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Ham Jam Finds Rock Star Chefs Making Sweet Music

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PHOTO: David Dadekian / Eat Drink RI

"Turn For The Wurst" Cooking Musically On Stage

Recipe for one hell of a night: Take several of Rhode Island's most successful and talented chefs who also love playing music. Mix in several other high energy bands. Add delicious food. Then, raise the heat when they take the stage at one of the areas most popular live music venues, and you have Ham Jam 4: an evening boiling over with excitement and fun.

A favorite attraction at the Ham Jam events generally is "Turn For The Wurst," the garage - or should we say kitchen - band comprosed of the following cookin' musicians (restaurants and musical roles included):

Brian Gibney, Chez Pascal, vocals, guitar
Champe Speidel, Persimmon, drums
Derek Wagner, Nicks on Broadway, guitar, vocals
Kyle Kerstetter, Persimmon, bass
Mark Riendeau, Chez Pascal, vocals, guitar
Matt Gennuso, Chez Pascal,  trombone

"Turn For The Wurst" band members have been very serious about their music since one of their initial jam sessions together at Matt and Kristin Gennuso's annual New Year's Eve party four years ago.  And why not?  It becomes quickly apparent when speaking with them that a love of music, seemingly almost as strong as their love of cooking, runs through the band members veins.

 

VIDEO: Rupert Whiteley

Chez Pascal Sous Chef / Turn For The Wurst guitarist Brian Gibney began playing guitar when he was just 14 years old.  

"I was obsessed with bands like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith both of which had great lead guitar players. I took lessons for years. In retrospect I wish I would have learned the fundamentals of music theory but I didn’t care about that stuff then.  I just wanted to rock!"

And though he is happy with his culinary career choice, did Gibney ever consider a musical career path? 

"I still consider it everyday!  I still think I'm 18 so with that mind set ya never know."  

 

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PHOTO: Deb Hickey

"Turn For The Wurst" In Slightly More Familiar Surroundings

Persimmon chef / owner Champe Speidel, the band's drummer, learned to play from his older sister when he was 8 years old and hasn't stopped playing since. James Beard Award semi-finalist Champe, currently in the midst of moving his successful restaurant from Bristol, RI to larger quarters in Providence, is another culinary master who considered pursuing music as a career early on. 

"Absolutely! I was in a band named Watertown during my high school and college years in Orlando, Florida. We made a record in 1993 titled Jubileaum, did a small tour of college towns in the south and ultimately broke up in 1995. Music was always my first love, but I don't think I was willing to sell my soul or live in the back of my car in order to make it happen!"

 

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 PHOTO: David Dadekian / Eat Drink RI

Chez Pascal owner / executive chef and band trombonist extrodinaire Matt Gennuso, whose New Year's parties inspired the formation of the band, also is passionate about music but never considered doing it professionally. As fate would have it, he is pleased that so many of his own restaurant team are musically gifted. 

"Well, I knew that (my Chez Pascal) people played music but had no idea how well they played and its great to see all the guy's (including wife Kristin) having fun doing this, I feel less guilty asking for so much of their time (for the restaurant)," he joked. 

With so many area chefs showing a love of both music and cooking, is there a connection or similarity between the two? Gennusso believes there is.

"I would say yes for the creativity and the ability to improvise. With my teacher now I am always asking him about techniques or licks that are commonly used in music and I always reference cooking. As cooks we have a foundation to build from and that only comes from years of cooking and with music that's from years of practicing."

Champe Speidel adds, "The two are very similar: they are both very physical, manual, self-gratifying and crafts that demand you put it all out there every night. Running the (kitchen) line is akin to driving a rhythm section."

With so much musical talent in the "Turn for the Wurst" band, all member agree that each member brings with them an important musical contribution . Chez Pascal's Gibney, though, does hold a special place for Champe Speidel's dumming. 

"I would have to say Champe always surprises me in his musical instincts.  I have chosen a couple tunes over the years with really challenging drum parts and he always nails them. " 

 

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PHOTO: David Dadekian / Eat Drink RI

(L to R)  Wagner,  Gibney,  Riendeau,  Kerstetter   (Rear) Speidel   (Missing: Gennuso) 

It's no secret that Ham Jam is the highlight of Turn For The Wurst's musical year. The event is usually a sell out. Some attend for the kickin' music. Some for the incredble food provided by Tallulah's Tacos and Matunuck Oyster Bar and some just for the fun of it. For those who have never been, Chef Matt Gennuso sums up the evening best from the band's perspective. 

"It's a community event that brings together all sorts of people who love food and music. Its always great to see all the different restaurant people who get involved and want to cheer on Turn for the Wurst. We always have a large amount of ex-employees come back for the weekend so its sort of like a homecoming for us. "

 

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