Text: Stephan Wabl
Photos: David Payr
Judith Filimonova, one half of electropop duo Fijuka and Lucas Huemer, chef at Vienna’s culinary hotspot Mochi, share a love for music and good food. We took them on a boat ride on Vienna’s Old Danube. Afterwards, over steaks, soup and schnaps, they talked about where they can breathe best, what they like to eat/cook backstage, and why they both love Italy.
Judith, as a musician you travel a lot. Lucas, as a chef you are much more tied to a certain place. Where do you go for inspiration for your work? Where do you breathe in?
Judith: I am happy if I can breathe in at all because I am highly allergic to house dust mites (laughs). I try to see and do a lot, get out of the house and meet people. When I am on tour I want to absorb as many new things as possible and often go for walks to see and experience the city.
And how do you go about songwriting?
Judith: That’s different. It’s not like I think, okay, on Thursday I am going to write a song and then I go and prepare for it. It happens when I am in a certain emotional state, when something bothers me or I am going through something with someone else. Then I have to drop everything and let it all out. This can take all night, and I only pause to get a glass of water. It’s not that I can enforce this, it is something that enforces itself. I don’t look for inspiration, my songs rather stem from emotional crises.
Lucas: Since I spend a lot of time indoors I really need travelling as an inspiration to breathe in. For me, travelling is also about eating out, getting to know a place, absorbing smells on city walks and thinking about how I could combine all these experiences in a dish. I eat something in a restaurant, for example, and think, that was great, but I would do this like this or like that. Later I pick single components from these dishes and experiences and create my own compositions. It’s a never-ending process because the initial idea changes all the time and after two months the dish I created looks and tastes completely different.
Do you listen to music while cooking?
Lucas: Absolutely. I don’t prefer any genre though, it could be The Black Keys or The Black Angels or The Doors. I look at how I feel, what the music expresses and how I can identify with that. I think it applies to both music and cooking that we should be open to anything and then pick our own favourites. This is what makes you grow and improve. When I cook something exquisite I listen to different music than when I am having a relaxed barbecue at home.
Judith: It’s similar for me when I am performing live because I often improvise at concerts. I get bored easily and then I play songs differently on stage according to how I feel – because a monitor isn’t working or some device just broke.
Talking about devices: The EXPO is also a stage for the presentation of technical innovations. How much does technological progress influence your work?
Judith: I check in regularly on what’s new in my field. For my band Fijuka, however, it is not that big of a deal because fiddling with sounds is not our thing. But we often work with musicians who invent and build new devices. We like that kind of inspiration.
Lucas: Don’t you think sometimes: Wow, I really need this new bass pedal?
Judith: Yeah, sometimes I think I’d like to have this or that. But unfortunately I rarely have the money for it. Generally, however, I’m not so much into technical stuff. I need to buy a new amplifier in the near future though.
Lucas: Sorry, I just need to check the live ticker for the Bayern Munich game real quick. To be honest, I was hoping the Bavarians would be knocked out but it doesn’t look too bad for them now.
Okay, I’m back. I see some similarities in cooking. There’s always some trend that’s super hot for a while. A few years ago it was the Spanish guys around Ferran Adrià and his molecular gastronomy. Some condemned this form of cooking, others thought it was super innovative. This trend has changed today – the best techniques were adopted and the circus has moved on. The current hotspot is Scandinavia with Noma in Copenhagen and back-to-the-roots cooking at its very centre. Today it’s all about a country, a region; chefs go to the forests for plants and ingredients that have been forgotten or neglected for some time. No more mass products, more rarities. Of course marketing strategies play a big role in these trends. I think all of this is really exciting but for me it’s not about trends. It’s about how I can create the best possible dish for my guest under my particular conditions.
Do you see similarities between cooking and making music?
Judith: Unfortunately, I am a very lazy cook.
Lucas: But a very productive musician.
Judith: And a very productive eater! I love when someone cooks for me. Luckily that happens a lot when we’re touring.
But aren’t both about the right composition?
Judith: Unfortunately I am not meticulous enough for cooking. I have a really small kitchen that I designed and built myself. I am really good at quiches and risotti though!
Lucas (laughs): Yeah, risotto is really complicated.
Lucas, if you were to cook for Judith backstage, what would you prepare?
Lucas: I cook for bands playing at the Stadtwerkstatt in Linz now and again. I seek to evoke memories in people when I cook for them. Backstage at the Stadtwerkstatt there are couches, a big stove and a huge table. For me it’s all about the experiences we share at the dinner table: People laugh, people cry, people argue, then they eat some more and it becomes more quiet, people chink glasses and drink on. This sense of being part of a family, combined with a good meal – just like we like it at home – is the experience I want to create.
Judith: I always find it very beautiful when we have this ritual of a shared meal before a concert. Good food simply makes us happy and that makes a huge difference for the atmosphere at a concert.
Lucas: It’s all about passion. Just as the band performs and rocks the stage you need someone who rocks the kitchen, who gives their heart and soul to it. You will immediately hear and taste the difference.
The EXPO is also about sustainability. What should be the legacy of a concert, a record or a meal?
Judith: I want to touch people with my songs. They often tell very specific stories or emotions from my own life. If a song happens to connect with the listener emotionally, it has worked. Sometimes people tell me that they have one of my songs in their ear or that it touches them emotionally. That makes me really happy, that’s something that will live on.
At concerts I want people to have a good time and take this feeling home with them. If they go to sleep feeling good that night, that’s a lot already.
Lucas: I, too, want people to go home or back to the office happily after their meal. I want to give them a short but beautiful break from their everyday routine. With regard to the ingredients of my dishes I really care about using everything from head to tail, I don’t want to use the prime bits or fillet parts only but rather the whole animal or product.
Cooking sustainably also means that I myself evolve as a chef. Because in the course of a year, maybe only five dishes turned out exactly the way I imagined them to be. It’s important for me to experiment a lot and just go ahead and try things.
This year’s EXPO is taking place in Milan. What do Italian music and food mean to you?
Judith: I love Italian classics like Antonello Venditti, Gianna Nannini or Zucchero. My absolute favourite, however, is Adriano Celentano. I own a DVD box with all his movies. I love the sound of the Italian language; the songs often have a lot of lyrics and an interesting harmony. I also love Tuscan food. You just have to go there one day!
Lucas: I love Italian food a lot. I haven’t been to Tuscany yet, but I have worked for an Italian chef for a while. It was mostly soul food we were making. I mean, who doesn’t love pasta? Everyone always finds something he or she likes on an Italian menu. It’s so “della nonna” – as if made by grandma.
Judith: Do you know panzanella?
Lucas: Sure, Italian bread salad.
Judith: That’s so delicious. To die for!
Lucas: Well then, cheers!