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Same song, different role for musician Steve Stoeckel

By Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis is the Food Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

We could make a big deal about the overlap between music and cooking. We could riff on flavor notes and bass notes, orchestrating menus and all that.

Steve Stoeckel is best known, after all, for music. For years, he was the bass player for the popular Charlotte band The Spongetones, and he still performs with bandmate Jamie Hoover as Jamie & Steve.

That would be too obvious, though. It was really writing, not music, that brought me to Stoeckel’s kitchen off W. T. Harris Boulevard one night after work.

Stoeckel, 63, is a fan of writing who sometimes writes columns for the Observer himself. He had dropped me a note about a story I wrote – he does that from time to time – when he mentioned that he had developed a passion for cooking and had taken over the meals at his house.

How could I resist? When I asked if I could talk to him about it, he invited me to dinner.

When I wandered in, I found Stoeckel at the stove, surrounded by a cutting board and little prep bowls with peanuts, mint, carrots and a hot pepper. What chefs call “mis en place” – everything in place – was in place, and a Vietnamese-inspired shrimp dinner was under way.

The cooking thing started four years ago, when he and his wife, Linda Hutchinson, were empty-nesters with four grown sons between them. They’d hit that stage of coming home every night with no plan, and dinner had gotten dicey, especially for two mostly vegetarians.

Linda is a great cook, he said, but she was tired of the job. And Steve gets home earlier. So she said something fateful:

“Linda told me, ‘If you can read, you can cook.’ ” As a self-taught guy who built a deck by getting a book, that made sense.

So he gave it a try. He discovered something else that made him downright gleeful: “I could get tools.” He has an electronics business repairing music equipment, so tools, well, how can a guy resist?

They arranged their food life so it has the maximum fascination for Steve. He hates paging around in cookbooks and making lists. So they use MasterCook, the computer program, to manage recipes and meal planning. It even sends shopping lists to his phone.

He went to a cooking class so he could try a lot of knives. As soon as he picked up a Wusthof chef’s knife, he said, he knew.

It was like when he found his favorite guitar. It just felt right.

He’s fascinated by chef science, like Gordon Ramsay’s method for the perfect scrambled egg (start it whole in a cold skillet). He’s in pursuit of perfect pancakes, using an infrared gauge from his electronics shop to check pan heat.

And he’s learned something else: “Food is a communal thing,” he says happily. They entertain more now, and he even sold two home-cooked meals with a private concert for a charity auction. Got $120 a pop for them.

He loves that no matter how much he learns, he’ll never know it all. Like music, cooking is infinite. Sorry, I guess we can’t stay away from music.

“Food is sexy,” he tells me. “You get your hands in it. And chicks dig it.”

What can I say? We’re all suckers for a bass player.

Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis’ blog I’ll Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.
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