Leslie Feist—better known simply as Feist—speaks about the role food has played in her career with great reverence. To her, food is far more than just comfort and fuel, though she generally aims to eat healthy while touring (“My body turns on the moment it comes in contact with the color green,” she jokes); it’s also an anchor to a specific time and place—for instance, her first trip to Poland, which was marked with large plates of pierogies and the intense smell of cabbage being plowed under as her tour bus snaked its way through the country.
Which is why, when faced with the recording of her 2017 album Pleasure—the singer/songwriter’s fifth—she recruited friend Adrienne Amato as a combination den-mother-and-chef to provide what she calls “carrot at the end of the stick” motivation to write a cookbook. Amato’s vegetarian recipes, inspired by the plant-centric cooking of British chef Yotam Ottolenghi, form the basis of Pleasures: The Meals of an Album, available now on the musician’s website. The combination cookbook-and-mini-memoir traces the making of the album over 11 days and 40 recipes. More than insight for super music fans, or culinary curiosity, the book serves to document the Canadian musician’s community, created through the combination of both. Which, as Feist explains, is exactly how she likes it.
MUNCHIES: Hi Leslie. What inspired the Pleasures: The Meals of an Album cookbook?
I like to record in these rural places, pretty far away from takeout or delivery. The bulk of the recording was done a couple hours north of San Francisco. We were in a residential studio, on the side of a mountain, looking down at the Pacific Ocean. Being in a house where we’re literally sleeping and working in the same place and just knowing how those days roll out, I thought of my friend Adrianne [Amato] because that’s her wheelhouse. Her house is the hub in Toronto. A lot of people in bands have used her basement to jam in, her kitchen to hang in, her couch to sleep on. So, I asked her to come and bring that vibe. And just to hang out too. Just , to have a really good friend there who is witnessing our work and making us feasts a few times a day.
So you had a culinary godmother looking out for you.
Yeah, she’s a foodie godmother! Having her cook for us was an extension of friendship and a safe bet, knowing that she’d blow our minds and be the perfect foil. She would literally poke her head in and give me a wide-eyed thumbs-up at different takes. Musically, it was a safe bet having her psychically imprinting on the space like that.
But after we were done, all of us had loved the food so much she printed up photo books for each of us for Christmas, a few months later after we recorded. It was such a surprise and such an incredible gift.
Do you have a favorite recipe from the collection?
I’ve made about ten pots of halloumi soup this winter. It lasts for days. It gets better as time passes, a. And it really doesn’t take long. There’s nothing high maintenance about it. The ingredients kind of do their own work.
Any other favorite dishes?
My mom used to make the oat cakes when I was a kid; I think the recipe came from my grandma’s friend. I remember them being around, and they helped me develop a taste for a not-sweet cookie. Those are more about getting them baked to the exact point between perfectly brown and nearly burned so they snap under the almond butter or cheese or whatever you spread on them. I imagine my mom’s were heavy on the lard or butter, but Adrienne made this adaptation to pull them out of the all-butter all-the-time 1960s.
What other foods remind you of your childhood?
We lived with my grandparents until I was maybe seven, so all my earliest memories of food were my Grandma’s doing. I was rolling out cinnamon bun dough and stirring caramel corn and raiding an always-full cookie jar since the beginning. They had a swimming pool in the backyard and a lot of my summer lunch memories have a smell of chlorine and the taste of Kool Aid in plastic cups. There was a lot of Kraft dinner, which in later years, trying to make it myself, I realized my grandma must have doctored with massive amount of butter and salt (as if it needed more). There was Jell-O with mandarin slices floating in it at any Christmas or Thanksgiving meal, and a thing called ‘Christmas Morning Bake’ which was a kind of French toast and bacon lasagna with cornflakes on top.
Oh, and there was something called ‘Strawberry Fluff,’ which I think was whipped cream and strawberry ice cream whipped together and refrozen in a cake pan with a graham cracker crust on the top and bottom—sort of a fluffy homemade ice cream cake. Often there were salads with little baby marshmallows inside. I think a lot of her cooking came from Reader’s Digest or magazines. I have a few of her cookbooks which are scrapbooks of clippings with her own handwritten adaptations in the margins. She and my mom were both pretty easy going about me stopping eating meat when I was 16 and adapted with a lot of respect and support.
Are you a vegetarian now?
I’m a vegetarian, or a pescetarian, depending on [the availability of] locally sourced, sustainable fish, if there’s a restaurant purposely supporting wild cod,or sustainable aquaculture. There’s only a couple [restaurants] in Toronto that make a that point to serve only Ontario fish. I wouldn’t eat it traveling unless I knew it was locally sourced. There’s a lot to learn. There’s a really small lunch counter in Toronto called Honest Weight. It only has about 20 seats. It has a fish counter, and you can go in and buy fish to take home. The owner, John Bil, wrote a book as he was dying—he unfortunately died of cancer recently. But his parting gift was this book he wrote called Honest Weight, and it’s essentially everything he’s been telling us for years about how to eat responsibly from the rivers and oceans and lakes.
How did you decide to donate the proceeds of your book to Community Food Centers ?
Adrienne, because she’s a psychotherapist, has worked with a lot of mental health and community-based programs. We went to this fundraising dinner series that we do, and hearing them speak about what they’re doing and why and how it plays out in people’s lives—it’s such a completely different social offering and social experiment than food banks, which do incredible work, but don’t take into account how it feels to be waiting in lines and receiving food. They do what they can and they do incredible work, but when I heard about what Community Food Centers are about, it just felt evolved. Food banks, but evolved to the point where we care about the well-being of people more holistically. It’s not like the cookbook is going to raise a lot of money for them. But at least we’re pointing people in that direction. As a regular person—which is what I am, deeply—I also don’t know how to learn about these things unless someone points my awareness in a certain direction.
What’s your favorite thing to snack on right now?
Leslie Feist: I’ve discovered these roasted hazelnuts covered in dark chocolate that I actually take in my suitcase on tour. Like, while my bandmates knowing about real coffee, I’m a bit of a chocolate snob, and can taste the wax or synthetics a mile away. I think it’s maybe on the fence, but dark chocolate counts as junk food for me. Oh—a way worse one is those damn Kettle Chips. The Dijon or jalapeño ones. They are impossible, nearly illegal, to have in the dressing room. It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and Adrienne made me the chocolate peanut cake from the cookbook and I’ve been grazing on leftovers for five days now, as if anyone needs a chocolate cake staring at them every morning. Good with coffee!
Thanks for speaking with us.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.