The world renown musician shares his views on the good life, fine dining, culinary travel and how he looks upon a menu as a symphony.

Text: Marta Perez, Photos: Kiki Kuefer, Kristian Brask Thomsen, Claudia Von.


DI: Copenhagen is your third Dining Impossible this year and we’re only halfway through the season. What’s going on?

Gordon: Gluttony, of course. Hey, when I met Kristian (Brask Thomsen. red) at a dinner in New York last November, I’d already made up my mind to play music less and instead make food and wine my primary motivation for traveling. Dinners at night would become my new concerts. So, it was the perfect storm. Kristian told me about Dining Impossible, and it seemed like providence. Additionally it already had set up what I was venturing to do, so I happily jumped on a moving train.

DI: Great food and wines will always be the center of attention when attending a dinner party, but is it also what you hold dearest after a three-day eating extravaganza like these?

Gordon: Going to food and wine events with like-minded people elevates each experience; the beauty of which is that there’s no distraction, only amplification of the pleasures on and around the table.

DI: Have you created friendships through Dining Impossible?

Gordon: Absolutely. In fact, four of us went out to dinner in New York just two weeks ago. Two from Miami, two of us from NYC. We all met when this three-day gastro blowout happened in Lima.

Eleven Madison

Tipsy Kings: Gordon & friends after first night’s dinner at Eleven Madison Park during Dining Impossible, New York City.


DI: Copenhagen is coming up. What are your expectations for the city as a food destination?

Gordon: I’m expecting multiple foodgasms, and inspiration enough to spoil me for a long time. Return visits seem inevitable.

DI: As a world renown-percussionist, do you see similarities between music and food? Could a recipe be a notebook and vise versa? Could a menu be a symphony?

Gordon: I’ve always imagined that music and food are the same. At one point, I actually went literal with that concept and used my mouth as a resonating chamber for pitches I played on a vibraphone. Yeah…in a way, I “ate” the notes.

Your equating recipes with scores, or notebooks, and full menus as a symphony really resonates with me. When a dish balances multiple ingredients and flavor profiles, it’s natural for a musician to experience this as a harmonic activity…like a chord. When umami meets sweet, I immediately go all Stravinsky and conjure up the infamous polychord in Petrouchka….C Major and F Sharp Major simultaneously. Back in the day – scared the shit out of conservative ears. Still manages to shock the system.


Hear the drummer get wicked? Gordon Gottlieb teaching a percussion student at the Juilliard School in New York City.


DI: Best dinner this year so far?

Gordon: Well, technically the end of 2015, last December, by total coincidence, I went to 2 molecular dinners in the same week. The first was at Minibar in Washington D.C. – the José Andrés venture. Mind-bending, thought-provoking and delicious creations with spectacular beverage pairings… Not easy. The second dinner was in New York at Empellón Cocina, a collaborative dinner by Alex Stupak and Albert Adrià. Both dinners still haunt me.

DI: At a moment in time when humanity is obsessed with what it eats – photographing every dish, worshipping chefs, flaunting trophy meals on social media, you’re totally under the radar even though you have more lavish dinners than the vast majority of heavy Instagram-posters. Why?

Gordon: Great question, and one I’m asked a lot. I’m just not a Facebook/Twitter/ Instagram guy, though I’ll occasionally send food/wine pix and a few remarks out through old school e-mail to a select group of friends. But that’s it. Pounding my chest about trophy moments just isn’t my style.

I think it’s about having a 50-year career as a performing/recording musician, and teaching at Yale and Juilliard that has shaped my attitude. I put in many years of gratifyingly hard work, and gotten to witness the transformative power of music – all over the world. It’s something that is so much bigger, deeper than each of us, and ultimately, the art keeps you humble.

I’m just grateful to be able to experience art in a deep, meaningful way, and let it be part of my life. I don’t feel the need to ship every art-infused moment out to a virtual sea of strangers. I got to do that LIVE for many years. Much more gratifying.


During a close-to-insane burger raid, curated by Eater restaurant editor Nick Solares (left) through the streets of Manhattan during Dining Impossible. 


DI: Some chefs creations are incredibly artful visually, so I have to ask, is food art?

Gordon: Well…. If art is the human expression of a creative skill and imagination intended to uplift and inspire by way of its beauty and emotional impact, then surely food is art. If questions remain, just go to Alinea and experience Grant Achatz Jackson Pollock-ing your dessert onto a table.

DI: What’s your favorite food memory?

Gordon: A couple. I grew up in a household with canned and frozen food, so when as a teenager I had my first bite of “real” asparagus, the food chorus of angels went off. And – in 1979 I was on a tour of Asia with the NY Philharmonic, and in Kyoto I arrived at a recommended fish restaurant with a date, simultaneously with a limo containing the Philharmonic conductor, Leonard Bernstein, one of his daughters, and his valet.

We swooped into the restaurant together (where the restaurateur immediately recognized Lenny, and screamed: “LEONARD BERNSTEIN-SAN!” – and then sang: “Ma-ri-aaaa.” We were led to a private room in the back, where we sat on tatami mats, Lenny (he insisted on being called Lenny with friends/colleagues) and I back-to-back, basically holding each other up. The meal was extraordinary, as was the night-long conversation with Lenny, over-the-shoulder as it was. My date forgave me.

The grand finale was the presentation of an aquarium filled with live shrimp, and Lenny and I were each asked to choose one. We were each presented a dancing shrimp, and…we counted to three (on about “2,” I posed to him: chew or swallow?), and we each sent a little critter down the hatch. After the initial shock of what I’d just done the freshness & sweet taste remain with me to this day. And getting to know Lenny B. wasn’t too bad either.

Gordon 1-2

A blast from the past: Back to back in a restaurant with Leonard Bernstein – perhaps the most beloved conductor of all time – in Kyoto, Japan.


DI: And your most unexpected? What happened?

Gordon: Probably Schwa in Chicago. Totally unique. After getting cancelled twice, finally dining there was a revelation. There’s no front of house – only the chef and a few chef friends serve each course, sometimes wearing masks. Metal/punk/hip-hop is blasting, chefs come at you with hi-energy explanations of each dish. Dishes like a Dr. Pepper gummy, whiskey ice cream, vanilla bubbles paired with a glass of Dr. Pepper. That dinner was a one-of-a-kind adventure!

DI: To you, what is the most interesting food city in the world? And the most underrated.

Gordon: Of course I’m biased…. New York City. The variety here is not just a rumor.

DI: And the most underrated?

Gordon: Atlanta and Philadelphia.
 Atlanta because the food scene has become a creative hybrid of world-styles, from the Korean-inflected Western cuisine at the now closed Sobban, to the dim sum-style carts of new American, Southern, Italian, Asian fusions at Gunshow, and the Frenchification of Southern food at Empire State South, not to mention the brilliant sommelier there. Atlanta is way beyond just being about peaches, fried chicken and grits.

Philadelphia because it’s become, in the best sense, an extension of NYC in terms of food. In fact, it’s being referred to as “the sixth borough.” Many young, creative chefs who earned their stripes in NYC working for heavy-hitter chefs have migrated to Philly for a chance to open their own restaurants at friendlier rents, & lower operating costs than NYC would have provided. Places such as Fond, Serpico, Vernick, Ela, Alla Spina, Vetri, and Will can attest to the collective quality and imagination in Philly right now.

DI: Name five places you would recommend as must-go-to eat and drink in your hometown?

Gordon: Momofuku Ko, Le Bernardin, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Sushi Zo, Semilla. Bonus: Peter Luger.

DI: Name five places you would recommend as must-go-to eat and drink in the world?

Gordon: Guy Savoy (Paris), Alinea (Chicago), Saison (San Francisco), Joël Robuchon (Tokyo), Central (Lima).


Coming up: Dining Impossible 18 – Copenhagen, August 11-13th.


Goodbyes: Gordon & friends at the final after party on the beach out to the Pacific Ocean, after dinner at Central during Dining Impossible, Lima.


DI: Alright… Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Amy Winehouse, Eric Clapton, Sting – and the list just goes on… You’ve played  and recorded with so many of the greatest. I have to ask: Miles Davis – who often played in Copenhagen (and you’re going there); was he really such a badass?

Gordon: Oh yeah. A couple of examples: I played with him at a huge retrospective concert at Radio City Music Hall organized by his then-wife, Cicely Tyson. Miles was well-known for taking a walk around the stage at his concerts, sort of visiting with each musician.

When he showed up in front of me, wearing his signature wraparound sunglasses, I was playing congas, and really excited about the music, and having the legend right in front of me. He placed one of his hands between the conga heads and my hands, for about 5 seconds, gave me a look, and moved on. The message: play less, infer the rhythms, listen to your bandmates, only play what’s necessary. He’d done this move with everyone who ever played with him. We all thank him for the wisdom (food parallel: use only the necessary ingredients).

And…a percussionist friend of mine was playing with Miles at the Village Vanguard. In between sets they were hanging at the bar, and for whatever reason, Miles slugged my pal in the face (it was well-known that Miles was a damn good boxer). My pal reacted, and slugged Miles back. Miles stared at my friend, and then whispered: “Hey… I like that.”

DI: Crazy… But still cool. Where would you like DI to go in the future?

Gordon: Tokyo and Paris. Kristian already read my mind with the previous Lima, as well as upcoming Copenhagen, San Sebastián and Piedmont trips. It’s wonderful!

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Gordon Gottlieb has had an active performing life in a variety of musical traditions.

From soloist with the New York Philharmonic to recording with Michael Jackson, playing with an escola de samba in the carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro to recording Stravinsky’s Les Noces, Histoire du Soldat & Renard with Robert Craft, conducting at Carnegie Hall to performing with Stevie Wonder, Gordon has enjoyed eliminating musical boundaries.

He is a Dining Impossible attendee of Lima and New York City – with Copenhagen, San Sebastián and Piedmont coming up – all destinations within just this year.

Since 1970 he has been actively involved with the N.Y. Philharmonic as a percussionist and timpanist. He’s also played with the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Casals Festival, as well as major opera, ballet, modern dance, Broadway orchestras, and the Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall.

Gordon’s short list includes: Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Keith Jarrett, Ravi Shankar, Sting, Sarah Vaughan, Whitney Houston,Tony Bennett, Amy Winehouse, Paul Winter, Pete Seeger, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Paul Shaffer & the CBS Orchestra, Bette Midler, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Celine Dion, Queen Latifah and Chaka Khan.

Amongst others.

He’s recorded for more than 50 record companies, countless television commercials, and on the sound tracks of around 180 feature films.

Gordon has given clinics and master classes around the world, for a decade taught at the Yale School of Music, taught and performed at the KoSA International Percussion Workshops, and taught at the Juilliard School in New York City from 1991-2014.

Most importantly, he’s great company.