A Q&A With Chef Franc, A.K.A. Poi Dog Pondering’s Frank Orrall

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You know Frank Orrall as the charismatic founder and frontman of Poi Dog Pondering, or maybe as percussionist and singer in Thievery Corporation. If you’re especially fortunate, you also know him as the inventive and talented cook known as Chef Franc, who will come to your home with groceries and his guitar, and prepare a feast for you and your friends. If your group is large enough, he’ll bring along one of his sous chefs, like Susan Voelz or Robert Cornelius from Poi Dog, and when dinner is done, the guitar comes out.

Paste caught Orrall before an autumn string of shows around the U.S. with Thievery Corporation and Poi Dog Pondering. The later are promoting a new release, Everybody’s Got a Star, and celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Pomegranate, a favorite of Poi Dog fans. At three consecutive shows at Chicago’s Vic Theatre in October, the band will be playing Pomegranate in its entirety, along with select material from their back catalog and the new album.

Orrall values the good life. When he is on tour he prefers going hungry to settling for mediocre food, and doesn’t mind blowing his per diem on a special dinner. He talked to Paste about some of his more memorable meals at home and on the road, his penchant for making cappuccinos at gas pumps, and his recent “dark night of the soul” in an Arkansas food desert, where he resorted to cobbling together quesadillas from the shelves of a Wal-Mart.

Paste: You’re at a truck stop, you’re starving, and you have five minutes to assemble a meal. Describe that meal.

Frank Orrall: Hahahahaha! That’s the classic dilemma. In the early days of Poi Dog Pondering touring, truck stops had mom and pop restaurants attached and I’d just get a simple grilled cheese sandwich. Now that the main artery truck stops are all conglomerate, there’s really nothing worth eating in them. If I absolutely have to…nuts. String cheese. Water. But I’d rather sleep through all that. Interstate America has been taken over by fast food pirates. They cut the heart right outta the thing.

Paste: When you’re on tour or traveling, what food from home do you crave?

FO: My girlfriend’s cooking. She’s from Japan, and she does really interesting combinations of Japanese and Western flavors. We take turns cooking for each other, we sit outside, open a proper bottle of wine. To be honest, we enjoy our own cooking better than 90 percent of the restaurants we happen upon.

Paste: When you’re home, what do you miss about eating on the road?

FO: Dinner with my band mates. The adventure of discovery. In both Thievery Corporation and Poi Dog Pondering, there are a few of us who love to get together and blow our per diems on very good food and wine. On the road, I eat once a day, and it’s gotta be good.

Paste: What’s the most important item in the Poi Dog Pondering rider?

FO: French Champagne or Loire Valley white wine. That goes a loooong way to make a band happy and feeling delicious. Personally, I don’t really care for food on the rider. Susan does like her chips and salsa from time to time. She eats, like, three of them!

Paste: Is there anything special you like to eat before playing a show, or anything you specifically avoid eating before playing?

FO: I like to go on stage hungry. Italian, Mexican, and especially Indian food before a show will just take you outta the game. My favorite time to eat on tour is either before sound check (2-3 p.m.) or after the show (midnight).

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