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March 16, 2021

If Music Be the Food of Love: Parthenia and Food

“An army marches on its stomach.”  At least, that’s what Napoleon said.  And, given the fact that he was able to conquer most of Europe aided in part by that maxim, it’s likely he knew what he was talking about.  The two aren’t related, but the fact that the name Napoleon simultaneously conjures up images of both a diminutive (that’s a bit of a myth, by the way, but this isn’t a history blog!) French general and a delectable pastry seems more than mere coincidence.

Napoleon was talking about the military, but the importance of food to any endeavor—large or small—cannot be underestimated.  Film crews, sports teams, political campaigns… they all need food to keep people focused, happy and productive.

Parthenia is no exception to this rule.  From the very beginning, the quartet has enjoyed, relied on, and been motivated by food, glorious food.  What else would you honestly expect from a group that was essentially founded at a Chinese restaurant?

“I just thought… so much of what we do revolves around food,” mused Beverly Au when discussing the origin of this blog post.  “When we rehearse, we sit in a circle, and in the middle of the circle is a table full of food!” Bullseye, indeed.  So what’s on the table?

“Always bottles of seltzer,” Beverly replies, “and a lot of times it’s just a bag of chips or some chocolate or some nuts… and there’s usually one special thing.  It depends on whose place we’re at.  If we’re at Ros’ and it’s in season, she has a fig tree in the back.  So sometimes we’ll get fresh figs.  If we’re at Larry’s it’s dips and chips or fresh fruit.”

Rehearsal is one thing, but Parthenia are performers.  The sheer adrenaline and focus that playing live demands means that food sometimes has to wait.  “The whole thing with concerts is, you don’t want to eat too much right beforehand,” Beverly explains, “because if you’re too full you can feel kind of sluggish, or if you get nervous before a concert it’s probably not good to have a full stomach.  So you want to eat something light, and then after the concert you want to go out and celebrate.  We all go out to a restaurant and eat—that’s a real tradition.”

As touring musicians, Parthenia have been able to celebrate whilst sampling cuisines from all over the United States… and beyond.  “You don’t necessarily have time to go out sightseeing because you’re rehearsing and performing, but you always have time to eat,”  Beverly notes.  “So that’s our time to go and explore where we are.”

In chatting with Beverly, an interesting before/after thread emerged regarding the changing nature of searching for food.  Parthenia, after all, were touring long before apps ruled the world.  “It used to be harder to find food before Yelp,” Beverly muses.  “Before that you had to rely on guidebooks or word of mouth.  There were food blogs that we depended on for a while.  Chowhound was good at finding really out-of-the way restaurants that you wouldn’t necessarily know about.”

Parthenia’s food adventures have led to some interesting (and delicious) discoveries, including a superb Lebanese restaurant in Michigan and a gorgeous waterfront Portuguese eatery in Connecticut.  Still, not everything in this potluck parable is about restaurants.

“Sometimes we get put up with people in their homes, and often times they’ll cook something for us,” Beverly explains, “there always seems to be a lot of cooking around.  I stayed with someone once who would make jars and jars of currant jam.”  

Even more memorable was a meal whipped up by Ros’ sister, who lives in Nova Scotia.  “She made lobster rolls from scratch.  That was pretty phenomenal,” Beverly admits.

The Parthenia lobster dinner

Dessert, meanwhile, was a Canadian delicacy known as a Nanaimo bar.  If you visit the included Wikipedia entry for the Nanaimo bar, you’ll note the main ingredients are “crumb, icing, chocolate.”  What more could you possibly need to know?

None of the players are keen on fast food, and, given the fact that not every concert can be in a large city, Parthenia has often had to rely on the kindness of strangers.  “We were playing a concert in the middle of nowhere,” Beverly recalls, “so they had to put us up in this little bed and breakfast because there was no hotel.  And we got there and we asked the host to recommend a restaurant, and he said, ‘There’s no restaurant, but  I’ll make you some grilled cheese sandwiches.’”

How were the sandwiches? “Amazing,” Beverly laughs.  

Is there a signature Parthenia dish?  On this, Beverly is cagey, insisting that change and variety is more important than any one food.  When pressed, though, she admits, “at one point we were eating a lot of popcorn.  But somehow we moved on from that.”  What about a restaurant specific to Parthenia? “Oscar’s Place,” Beverly says, “across from Saint Luke in the Fields.  It’s a tiny restaurant and we pretty much take it over.  They make a great chicken pot pie.”

Bangers and Mash from Oscar’s Place

Because we’re living in 2021, there’s no way to ignore the fact that a longing for food is inevitably linked to a longing for community, sharing, togetherness.  Food is one of those deeply human experiences that the internet can never quite replace.  Nevertheless, the Parthenia story is far from over, and there are inevitably more food adventures to look forward to.  So, for the moment, let’s consider this phase more like a pause in between courses rather than a full stop.  And, without getting overtly political, please do remember the importance of supporting local restaurants.

Meanwhile—be honest, dear reader—you’re going to try to make the Nanaimo bar, aren’t you? Just be sure to listen to some viola da gamba music while you do!

A tempting closeup of the infamous Nanaimo bar

About Kieran Walsh
Kieran Walsh is an author, musician and filmmaker residing in New York City.