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British Airways High Life

Food & Drink

Sex, drugs and sausage rolls

October 2006

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There's more to Franz Ferdinand's frontman than tight trousers and post-punk tunes. Instead of trashing hotel rooms in his spare time, Alex Kapranos has become the unlikeliest food writer. He spills the beans about his gastronomic passions to Tony Naylor

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If there is one thing that Franz Ferdinand doesn't do, it's cliché. When these super-cool Scots arrived in 2003, they reinvented the whole British underground rock aesthetic. They looked different: all tight shirts and sharply-creased trousers. They sounded different: their wiry, angular post-punk tunes were underpinned by driving disco beats. And they acted different, too. They were funny, articulate and urbane. A kind of anti-Oasis, if you will. Which, all told, was an exhilarating tonic.

More than 5.5m album sales later, Franz are almost as famous in São Paulo as Stirling. Yet they are still their own men. Take frontman Alex Kapranos. Rock stars' hobbies are usually wholly predictable. They fly light aeroplanes, become heroin addicts, take up acting or campaign for world peace. Last year, however, Kapranos made his debut as a broadsheet newspaper food writer.

It was a very unrock'n'roll kind of move, which caused some consternation. Nonetheless, Kapranos' Soundbites reports for The Guardian proved so refreshingly individual: evocative; enthusiastic; open-minded, that Penguin is about to release a collection of them in book form. Kapranos is on the verge of becoming Britain's unlikeliest foodie icon. Although, his main motivation for taking on the commission was a keen sense of self-preservation: "I thought, 'if I've got to write something every week, completely outside the band, then I'm not going to turn into one of those vegetables that just does exactly what their tour manager tells them to'. That's the danger. Bands get returned to this infantile way of living, where they have no independence. You become a freak."

Sitting in Rogano (11 Exchange Place. Tel: +44 (0) 141 248 4055), Glasgow's venerable old fish restaurant, Kapranos, who describes himself - tongue-firmly-in-cheek - as a "gastro-adventurer", is trying to chart the evolution of his culinary curiosity. Aged two, he remembers "throwing up in every room in the house" after picking his way through the buffet his mum had prepared for a house-warming party: "I was not popular."

Then, there were revelatory visits to see his dad's family in Greece. Back home in the northeast of England and, later, Glasgow, food was plain and "eating was devoid of pleasure". In Greece, however, "Food was this big party, a shared experience to be enjoyed and discussed. And everything tasted really extreme." When he dropped out of university - after a "really stupid" year reading divinity - Kapranos took a job as a kitchen porter at McTavish's Kitchen in Fort William. It wasn't a career move - music has always been his priority - but it would be the first in a long line of temporary restaurant jobs that would confirm his passion for food. "I never came to Rogano, because I couldn't afford to," he explains, over oysters and langoustines. "I couldn't afford to eat at the restaurants I worked in. Yet, you're still exposed to all these amazing flavours."

He was no natural chef: "I was always a crummy commis, right down at the bottom." But he loved the atmosphere and camaraderie; the drinking, the late-nights, the heat, the stress and elation: "It felt like a completely separate world, like you're part of a subculture that's got its own rules and values - and extreme characters who can't survive anywhere else. It's very similar to the appeal of rock'n'roll."

In Soundbites, Kapranos paints a vivid picture of kitchen life. At Glasgow's Groucho St Judes (190 Bath St. Tel: +44 (0) 141 352 8800) he and Bob Hardy, Franz Ferdinand's bassist, would spend their shifts downing cooking brandy and listening to the Velvet Underground. He describes the chef there, Martin Teplitzky, as, "more rock'n'roll than anyone I've ever met in a band." "Somebody who's got an easygoing but transgressive attitude to life, maybe that's what I mean by rock'n'roll. Other chefs would always be on your back, making you feel s***, but Martin was great."

Despite all this, there are those who still believe that cooking is not so much the new rock'n'roll, as a middle-aged hobby, such as gardening. Word has it that the arbiters of cool at the rock magazine New Musical Express find it hilarious that Kapranos is writing about food. He is unfazed: "I love winding up people who have a preconceived idea of what 'rock'n'roll' is."

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Posted by Tony Naylor

Find me and feed me

Alex Kapranos' most memorable meals

Haggis at Buttery restaurant, Glasgow

"I love that Scottish restaurants are, finally, treating haggis like something worth putting on a menu. The fact that it's made of a sheep's stomach, stuffed with offal and oatmeal, puts people off, but it tastes amazing and it has a fantastic texture." 652 Argyle Street. Tel: +44 (0) 141 221 8188

Saveloy dip at Dickson's Pork Shop, South Shields

"Essentially, it's a smoked sausage, in a bap that's been dipped in the water the sausage has boiled in, which sounds pretty gross. The history of this German immigrant food becoming such a part of local culture is interesting. And it reminds me of my childhood." 107 King St. Tel: +44 (0)191 454 2298

Freshwater mud crabs at Harry's Singapore Chilli Crab Restaurant, Sydney

"The crab was amazing, but I think, more so, it was good because I was there with all the people we were on tour with, and it was that really social way of eating; everybody was having a laugh, leaning over each other and helping themselves. Activity always makes for a good meal." 198 Elizabeth Street. Tel: +61 2 9281 5565

Pufferfish in Osaka

"Considering there's so much danger associated with it, the reward isn't enough. It tasted lovely. But, at the end of the day, it was a cube of deep-fried breaded white fish."

Durian fruit in Bangkok

"They taste really good, but stink. I made the mistake of taking it back to my hotel room. I woke up to this overpowering stench, like a bin bag on a hot day. When we were there we also came across a stall serving bags of deep-fried insects. That's something you think is going to be extreme, but wasn't. The grasshoppers just tasted deep-fried."

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