The Beastie Boys’ Michael Diamond, AKA Mike D, wears many hats: music icon, surfer, curator, coffee-connoisseur, creator of all things awesome, father. But just because the legendary lyricist is now a proud family man, doesn’t mean he’s slowed down—he’s been busy dishing out over 19,000 free hot meals to date, as Rockaway Plate Lunch, a food truck he started with friend and restauranteur Robert McKinley. Partnering with some of New York City’s best known chefs, along with Rockaway Beach’s local community, they’ve been working in the area ever since Hurricane Sandy hit. Here we talk to him about his efforts, and one of his many passions: eating.
GOOD: How did the idea behind the Rockaway Plate Lunch come about?
Mike D: Rob and I went out [to the Rockaways] very shortly after Sandy. We had no idea what was needed other than contractor bags, batteries, flashlights. So we loaded up Rob’s car to the roof, and brought them out to Rockaway Surf Club. We saw right away all these people living without any power, without any businesses being open, and therefore, no food. We saw the immediate need for warm food, but we didn’t have time to put together a long-term cohesive plan, we just had to react quickly. Rob comes from the hotel and restaurant business, and with myself, being involved in a couple of restaurants and just knowing all the friends in that world, we were able to draw on a bunch of these contacts and start bringing food out from restaurants in the city. But we quickly saw, to get a lot of people fed and to have something warm we needed a truck. So we went to Sam Talbot, the Breslin/Spotted Pig team, and the Fat Radish people and said ‘hey, we’re going to get this food truck going, but can you guys provide us with chefs and cooking expertise to execute this?’ Thankfully, people were already looking for a way that people could be of service out there and this was a super grassroots, very direct way that they could.
GOOD: What’s on the menu?
Mike D: Its a really hearty meal of chicken, beans, rice and vegetables. A very complete, warm, flavorful meal, and certainly a lot more nutritious and balanced than a fast food option. We were conscious of giving people something that they were familiar with but at the same time was hearty and warm.
GOOD: Are you still out there everyday?
Mike D: We are still out there on a more reduced schedule, and we’re in talks with a bunch of people to coordinate with the local community, because what we really want to do is transition. There’s still the need for warm food out there, but our real goal for this summer is to help revitalize the local economy. So we’re trying to switch the truck over from giving away food, to charging for food but having it become staffed, run and operated on every level by citizens of the Rockaways. We’ll keep the same restaurants that have been involved, but in a mentoring capacity.
Restaurants aren’t just about what happens in the kitchen: there’s social media, social media marketing there are so many careers that exist [in the industry], but nobody has explained [it] to all of these kids. So we’re in the process of involving some of the kids we’ve met out there first hand, and some of the local pastors and clergymen as well as the Congressman’s office to figure out the best way to pool those resources. And if we can be part of a movement we can help inspire that kind of local tourism that’s going to mean a lot for their economy out there.
GOOD: You curated the exhibition Transmission LA at MOCA last year. It had a huge focus on food, which is not the norm in an art exhibition. Why was that important?
Mike D: I think we’re at an interesting place now in our culture where chefs are artists. They are providing sustenance but they are doing it as artistically as anybody’s efforts. For example Roy Choi—one of our artists in the show. I wanted to put Roy's culinary efforts on the same stage as any of the visual artists or musicians. What I hoped to do with that show was to build that sense of community and to have a different schedule of events so people would keep coming back. The food was part of that as was the music schedule.
GOOD: What kind of food did you grow up on?
Mike D: I’m lucky, I grew up in New York City, so we grew up on the idea that you have different foods from different cultures any night of the week. The only constant was that Sunday night we got Chinese food. That is some New York shit.
GOOD: Who has better Jewish delis – New York or LA?
Mike D: I will get a lot of flack for this, but New York is an innately Jewish place, and LA is not. There are parts of LA that are, but in terms of the overall pervasive culture at large, New York always has this innate Jewish element that’s not related to any religious association, it’s just part of the cultural fabric and language.
GOOD: Did you have traditional sit down dinners together as a family?
Mike D: Always. Well, actually we’d have very traditional untraditional dinners. We’d always sit down and have dinner together, but it was extremely untraditional because we as kids comingled with a rotating group of New York City artists, and freaks, and art dealers, so we’d have these meals at night but the cast of characters was untraditional.
GOOD: When you were recording as the Beastie Boys, were there any food items you had to make sure were in the studio?
Mike D: Food was always a focus for us, lyrically. And we spent a lot of time ordering lunch and dinner.
GOOD: Do you have a favorite food lyric?
Mike D: Rakim’s “fish, which is my favorite dish.”
This month, we're challenging the GOOD community to host a dinner party and cook a meal that contains fewer ingredients than the number of people on the guest list. Throughout March, we'll share ideas and resources for being more conscious about our food and food systems. Join the conversation at good.is/food and on Twitter at #chewonit.
Images courtesy of Rockaway Plate Lunch; Mike D image via (cc) Flickr user fabbio