An Interview With Isaac Brock

Isaac Brock, the frontman of Modest Mouse, usually plays music that is both sharp and flexible. Onstage, he is known for his forceful string-bending and rough treatment of instruments. Surprisingly, though, he has a gentle hand when it comes to cooking.

He finds solace in food preparation and it serves as a break from the clamor of his career.

Brock is creating a special dinner tonight, beginning with tilapia, a breed of fish native to Africa but now primarily farmed in South America. This particular cut was raised without hormones in Ecuador and bought from Whole Foods.

He is simmering the fish in coconut sauce. As accompaniments, he has prepared cumin-spiced black beans, cumin-coconut rice, and a unique cabbage crunch. His fiancée Naheed Simjee has mixed a guacamole to snack on before the main meal.

For dessert, I have brought homemade chocolate chip cookies, which I made with applesauce since there was no butter available in my refrigerator.

As the meal cooked away, Brock warned: “Just keep this in mind… my cooking is all created from a series of mistakes.”

— Brian J. Barr as the author

It can be stated that Brian J. Barr is the originator of this piece of writing. His words and ideas are presented here.


For how many years has the love of cooking been a part of you?

Ever since I was in middle school, I have been Isaac Brock.

What sparked your interest?

I recollect preparing a dessert titled “Floating Islands”. It was an unusual, liquidy, custard-based dish that had meringue pieces floating in it. Even though it tasted delicious, it had a slimy texture.

BLVR: What motivated you to create it?

IB had no particular rationale when deciding to make the dish; he was simply leafing through a cookbook and thought it looked appetizing.

Do you frequently look to cookbooks for recipe ideas?

IB: Not really. Most of the time I just take inspiration from restaurants. I’ll go somewhere and eat something and then attempt to comprehend the ingredients. Or, I might try to come up with something on my own.

I’ll buy a bunch of different ingredients and haphazardly put them together. For example, if I have a bunch of mushrooms, what can I cook them in? I might try orange juice concentrate and Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids.

Do you disagree with following recipes?

IB: Recipes must be followed when it comes to baking. The precise amounts of baking powder and baking soda are essential and should not be tampered with. All other components can be altered to taste.

My ingredients are aging, not going bad yet, but it got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be amazing to start a restaurant that utilizes composting? You could get health food stores to give you food that is just beginning to spoil. It would be an eco-friendly eatery.

What a fabulous concept! People would feel great about it and… what was I talking about again?

BLVR: Do you oppose the idea of following recipes?

IB does not require recipes for soup. It is fairly uncomplicated to make and it’s a matter of what ingredients one chooses to include. Yams, for example, can be included if desired.

Recipes can be handy, though, when you have tried a particular dish a few times and then decide to make it yourself.

BLVR: Is it true that to craft a novel recipe, you initially need to establish the flavors you desire and then pinpoint the necessary ingredients to achieve those flavors? Do you generally follow this same approach?

IB: Just one person expressed that opinion. But, cooking isn’t something that can be generalized in such a way.

BLVR: What would be the reason not to?

IB: The potential combinations of flavors are virtually endless, so there’s no need to exclusively focus on the rosemary in a dish. For instance, in a dish of rosemary lemon caper mashed potatoes, the goal isn’t just to make the rosemary the primary flavor.

Instead, all the flavors should come together in harmony. However, that doesn’t mean that outlandish combinations can’t work. After all, there’s always a chance that chocolate raisin salmon pudding could be a winner.


BLVR: Was cooking a frequent activity in your childhood home?

IB: My parents were both excellent cooks, and I picked up a lot of tips from them. My mother was the head cook at a restaurant and I was a line cook there, so I did a lot of preparation and made all the desserts.

BLVR: What is your ancestral background?

The two Celtic cultures of Ireland and Scotland are represented by the acronym IB.

Was there an abundance of passed down cooking instructions?

IB recollects a dish called “Apple Pan-Dowdy” which the owners falsely said was their family recipe. Their mother was asked to create the menu and included a recipe of their family – only to have the proprietors assert it was theirs. This was a disgraceful act.

Is cooking ability something that people are born with or something that they learn over time?

IB stated that they believe culinary skills are developed over time. They expressed their ambition to attend a culinary school, explaining that they have spoken with Naheed’s mom about it, who is able to go through recipes quickly in her head.

However, IB admitted that they have the attention span of a two-year-old puppy.

NAHEED SIMJEE: [ dicing onion rings for guacamole ] What about a two-year-old canine?

It suddenly dawned on me – I had forgotten that a puppy only a couple of months old is aging at a different rate to humans.

BLVR: It would appear that your concentration is still in full force while you are working in the kitchen.

I’m just trying to demonstrate my skills.

Naheed, you indicated that Isaac is extremely hard on himself when he is in the kitchen.

IB: I’m sorry for the entire duration you’re dining. This can really take away from the enjoyment. Believe me.

On occasion, he will whip up a meal that looks tantalizing, just as you go to take the first taste, he abruptly takes the entire plate away.

BLVR: Is there any eatery that you particularly like?

IB expressed, “How about Olive Garden, Sizzler’s, or Red Lobster?”.

BLVR: What is your approach to nourishment while you’re traveling?

IB: What’s the use in discussing dining on the move? You should consider yourself fortunate if you can get something from a truck stop.

Do you often find yourself consuming food from truck stops?

IB: I often neglect to eat properly, usually settling for whatever is available on the caterer’s tray, consisting of processed proteins and various vegetables served with ranch dressing.

BLVR: In your opinion, what is the impact that Slow Food movement’s principles have on the environment, particularly in rural areas? Does this have any influence on your culinary choices?

IB: Could you be more specific?

BLVR had this to say: Eating on the run often leads people to opt for fast food or truck stop meals. However, when we take the time to consider the source of our food, we realize that it originates from farms.

It’s worth noting that these farms have a noticeable impact on the rural scenery.

In Portland, a certain fast food chain is renowned for its use of only locally sourced organic ingredients.

BLVR: Is that so?

IB: Yeah, Burgerville. It’s just like McDonald’s, but the products they use are locally sourced and organic. So, if you’re aware of what’s happening in your area, you’re not going to let something totally disgusting take place. People don’t want to see horrible cattle farms in their vicinity that look horrible.

BLVR: You appear to have a powerful passion when it comes to suburban expansion, especially in the place where you spent your childhood – the outskirts of Seattle. I’ve been wondering if you’ve ever entertained the idea of buying some land in the countryside and turning it into a farm?

IB: It’s difficult for small farms to compete with factory farming. The thought of owning a restaurant that includes my own farm for growing my own produce sounds nice, yet it is a challenge.

It requires a great deal of effort to grow fresh fruit or vegetables adequately and then to sell them at a price that is double the cost of those from factory farms.

Brock commences by heating coconut milk in a saucepan, stirring in dried coconut with a spatula and sprinkling cumin and Old Bay Seasoning in.

He then places tilapia into the sauce for simmering. In a second saucepan he pours more coconut milk, adding jasmine rice and cumin and simmering it.

He then slices two red cabbages in half and removes the cores, putting the leaves into a Cuisinart along with almonds, green onion, garlic, Bragg’s Amino Acids, and Sri Racha chili sauce.

After opening two cans of organic black beans, he pours them into a third saucepan and seasons them with cumin and cilantro.

We allow the food to cook while drinking Hoegaarden white ale. When done, Brock serves even portions of beans, rice, cabbage crunch and tilapia on our plates, garnishing with banana, green onion and cilantro for presentation. We then step outside to the back deck to eat, close to midnight.


BLVR: [ After the first bite ] Delicious! [ Continues to eat ] Being your harshest critic, what faults can you find in this dish? Because, I’m at a loss.

IB: [ Smiles contentedly ] Nothing is off about this dish. I think I may have cooked the rice for too long, that’s all. It could use a bit more spice.

The cabbage crunch has a plethora of spices that make it palate-pleasing.

IB: [ Bolts upright ] That banana sure is delicious! Is there anyone who would like another piece?

BLVR: That’s okay, I’m all set. So, what can you tell me about this wild ambition of yours? Is it your intention to establish a restaurant/store in the city of Portland?

IB: It’s a store full of random items that I find appealing. For example, they may have Swedish Fish or something similar…

Mention of Greek yogurt…

IB: Greek yogurt with honey is an option. Alternatively, you could find a certain kind of door handle or something.

Additionally, I would bring along some records, approximately thirty of them, with a promise: if you don’t like it, you can return it! It won’t be a situation of

“I have a business and I have to carry whatever is new and popular” or “Someone will come in wanting Terence Trent D’Arby and I need to attract more customers and make more money, money, money!” No, this will be something that I promise to be good.

BLVR: So, not things that you prefer, but items that other people are assured to enjoy?

IB: No, they may not. However, it’s almost certain that I will appreciate it. [ Laughs merrily ] If it doesn’t please you, you’re mistaken! Furthermore, I plan to host a little tavern that fits a small group of approximately half a dozen people.

The space will be limited to that amount. The junk shop will contain a variety of items that I personally find attractive. If I come across a book I like, I will have five copies of it. If I discover a type of tea I like, I will include it too. If I find a piece of aged wood that looks usable, I will put it up for sale.

BLVR: Could it be a piece of wood?

IB has a vision for their own junk shop/bar/restaurant. They would have a two- or three-story building, with the bottom floor being the shop and bar and the top floor being a studio/practice space and apartment.

They would offer a variety of items, ranging from a rock they found interesting to a copy of a Berenstain Bears book with funny writing in it.

They would also offer a type of ginger ale that can only be found in North Carolina. The restaurant would have a limited menu, featuring two choices: vegetarian and non-vegetarian.

BLVR asked if the store was named.

No, I don’t think I should give the project a name.


BLVR: You recently altered the design of your kitchen. Would you be able to tell us what features you incorporated into the new design?

IB: Equally as good as you can. There is an attractive floor, a well-stocked pantry, and an apothecary cabinet… something that is hard to explain. Most of it is purely for decoration.

Does this kitchen fit your vision of the ideal one?

For my dream kitchen, I would like to have four more feet-lengths to have an island. Living in a home is important to me, and the kitchen has the most relevance.

To finish it off, I’d like an old O’Keefe & Merritt stove. I enjoy these models because they heat evenly.

Question: What is O’Keefe & Merritt?

IB commented that the older, large stoves are really well made. He stated that you can find some that are 64 inches large and have 8 burners and a few broilers, or find ones with just tea burners. He then added that they are beautiful.

BLVR: Could you create a cookbook with your own recipes and musings on cooking if we were to envision one with Isaac Brock as the author?

Given enough time, I could come up with my own words in a dictionary; it is possible. Nonetheless, I feel best when I use traditional family recipes as a basis and then add my own style. Although I am not certain I will, I can.

I enjoy cooking for the present, like deciding what to make for dinner and what ingredients are available. Fish is one of my favorite things to cook with.

BLVR: What is the most significant thing to you?

I personally am fond of fish, as I have mentioned.

Do you think this is something that only exists in the Pacific Northwest?

I’m a fan of the ocean. I appreciate the variety of aquatic life, and I’m drawn to all things related to the sea. It has a refreshing quality that entices me, even though it may not be quite as clear as I imagine. Having gills would be quite a perk for someone like me.

It looks to me like you’re gravitating towards a more home-based life.

IB uttered, “I’m attempting to reach tranquility. I am searching for a situation where all feels welcoming. If something is off in the abode, if it appears vacant, frigid, or uncomfortable, then I’ll make onions.”

BLVR: What about onions?

IB commented that having onions cooking can make a house smell more homey, such that it gives the impression that people are living there and going about their business.

His mom used to do this whenever his dad was about to arrive home from work and she hadn’t prepared anything. He noted that it made the atmosphere more welcoming.

BLVR: Eating bread produces a similar outcome.

IB: Making bread may take some time, however it is worth it in the end.



In a shallow pan, heat some garlic cloves in olive oil over a low flame until they are tender. Pour in 1 can of coconut milk and stir the mixture, allowing it to simmer. As the oils start to divide, add approximately a cup of unsweetened shredded coconut.

Cook for 10-15 minutes while frequently stirring, until the sauce thickens. Finally, add some salt to your liking.

Place the tilapia filets in the sauce, season with a pinch of cumin and leave to cook for 15-20 minutes. (For a more substantial consistency, halibut cheeks–which are more solid in texture–may be used as an alternative.)

This crunchy delight is known as Cabbage Crunch.

In a shallow fry-pan, gently cook 2 cups of whole almonds in 2 Tablespoons of sesame oil over a low-medium heat.

Large Cuisinart should be flavoured with red cabbage, garlic, green onion, Sri Racha chili sauce, and a dash of Bragg’s Amino Acids to taste.

When the roasting of almonds is finished, take them off the heat and put them into the Cuisinart.

Roll the dice correctly.


Organic black beans (2 cans with juices) should be added to a medium saucepan and cooked over a heat setting between low and medium.

Incorporate about two tablespoons of cumin, a pinch of Old Bay Seasoning, and a portion of diced fresh cilantro.

Stirring continuously, cook the dish for a period of 15-20 minutes.

Rice with Coconut and Cumin is a classic dish that is enjoyed by many. This flavorful combination of ingredients is a favorite among many households.

The combination of the nutty flavor of the coconut, the earthy flavor of the cumin, and the lightness of the rice make for a delicious meal.

Stir together 1 cup of white rice with 1 can of coconut milk.

When the rice has taken in the coconut milk, mix in a tablespoon of cumin.

When all the ingredients are ready, divide the meal into equal parts and serve it while it’s still warm.

This meal is enough for four to six people.

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