Alex Brown and Evan George met in 2000 at orientation for Occidental College in Los Angeles. As undergrads, George challenged Brown and other friends to go vegetarian as the pair teamed up to work at the mess hall by day and cook in their dorms by night. After graduation, the duo landed a food column for the now-defunct weekly L.A. Alternative. “They were doing an issue and their cover story was either about pot or aphrodisiacs, I can’t remember,’’ says Brown, 31, “but we made this deranged macaroni and cheese or weed-infused pizza, depending on your timeline, and that’s how the column was born.” The column is now a blog, urbanhonking.com/hotknives, and the duo has parlayed it into three publications, a zine compiling their favorite beer-related clips, “Greatest Sips,” a 2011 book, “The Hot Knives Vegetarian Cookbook: Salad Daze,” and this summer’s “Lust for Leaf: Veggie Crowd-Pleasers to Fuel Your Picnics, Potlucks, and Ragers.” Their latest vegetarian cookbook was born from partying with friends. It shows. Each recipe is paired with a suggested alcoholic beverage and a hip soundtrack.
Q. Along with the suggested listening for each dish, the book’s title is a play off Iggy Pop’s 1977 song and album “Lust for Life.” Why the merger of food and music?
Brown: The idea of pairing music with the recipes and also with beer reviews is something that we’ve been doing since our inception back in the L.A. Alternative days. It’s funny to see how that’s evolved across the world. Each recipe we write has a beer that you pair with the recipe and some jams that you listen to while you’re either making the food or eating the food or thinking about the food. Music always plays into it. If we were writing a beer review on the blog, there would be a song to listen to while you’re slamming the suds.
Q. Have you charged yourselves with the task of making vegetarianism more hip?
George: More and more chefs and food authors have been focusing on vegetables the last couple years and to us, that’s what we’ve been doing for eight or nine years. We’ve never taken an ethical or moral or philosophical approach to cooking vegetarian or vegan. It’s been “Let’s jump past the arguments of convincing somebody to eat a certain way and just get to the fun part — dirty up your hands with what we think is some of the best food.” Vegetables cooked well are usually fresher, usually better for your body and the environment, but it’s almost unspoken for us. If that’s a jumping-off point, we can just have the fun part. I think both books have tried to just communicate the pure passion, joy, and excesses of cooking with booze and having big bashes with your friends. It happens to be vegetarian and vegan food.
Q. Speaking of having big bashes, all the food photos in the book are live shots from your parties. Why did you choose to forgo studio pictures?
Brown: When we were making the first book, the way that we were shooting it, there was so much waste. We would spend all this time making these adorable little plates of food, we’d lug all of our kitchen equipment to a place where we would cook all day, and eventually shoot pictures. But there was no one there to eat it, man. So one of the main ideas behind the way this book is laid out and how the recipes are written, which is mostly about cooking for your friends, was to have the photo shoots be actual parties where there’s always willing and psyched mouths to eat it. So [in this book], it wasn’t like we have to make a good veggie burger or we have to buckle down our grilled pizza recipe and then the book will follow. It was more like, let’s have a bunch of parties and then the book will come.
Q. Which dish do you get the most feedback about?
George: We definitely get a lot of interest in both jackfruit recipes — the carnitas and the pulled pork sandwich — because it’s ingredients that people aren’t used to making at home or working with at home. Essentially you buy canned jackfruit that’s soaked in brine, break it up to get some of the liquid out, saute it, and you soak it in a different sauce of your choice. I’ve seen people get stoked on that.
Brown: You really have to work it. There’s a lot of process but if you process it all the way, dry it, smoke it, then braise it, we’ve had some really funny “haha gotcha” moments with like pear-shaped uncles at graduation parties who are like, “Damn, this pork shoulder is good!” Obviously, that’s the goal. We never expected to literally have somebody that confused. It’s kind of cool. It’s a fun party trick.