Someone’s in the Kitchen with Sarah: Few ingredients required for Bombadil bassist Daniel Michalak’s crepes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 23, 2013

SALISBURY — Fans of the Durham-based band Bombadil are used to seeing Daniel Michalak play bass, piano and harmonica, all while singing.

But they might be surprised to know his talent extends into the kitchen.

“My earliest memories of cooking, I think, are from my grandparents,” he said. “Whenever my grandmother would come down or we would go visit her she would always make chocolate chip cookies and she was always good at involving us.”

It was his grandfather who taught him that cooking doesn’t have to be complex.

“He would always just do something simple,” Daniel said. “He would just cut up onions and put them in a frying pan. That’s just always a wonderful smell.

“He was the one who showed me how easy that was and I think that gave me the confidence to think ‘Oh I can just throw anything in a pan and cook it.’”

I recently spent an afternoon with Daniel making crepes at Salisbury resident Sarah Hall’s Annadale Avenue home.

The band was in town for the night to play a farewell concert for Hall, who will be leaving in August to teach at Western Carolina University. She’s offered the band a place to stay over the years when they traveled to Salisbury or Charlotte.

Daniel learned to make crepes from his fiancé, Angeline.

“I think a recipe comes to life when someone personally show it to you and there’s a history to it,” he said.

Daniel said Angeline, who is French, made crepes with her mother every weekend growing up.

“She showed me the recipe, but usually when we’re together she makes them,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean Daniel won’t make them on his own. He typically cooks crepes about once a month and has even whipped them up for his Bombadil bandmates Stuart Robinson, James Phillips and Bryan Rahija.

“It’s definitely a weekend thing, but it’s not too much trouble to make,” he said.

Daniel likes the recipe for its simplicity.

“It’s a 1-to-1 ratio of flour and milk, a half-liter of both,” he said. “Add two eggs, a little bit of sugar and then you check the consistency after you mix it all together.

“It needs to be pretty thin, so it’s much closer to a water consistency than a chunky consistency.”

Adding a cap of rum or orange blossom water gives the crepes a nice taste, Daniel said, but it’s not necessary.

Crepes are a bit of a novelty to Daniel, who grew up in Wilson and met his bandmates while attending Duke University.

“I guess maybe now you see crepes more often, but growing up I never had them,” he said. “It was always pancakes.

“I think often you hear about these recipes or dishes from other countries and you don’t know if people actually really cook them over there, so it is exciting that this is something French people really eat all the time.”

Daniel’s not sure why, but one of the tricks to making crepes is allowing the batter to sit for about 10 minutes before cooking.

“Angeline always does it,” he said.

When the batter’s ready, you simply turn a burner onto medium heat and let a non-stick pan warm up. We used a paper towel to swipe a bit of butter along the bottom of the pan.

Daniel said the bigger the pan the better, so that you can make large crepes instead of more than a dozen smaller ones.

He demonstrated how to make the first crepe by filling up a ladle, dropping the batter into the pan and swirling it around to coat the sides.

“It’s ready to flip when it starts peeling away at the edges,” he said.

Daniel used his fingers to flip the crepe to the other side, where it cooked another 30 seconds or so before being taken off the pan.

Of course, when it was my turn to make a one, I burned my fingers in two spots trying to flip it over.

After that one I managed to get my stride and made about 10 more without much trouble.

After we finished making the crepes, Daniel showed me how to fold them.

It’s as simple as adding a bit of sugar or Nutella to the middle and rolling the crepe into a log. Then you just cut it and eat.

We added sliced bananas to a few of the crepes with Nutella crepes for an extra treat.

You can really top the crepe with whatever you like, Daniel said.

After a quick taste test of the banana, Nutella-covered crepe, I approve.

This would be the perfect breakfast for a lazy Sunday morning spent reading the newspaper and sipping coffee. The really great thing is that you can make a bunch of them and slowly eat them throughout several hours as they never get really soggy.

When Daniel cooks, he typically sticks with what he knows.

“I still feel like I have a lot to learn in the kitchen, so I try as much as possible to follow the recipes,” he said. “I feel like recipes are often tried and true.”

He’s only recently come to the realization that less is better.

“I think for a while I was trying to do very complex recipes with lots of spices and steps,” he said. “Now I’m trying to simplify down and focus on having one spice or one ingredient that comes out.

“Instead of making these dishes with 30 plus things, I’m trying to perfect the simple.”

Garlic, olive oil and tomatoes top the list of Daniel’s favorite ingredients, but he’s a pretty adventurous eater

“I just love all types of food and I love eating,” he said. “I eat way too much.”

Daniel’s advice to novice chefs like myself is to “cook your favorite foods.

“If I go to a restaurant and find something I like, I’m like ‘I should try this at home,’” he said.

These days, Daniel is cooking less and less as the band kicks off its tour for their new album “Metrics of Affection,” which comes out today. Check Thursday’s TimeOut for a review of the album.

“I try to cook as much as possible, but it’s hard because we’re on the road more and more,” he said. “I like cooking because it’s cheaper and it’s healthier.

“Plus, it’s an activity that you’re doing that’s not sitting in front of the computer or iPod or whatever.”

Cooking with Daniel was a great experience. I’ve met him several times after attending Bombadil concerts, so it was neat to see this different side.

The band has recently been featured on a New York Times blog and NPR segment, so I imagine their days of playing house concerts and cooking with reporters from small town newspapers are coming to the end. The fact that Daniel took time out of his busy schedule to teach me how to make crepes, shows the attention the band is getting isn’t going to their heads. That says it all.

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.