss her book, she outlined three of the key findings of Cosmopolitan Sex Workers. Firstly, migration for sex work is being globalized via an interconnected web of global cities that are nodes on this new frontier. For example, there are Senegalese women in Paris and Eastern European women in the Middle East—in other words, the same forces at play as a result of globalization are impacting this industry in predictable ways as well. The clients these women serve also travel to these destinations driven by the same economic motivations. Second, the common assumption that the workers are the “poorest of the poor,” is often not true. Some of the women are college graduates and/or come from middle class families. The women enter the business for a variety of reasons. For example, to assist their families, save money to start a business, get an education abroad, enjoy a certain more consumptive lifestyle, or simply earn income while travelling. These are the same reasons most workers migrate, regardless of their profession. From the women’s perspective, and the reason Dr. Chin prefers to use the term “sex work” rather than “prostitution,” sex work is work.  Dr. Chin underlines the fact that doing this strictly for survival purposes is not always the case; for many of the women, this is a very calculated choice based on a careful consideration of their ability to earn income doing work that is commonly associated with—and available to–migrants, more specifically domestic work or other blue-collar labor. Sadly, the math weighs heavily on the side of sex work, which could earn them something akin to ten times as much as what they could bring in otherwise. Women’s monthly incomes (post-syndicate “taxes”) range between several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. Thus, the impetus lies somewhere between a familiar, pragmatic strategy and an imperative.

Trafficking map: USA Routes

Sex trafficking USA routes via anti-trafficking organization The Future Group

Finally, Dr. Chin reflects on how neoliberal globalization facilitates the occurrence of the relatively new phenomenon of non-trafficked sex workers. Some of the women contract with syndicates or facilitating groups—one of those syndicates is explored in-depth in the book. Morphing from a traditional Chinese secret society or a triad to a new model of a transnational corporation, it reflects the environment of the global city. Whereas organizations such as this one previous dealt in debt bondage and extortion, the newly “cleaned up” climate of the global cities rendered those feudal vestige industries obsolete, if you will. This is a horizontal organization that conducts a lot of “legitimate” business, such as investing and as a business organization also responds to the needs of its clients. What are those needs, you might ask? Predictably, fair-skinned women are in high demand, as are African women who are perceived to be “exotic” in Europe. To quote one of the members, “they want to make this a five star city; we will give them five star women.” Women who contract with such syndicates pay agreed-upon fees and a percentage of their income in return for syndicate-arrangement of their travel documents, transportation, board and lodging, and personal security.  The spaces for the sex work are very varied as are the hierarchies of what was “in,” in other words: The physical characteristics of the women controlled where they could work and what prices they could command. Most of these women come into the cities under the auspices of either a tourist or a student visa. Though it deserves mentioning that some actually were receiving legitimate educations and not just using the visa status as a cover.

“The political economy of colonialism is not that terribly removed from the political economy of globalization and the sex industry illustrates that these ‘shadow economies’ are not afterthoughts or side effects but something that is inherently built into the system.”

“The political economy of colonialism is not that terribly removed from the political economy of globalization and the sex industry illustrates that these ‘shadow economies’ are not afterthoughts or side effects but something that is inherently built into the system,” Dr. Chin says. This system, in parallel with the same structural forces in place under colonialism, is highly gendered and racialized. Dr. Chin explains, “The book shows the gradations, the nuances of something that was previously thought to be very binary. I wanted to show that the women are responding, and rather astutely so, to structural forces at play. They understand the hypocrisies inherent in the system—the fact that their occupation is morally-condemned, yet at the same time, work such as being a domestic servant is so incredibly low-paying and subjects them to abuse as well.”

The Sectarian Myth: Iraq Ambassador Lukman Faily Speaks On The Situation In Iraq

My article
“The reality in Iraq is very different from that portrayed in the international media,” affirmed the Iraq Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily in a talk at American University on February 18th. The focus on violence and the identification of sectarianism as the root cause of Iraq’s violence creates what he called a “sectarian meta-narrative,” that is far too simplistic of a paradigm and one that has plagued not just Western media portrayal of the region but also Arab media rhetoric as well. “It is easier to define a country in binary terms; to find simple, sellable elements to hone in on in the media. Violence has long stopped being sectarian in nature since about 2006-2007.” Ambassador Faily defied all the conventions of a typical “ambassador speech,” electing to speak frankly on the many misconceptions surrounding Iraq’s democratic transformation.
“Dictatorship changes the fabric of society.” Upon my request to further expound on this, the Ambassador stated that, “the longer and more ruthless the dictatorship, the longer it takes to shake off that coat, if you will. The state is there for the needs of the dictator so the people no longer associate themselves with the state. In a sense, people dislodge themselves from the state, which is why, for example, we saw the looters when the regime collapsed. The years under Saddam were detrimental to the Iraqi society. People began to associate the sanctions with the US because they were so removed from the state as a concept.” Psychologically, he explained, there is a need for cleansing after living so long in those circumstances. “Dictatorship demoralizes people, it makes for a more inward-looking, self-centered community and the longer it lasts, the more adverse the effect.” Placing Iraq more in the context of the Arab Spring movement, Ambassador Faily described the mindset of the people as “I want change, but I am not sure what the new social contract should look like.” People are after a new social contract, he suggested, but the weak civil society institutions in place, and the total dearth of NGOs and other community organizations, mean that the foundations are still not there and the role of the citizens is still unclear. “This is a young democracy and more people participation is needed.” This also necessitates the need not just political reforms but for social and economic ones as well.

Iraq Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily and AU Professor Dr. Abdul Aziz Said in a talk at American University on February 18th. ©Toni Ti

Ambassador Faily then offered a very theoretically-rich construct to apply to the state of Iraq—the dichotomy of nation building vs. state building. “People often conflate nation with state, but this is a bit more complicated in Iraq. The state as a concept is very clear, but the definition of what it means to be an Iraqi is evolving.” What is the nation, he asked, especially in a society as heterogeneous as Iraq, where people can define themselves by a plethora of factors such as region/province, religious, or ethnic identity. He outlined several questions, including, “Do we rebuild the national character or the state institutions?” and “Do citizens have a stake in the nation or in the state?”
In addressing the current economic climate in Iraq, the Ambassador stated that the adverse impact of past sanctions was severe damage to the economic infrastructure. The current rate of economic growth is 9-11%, with steady increases in oil production and income levels. Unemployment, however, remains the same due to an over-reliance on oil production. Since oil as an industry is not very labor-intensive, he explained, it employs less than 1% of the population. “The core structure of the economy has to be managed better, with less reliance on subsidizing certain sectors.” Iraq also hopes to maintain a long-term investment relationship with the United States.

Interview With Rohit Rao, Director of Ultrasonic

My interview with Rohit Rao about the movie Ultrasonic:

Local filmmaker Rohit Colin Rao, the writer/director/cinematographer/editor/composer/musician behind the remarkable film Ultrasonic sat down with BYT to talk about his second feature, a true labor of love. The film is a compelling, hypnotic homage to chiaroscuro, shot in black and white, with occasional flourishes of sepia tones, and its adept use of depth-of-field camera work recalls a certain Drive-esque sensibility. While harkening to the conspiracy-thriller aesthetics of PiUltrasonic’s cinematography is not frenetic and claustrophobic. It lends itself seamlessly to the purposely-ambiguous narrative arc–the smoke and mirrors aspect of “reality” and “normalcy.” Is the protagonist Simon really hearing a noise no one else can hear [ha] or is it all in his head?
Rao does a superb job of writing a script that allows that ambivalence to linger without resorting to heavy-handed, beat-the-audience-over-the-head tactics. Ultrasonic is a story of one man’s isolation and a testament to tenuous nature of reality. It’s engrossing and moody but never sinister. Rao’s love for DC is palpable in his selection of locations to shoot–with nary a “DC landmark” in sight, this is what our city really looks like at night, with shadows moving in waves, falling away then taking over. The brilliant soundtrack adds an extra element to the milieu, the hum inside Simon’s head resembling the undercurrent of threat that underpins the film.


1. Could you please talk a little about your background? How difficult was it to shoot a feature, from a logistical perspective, especially in DC, a place not normally associated with movie-making?
Well, I made my first short film when I was 24.  It was called Blocks.  I made another one a year later called Someone and Someone, Inc. Since then, aside from my day job, I focused on my bands and songwriting, until of course 2010 when I picked up the Canon T2i.
Regarding how difficult it was to shoot this feature… I’m not trying to deter anyone from doing this, in fact I think that anyone with a real desire to make a feature should stop reading this and go out and start it now.  But, this thing almost broke me.  I was a walking shell of a human being by the end of this process.  Logistically, it was a bit more difficult to get started in DC, specifically because the pool of cast and crew is smaller than someplace like LA or NY.  In the beginning, it was four of us that were the team that was going to make this happen.  Mario (sound recordist), Mike (my co-writer and script supervisor), Tayne (art direction, key grip, all around go-to guy) and myself.  I was the only one who had been on a set before, so I knew there was going to be a learning curve there.  I didn’t believe I could get it all done without having at least one more person on set who has been on a crew before.
I was lucky to be referred to Nabou, who ended up producing the film with me.  Nabou has her MFA in Film Studies from Chapman University and understood all the ins and outs of how a production should run, so I was able to breathe easier knowing things like the script breakdown and schedule could be taken off my plate.  Finally, I was lucky to find Liza Gipsova, an American University film grad, who had run camera on sets before and came on board as my Assistant Camera and Gaffer.  With the three of us having on-set experience, it became clear to me that we had a small but competent and committed team of people and could really do something potentially big here.
2. The cinematography in the movie is spectacular.  Could you talk a little bit about the conscious choice you made in shooting the movie in black-and-white/sepia tones? There is also really interesting use of the depth of field/focus–was this with the intention of creating the claustrophobic/tense atmosphere of the movie?
Thanks. The cinematography was one of the pieces that was on the forefront of my mind from the start. One of the things I knew I wanted for the film was for it to be visually striking.  Once I bought the camera, I started shooting a LOT of test footage, and doing various color grades on them. I bought the camera before we wrote the script, so I used the entire time we were writing the script to learn the camera and its idiosyncracies, and to also figure out what I wanted the color palette to look like. Ultrasonic was always meant to be a color film, right up to about a month before I finished post-production.  I had a really sweet color scheme of deep reds and greens that I felt would be perfect for the film.
However, as with just about everything else with this movie, the B&W decision came from a limitation of budget.  I didn’t have the money to buy or rent a decent color grading monitor, and without it, I would have had a nearly impossible time matching color between cuts/shots, so I started thinking of other options.  Straight Black and White was an option, and I was messing with the B&W contrast one night when the tv was on, and on came Sin City. I really liked his use of yellow in the highlights so I started playing around in Apple Color and was able to push some yellow through in the post-color part that comes through in the highlights nicely. It met my “visually striking” requirement, so Ultrasonic became black and white.
The focus issue was a different choice altogether.  During my testing-the-camera phase, I realized that the focus ring on these cameras is really difficult to use accurately.  A change in focus from one point to another would be something like a few millimeters shift in the focus ring, and to do that in the middle of a shot, especially with a moving shot, would prove incredibly difficult. So I decided to use the out of focus look as-is.  There are a few shots where I had the subject walk to their mark, and rather than following focus, I just left them blurry in the background until they got to their mark when the essentially “walked into focus.” I think it worked. I hope it worked.

3. Talk a little bit about the more “banal” logistics of making the movie–getting permits to shoot on the Metro, casting actors, budget?
After the script was done, I began the process of looking for actors.  Mike and I went to this mass-audition called Stonehenge in Baltimore.  I didn’t get much of an idea of actors who would be good for the parts from that, so I decided to hold a casting call of our own.  We had the call early in November 2010, and had over 100 actors show up to audition throughout the day.  By the end of the day, we had pretty much everyone cast but Simon.  I was interested in this one guy and started talks with him about it.  He was good, but ultimately I’m glad it didn’t work out with him as Ultrasonic would have been a much different film than it was.  A couple of weeks later, Mamoy, my bassist (who you see playing bass in the opening credits of the film), texted me and asked if I was still looking for actors and that he had run into someone at a party who would like to audition.  I told him we had everything cast but the main role, and he was welcome to come audition for it.  Enter Silas; he came and read with Cate (Ruth), as she had already been cast.  He nailed it.  My big thing with all the actors was that I really wanted their performances to be subdued (well, except Jonas).
4. The sensibilities of Ultrasonic are very Pi-like. Did Pi influence you?
You know, I think I’m subconsciously influenced by it more than I know.  I’m starting to get the Pi reference kinda regularly.  I watched Pi on opening night at the now-defunct Outer Circle on Wisconsin Avenue.  Damn if I wasn’t blown away by it.  Aronofsky immediately became one of my favorite directors.  Interestingly enough, though, I feel that I’ve been more influenced by his later films than by Pi.  Requiem for a Dream kicked my ass.  Then I watched Black Swan in the theater with Tayne about three weeks before filming Ultrasonic and that kicked my ass even harder!  I remember coming home and being suuuper depressed because of how good it was and what I felt I had to live up to.  Anyway, I think there’s definitely some latent Pi influence going on though, because it seems a lot of people are seeing that correlation.  I will say I know one thing for a fact that was a conscious influence on me was Clint Mansell’s scores.  I first noticed it in Pi but it was so incredible in Requiem, that it made me realize the importance of score in a film, and that a score can actually help shape whether a film is good or not, as well as shape the audience’s reaction to what is going on on-screen.
5. How did you initially come up with the story for the movie? Were you at all interested in conspiracy theories before?
When I made the decision to make the film, I contacted two writing buddies of mine, Mike Maguire and Chris Peloso.  We met at the bar at Clydes in Rockville and from the first meeting, began throwing out ideas.  I had just moved back from Seattle where I lived for about three years.  We moved there in the summer, which was amazing.  Crisp, no humidity, everyone out and about, everyone nice… it was awesome.  My neighbor, and future Translucents guitarist Ryan, warned me about the coming winter.  He said, “It doesn’t get cold, but the low cloud-cover and the rain… it messes with your mind.”  The rains came in October and I remember thinking it was no big deal.  Come November, I had gone crazy… well, relatively.  A weird paranoia set in.  It got so bad I began to see a therapist who put me on Paxil.  Paxil helped but it made me feel not quite like myself, so I stopped taking it.  It did take away the feelings of paranoia though, and the feeling that someone was following me, etc.. Over the next couple of years, I learned to deal with the winter there, but man, it was a psychological trip, to say the least.
Anyway, so when I met with Mike and Chris, we had initially come up with a story about a musician who had figured out a formula to write the perfect song, but the more we talked, the more I found us discussing a lot of these ideas of paranoia and such.  I never told them about the Paxil, I don’t think I did anyway, but I did tell them a little about what I went through during that time.  I’m not really into conspiracy theories, but I’m definitely interested in the psychological disorder part of the story.  That’s really what I think the storyline is about, it’s about Simon’s state of mind, as opposed to the conspiracy.
6. Did you have to do research on the psychological causes of auditory hallucinations [which are actually very common for people under stress]?
No, not really.  We made all that up.  I never had auditory hallucinations during that period, it was more just an idea that we liked that we went with.
7. The music for the movie was entirely composed by you. Was it difficult for you to wear so many hats in making this? Could you discuss your music background a little bit?
Yeah, I scored the film, and the rock songs in the film are by my band in Seattle, The Translucents, and the band I started when I moved here, Tigertronic.  Initially, Tigertronic was going to write the entire soundtrack, but Mario was called to Honduras on account of his father being ill, and ended up not being able to produce the thing.  There are two main piano lines in the film that I had come up with during pre-production that I knew I wanted to use, so I began to think of ways to turn those licks into songs, without having someone who could produce a live band playing it.  The answer came in a small $60 piece of beat-slicing software called Renoise.  I had been messing with it for a while, and decided to pull in the piano loops and put some beats on it myself.  In the late ’90s, I became a bit fixated on how Aphex Twin got his beats to be so fast, so “ripped,” and it wasn’t until I found Renoise that I understood how he did it.  It also wasn’t until I found Renoise that I began enjoying making electronic music.  Anyway, so I pulled the analog piano loops into Renoise, and started slicing beats to it.  The sound I was getting from it sounded insane (to me), so I decided to continue and do the entire score that way.  The beats ended up adding a complexity and frenetic quality to the soundtrack that I really fell in love with.
As far as my musical background goes, music is my first love.  I studied classical violin for about 10 years until my sophomore year in high school when I traded my violin for an electric guitar.  That’s around the time I began making music with my buddies, with whom I used to sneak off to watch shows.  Dischord Records is all I can say about that period of my life (well, and DeSoto records).  Fugazi with The MakeUp at Fort Reno Park in ’96 will forever be etched in my brain.  Jawbox was (and in a lot of ways will always be) my favorite band.  I wanted to be Bill Barbot. The band we started was called Substationine, and we decided to create a zine.  The farthest I got with the zine was to do an interview with Bill Barbot and Kim Colletta backstage at a University of Maryland show they did.  Anyway, music is a form of expression that I hope to continue making for the rest of my life.
8. Discuss your relationship with DC as a setting. Clearly, it lends itself especially well to the “conspiracy theory” angle of the film, but you shoot in neighborhoody DC and the film runs like it was shot by someone in love with his city.
I do love DC.  I grew up in Silver Spring and went to high school in Takoma Park in the early ’90s.  My first trip to the city as a teenager, without my parents, was with a couple of buddies from school.  We told our parents we were going to “Physics is Phun” at UMCP for extra credit, and instead we went to see this band called “Therapy?” at the original 9:30 Club on F street. I was 16 years old.  I remember walking up to the door and seeing the “9:30” on the window above the door.  It’s still so vivid in my mind.  We watched the show, hung out drinking our cokes in the back bar, and life wasn’t the same anymore.  We began voraciously consuming the DC music scene, and that period definitely helped shape my musical tastes/sensibilities today.  Anyway, that’s where my DC loyalist mentality first took root, it’ll be always be home to me, it’s where I cut my teeth growing up.

My Interview With Chef Jacob Hunter from Matchbox

Fashion District Flavors w/Chef Jacob Hunter of Matchbox

Chef Jacob Hunter of Matchbox literally wears his love of cooking on his sleeve–he’s got a vibrant, palate-stirring/palette-spanning array of food tattoos on his forearms, including a so, so scandalously delicious giant scanwich. And like a true Atlanta-ite, he references Outkast as one of his favorite groups, who often give nods to Atlanta’s rich culinary heritage in their lyrics [“And if you like fish and grits and all that…”].

Growing up in Atlanta, he was cooking with family from an early age–his Mom is Italian and he cooked BBQ and gumbo with his Dad. “In high school, I worked as a busboy and server and eventually, when it was time to go to college, I decided to go to culinary school because it sounded kind of easy–I hadn’t really thought about how much work and what long hours chefing is. It’s intense.”
After attending the Art Institute of Atlanta, Jacob started working with Levy Restaurants, a massive food group that works with most of the major arenas and stadiums. One of the perks of the job was getting to see concerts. Jacob rattles off The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Jane’s Addiction, Tool, Bjork, and his hometown Outkast as his favorites. After stints in Chicago, and travel in Florida, California, and Wisconsin, he joined McCormick & Schmick’s as executive chef. He was looking to move South until things went south with his girlfriend and he stayed in DC, finding a job with Matchbox as a sous chef. “I turned down a lot of money to start at what seemed like a lower position, but you gotta go with your gut, you know. It just seemed like the right move for me.” Working his way up, he is now an executive chef and also serves on the operations board, which allows him to consult on the opening of new locations.

“I still really enjoy cooking Italian, BBQ [we participated in the BBQ Battle last year and it was a lot of fun and a lot of work–there is an art to good BBQ], and Asian. I also really like putting a fine dining spin on comfort food, kind of like what Thomas Keller does at the French Laundry.” He laments the lack of a proper taco stand here in DC and cites Little Serow, Toki Underground, Mandu, Mike Isabella’s Graffiato, and small noodleshops in Chinatown as some of his haunts.
“Sandwiches are my favorite food and I love Scanwiches so much that I got one of theirs as a tattoo. I also have a beet, fried eggs, a pig, and utensils on my forearms. I plan on getting some peanuts, as well as bottle of wine pouring out a giant wave ala the stylized Japanese waves. I go to Butch at Champion Tattoo. Some of these he did totally freehand–like the beet one, he just drew on there with a Sharpie! I was a little nervous, but it turned out amazing!”

For Fashion District, Chef Hunter will be preparing a tuna tartare in a crispy rice paper cup [fry a rice paper wrapper normally used for spring rolls], with some sesame, sriracha, soy sauce, nori, and a diced apple and golden beet.

Interview with Chef Ian Reeves From The Queen Vic

My interview with Chef Ian Reeves from the Queen Vic

I knew I was in for a treat when The Queen Vic‘s Chef Ian Reeves asked if I could Marco Pierre White-ify the photos [which, alas, I miserably failed in due to technical difficulties]. In other words, shoot them in that iconic black-and-white, cigarette-dangling-from-the-corner-of-the-mouth, literally dripping with bad boy swagger style. You know…like back in the days when chefs weren’t “famous” for peddling Teflon pans on TV, but were instead infamous for true rock star-worthy antics like physically tossing unappreciative rubes of patrons out of their restaurants [which Marco has done plenty of]. For those of you not in the know–and what kind of a self-respecting foodie do you fancy yourself to be if you do not, for shame–Marco Pierre White is THE eponymous British chef, the youngest chef to earn three Michelin stars, and a veritable maniacal workaholic. He also is probably one of the few men who have made Gordon Ramsay cry in the kitchen–small consolation, Hell’s Kitchen contestants.

So, when Ian Reeves cited Marco Pierre White as one of his major influences, I knew he had good taste! He was also a really good sport, a jocular and jolly fellow, and a frequent user of the “luv” appellation [like, “are you hungry, luv?”]. In other words, he was the perfect host and a brilliant interview subject.

Chef Reeves has been cooking for a decade, with no formal training, “just working his way up in kitchens.” Born and raised in Gloucestershire, England, he touts the home economics course he took in what we Americans would call high school, as well as his Grandma and mother’s cooking as great learning experiences. The holidays he spent in Brittany also contributed to his culinary stylings. In the UK, he worked in country house hotels and honed his skills in “upper-end modern European cooking.” In 2005, he worked as a Chef De Cuisine in Vikram Garg’s Indebleu, where he picked up some of the Indian influence that shows up in The Queen Vic’s menu.

“I would say that one big focus of The Queen Vic is roasted meats, slowly braised. We break down half a side of beef, or pig, every couple of weeks right here on the premises. We have four blackboards in the restaurant, with ten specials on a daily basis. I often incorporate Indian or Northern African dishes, like stews, on the menu. I also have a good basis in Italian and French so we do things like gnocchi.” After a recent stint back home, Chef Reeves came back to the US with his wife. “I am really glad to be here. There are a lot of opportunities.”

At Fashion District, Chef Reeves and his wife will be serving a braised and pulled pork with a Szechuan sauce in a lettuce wrap, with a cucumber/carrot/cilantro/roasted peanut garnish.

 

Slow Machete: Killing You Softly with the Otherworldly Sounds of Haiti

My interview and feature on Slow Machete for The Vinyl District

Rolling Stone
once described Sigur Ros as “the sound of God weeping tears of gold in heaven.” Slow Machete, a musical collaboration of local artist Joe Shaffer and Haitian sound-makers, is no less otherworldly and intensely moving.

The vibe in certain parts is musically reminiscent of the spirituals written by enslaved African peoples in America; this is ethnomusicology at its finest, devoid of arty, slapped-on electronica stylings to make it palatable for Western consumption.
Even though this was recorded during Shaffer’s many volunteer trips to Haiti, this album is not polemical in its message (and refreshingly free of overbearing Bono-esque humanitarian asides). It is an album that is truly a tribute to Haiti’s spirit, raw and uninhibited and unbridledly beautiful. The harmonium [similar to a reed organ]‘s sound is lushly organic and, mixed with the vocal and other samples, creates a sonic tapestry of something akin to peaking behind the curtain of a really cool place. Slow Machete’s Evening Dust Choir officially releases today free on Bandcamp.

Tell me a little bit about how this project came about. What is its significance to you and how does it relate to the work you do in Haiti?
I’d been going to Haiti for a few years with different NGOs and medical teams, assisting clinics, working in an orphanage, clean water initiatives, and so on. Through these networks, I’d begun making some very close friends who are singers or musicians in Haiti. I recorded an album for them, and that sort of began the relationships that I would later record for this project.
I made this album as a soundtrack for experiences. This is a music group or a collective in a way, and I’m tying these sounds together and writing lyrics that sort of just move the plot along without trying to take the spotlight. Haiti is a wonderful place, music everywhere, honesty and directness in people that’s incredibly refreshing. I can’t ignore the difficult situations people are facing like how horrible cholera is right now, but I think my objective is to give an honest representation of how I perceive the culture, and that culture is incredibly beautiful.
The sound of the album is extremely unique in its strong ethnomusical vibe. Could you talk a little about the special instruments and samples you used?
The recordings are split between a few places: DC, a tunnel in Pittsburgh, Costa Rica, Montevideo, and Cap Haitien, Haiti. I’d record hours and hours of everything and anything then spend the evenings trying to piece things together with field samples, movie samples, and drums that are mostly native percussion with pitched down sounds of machetes (hence the band name).
Two sounds that are prevalent throughout the album—an Indian harmonium and “the 913”—I soldered a few bass pickups and alligator clips in a cigar box that I use a lot for drones and bass sounds. I play that with tuning forks most often.

You sampled a machete chopping?
Correct. I have a machete, and I’d record hitting / chopping / swinging that against a variety of things in my apartment in Costa Rica, then pitch those samples down several half steps.
What do you think of the music scene in DC?
I originally came to DC excited about the experimental/noise scene that’s great here. I love what’s going on with house shows and art house venues, anything that makes people connect more intimately with the music.
Could you talk a little about your musical influences?
I love movie soundtracks. The King’s Speech by Alexandre Desplat—I’ve been in love with recently. The Sneakers soundtrack and Jurassic Park soundtrack were my favorites growing up. Some other faves are Juan Luis Guerra , Compay Segundo, and Rage Against the Machine.
How do you want to move this project forward? Do you plan on releasing this album on vinyl?
I hope so—if there is an interest in it. I would like to play shows, and make videos that match the aesthetic.

Interview With Jesse Miller from Cafe Saint-Ex

My interview with chef Jesse Miller from Cafe Saint-Ex

Like most great chefs, Café Saint-Ex Executive Sous Chef Jesse Miller honed his skills the old-fashioned way, eschewing the chef-in-a-box culinary school route to earn his chops by working in kitchens for years. Originally from Baltimore, Jess studied painting at Towson University. To make money during art school, he worked at The Elkridge Furnace Inn, first as a dishwasher, then moving on to prep cook and sous chef. “You can be good at it [cooking] and hate it or bad at it and love it. It just bit me. I decided to focus on this art.” He spent seven years at the Elkridge Furnace Inn, which he describes as “a great place to learn,” and fortuitously met Saint-Ex’s Executive Chef Billy Klein there as well, who recruited him later to join Café Saint-Ex. Their collaboration continues to bear fruits—“we like pushing each other to get better.”
Café Saint-Ex’s menu is very seasonal and showcases the food of local farms. “We go to meet the farmers and it really makes you care about the food more. When you see how hard they work, it really gets you passionate about representing their food.”
At Fashion District, Jesse will be serving a King Salmon sashimi, with a Thai chili relish, yuzu vinaigrette and a soy reduction, with claytonia greens. The soy reduction has a deep, almost caramel undertone, resulting from the soy sauce being cooked for a really long time with a tiny bit of brown sugar, getting it to the right level of viscosity, with an almost-burned tinge for that little bit of char flavor. The yuzu vinaigrette is vibrant and really matches the equally springy claytonia [Miner’s lettuce] that is surrounded by the salmon.

Interview With The Prince Of Petworth

My Interview with the Humblingly Awesome Prince Of Petworth

Dan Silverman, The Prince Of Petworth blogger, is refreshingly old school in his sensibilities—mainly because he really is doing this for the community. His dedication literally emanates from him and his genuine love and appreciation for this city is clearly the only impetus he has. Utterly un-prince-like, Dan is charmingly humble and impressively curious and his knowledge of the city is what draws readers in. He goes out every day not in search of trendy happenings to report on, but for things that move people. His droll and thoroughly infectious enthusiasm for it is palpable—and gutsy—I mean only Prince Of Petworth can get away with posting pictures of doors because they are beautiful.

Like some modern day Lewis and Clark, he eschews the trappings of “cool.” You won’t find him to be a member of the hipsterhood, opting to instead literally tread this city on foot in search of beautiful things. Oh, and he definitely has a European definition of walkability—think 15-18 miles! With his trustee pocket notepad and a camera, The Prince goes in giant loops throughout the city, either following up on specific leads or just exploring. “My blogging day is very varied—I try to mix it up with a variety of things, not just keep it retail-focused. I try to find something that would be beautiful to share. When I discover something new, it’s the best feeling.”

“When I started the blog in 2006, I wanted to show was happening in Petworth, not in the whole city. When I moved to Petworth in 2003, my initial response was ‘I don’t see anything happening’ so I set out to write about things in my neighborhood. Things have definitely changed since then with tips coming in from people with the preface of, ‘I know it’s not in Petworth, but you might find this interesting.’”

5 Places I Love in DC:

1. Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park. I can’t think of a more beautiful place year around. The fountains in the summer, the vegetation in the spring, even in the winter when the leaves fall off the trees… It also has some of the most beautiful sculptures around—Dante, Joan Of Arc.

2. The waterfront areas of the city. It used to be that there was just the Georgetown one. Now there is Yards Park, Rock Creek Park, and so much more—I love water.

3. The neighborhoods themselves. There is something unique about every neighborhood and it is so nice to see the contrast in the architecture, the variety of it all…

4. The Aquatic Garden and the Arboretum. They are harder to get to without a car, but they are so huge and gorgeous and changing with the seasons.

5. Embassies. The embassies have such interesting architecture and I love stumbling upon a new one. Not too long ago, I was in Van Ness and I saw some embassies that I have not seen before—Pakistan, Egypt…what jaw-dropping architecture.

Dan Silverman

7 Things Essential To Me

1. A camera. More specifically, a Canon G11. That and the Flickr Pool.

2. Community. I do this for the community and the community is such an amazing thing to behold. People taking photos, people giving tips to me and to each other, the Flickr Pool—all this is what makes this site unique.

3. Music. I work by myself all day long and having music to listen to is essential to me. I listen to a wide mix of things – Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam, Drive By Truckers. I usually walk something like 15 to 18 miles a day—this is how walkable this city is. When I first moved to Petworth, I felt isolated, like I had to drive everywhere, but I quickly learned I could walk. This is how you see all the beautiful things and have a chance to really see stuff you had no idea was there.

4. Comfortable shoes—for all that walking.

5. The Old School Notepad. My wife makes fun of me for it, saying that it makes me look like a geek. Yet, I can’t do without it. This is where I jot down a note when I see a “coming soon” sign. Or stuff like “Remember to come back to XYZ.”

6. Coffee. I started out very pedestrian in my tastes and over time, my appreciation has really grown. If I want something fast and quick, Dunkin’ Donuts is best for taste and speed. The structure of the cup is just perfect for mobility and walking around all day. I find that I need coffee way more than food too—I could go all day on three cups of coffee.

7. My forgetfulness. Being forgetful is a great trait to have in such a finite geographic area. It’s a beautiful quirk that allows me to stumble upon things and rediscover them.