The Double Life Q&A: Miranda Brown, Touring Musician & Cook at St. Anselm

01/24/2012 11:19 AM |


Miranda Brown plays with some of our favorite bands and works at one of our favorite restaurants. She’s a multi-instrumentalist with a voice that tugs on the heart-strings and a pastry chef who isn’t tempted by sweets. Her adventures on the road and in the back of the house give her a distinctive perspective on the intersecting worlds of food and music. (Sample tweet: “chopping garlic, thinking about dimebag darrell.” Follow her @mirandanmf.) We chatted with her about the New Pornographers, St. Anselm and salted caramel and bittersweet chocolate pôts de crème:

The L: Where in Brooklyn do you live, how long have you been here, and where are you from originally?

Miranda Brown: I just moved to Kensington from Bed-Stuy a couple of months ago. It’s a much safer, quieter scene down here. I moved to brooklyn in October ’10 from Austin, TX, where I’d spent the previous seven years, but I’m originally from Greenfield, MA.

The L: Can you tell us about your career as a musician?

Brown: I’ve been singing forever, but I didn’t really start playing instruments until I was in my early 20s. I’ve worked as a touring musician for the last five years, singing back-up and playing bass, rhythm guitar, percussion, and/or keyboards for the New Pornographers, Crooked Fingers, A.C. Newman, Sarah Jaffe. I’ve also sung harmonies on a ton of records, most recently on the upcoming “Arrow” by the Heartless Bastards.

The L: How about your culinary career?

Brown: Currently, I’m working as garde manger at St. Anselm in Williamsburg (it’s a fancy French term that basically means I make the cold food). But over the past twenty years, I think I’ve worked every restaurant position possible, with the exception of dishwasher. My favorite was definitely being a pastry chef; I may go back to that one some day. You don’t have to wait on anyone, the rest of the kitchen leaves you alone because they have no idea how to do what you’re doing… it’s peaceful. It’s not rocket science, but you get to spend the day making treats that make people happy. There are worse ways to make a living.

The L: How do you balance the two jobs? Do you have to quit your restaurant job every time you go on tour and start fresh when you come home?

Brown: Considering that I’ve spent most of the last five years working in the back of the house, I’ve actually really lucked out with getting time off to tour. I’ve only had to quit two jobs in order to tour, and both of those were because I was leaving for several months at a time. If I’m going out on a short ten-day or two-week run, my bosses have been surprisingly accommodating.

The L: What’s your favorite thing that you cook at St. Anselm?

Brown: Salted caramel and bittersweet chocolate pôts de crème.

The L: Those sounds amazing. Do you ever make them at home?

Brown: Nope. I have no sweet tooth. (I know, that seems stupid for a pastry chef to say. I just like math and science and following directions and making things look pretty. I am rarely tempted to eat dessert.)

The L: So, what’s your favorite thing to cook at home?

Brown: I’m usually pretty cooked-out on my days off and end up just eating something easy or ordering in. I did make a big homemade chicken pot pie last week, though. It kinda ruled.

The L: Do you have a favorite place to eat when you’re on tour?

Brown: A Maxwell St. Polish sausage from Jim’s Original in Chicago is pretty much the best thing on the planet. Pho Than Brothers in Seattle is always high on my priority list. I feel like I’m doing something good for myself when I eat there. Kuba Kuba in Richmond, VA has mean Cuban sandwiches and tostones. And Austin might not count, since it’s kind of my second hometown, but now that I don’t live there anymore, Polvo’s is usually my first stop when I get into town, even before I go to the hotel.

The L: What’s the worst thing about working in a restaurant?

Brown:I suppose that, for me, the worst thing about working in a restaurant is the repetitiveness of it. They all more or less run the same way, and when you’ve been doing it for as long as I have, there’s just not a lot left about it that’s terribly challenging. You run out of things to learn, and it starts getting dull. But work’s work, and I suppose in this day and age, that’s a lot more than a lot of people have. And really, restaurant people are insanely fun to work with.

The L: What’s the worst thing about playing music?

Brown: I can’t think of any bad things about playing music, really. I’d rather be eating Chex Mix for lunch and drinking shitty gas station coffee and driving countless hours around the country with my friends any day of the week. I have lots of friends who play music for a living exclusively, and I am seething with jealousy of them.

The L: Any advice for young musicians looking for a way to fund their dreams?

Brown: Search me. I’ve been keeping my head just above water for as long as I can remember. But if you find anyone who can answer that, please, let me know.

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