With the same industry and joy she invests in her music, avid cook and casual hostess K.D. Lang makes dinner at home with friends a trip to bountiful.
To K.D. Lang, genres are just borders waiting to be crossed. The Canadian-born, California-based chanteuse has been a peppy performance artist, a nuevo-country crooner and an achingly soulful pop stylist for the ages (her new album, Invincible Summer, was just released). But when it comes to cooking, "I)m more of a jazz musician," she says. "I Iike improv--just throwing things together." Tonight's riff will be Asian fusion-a medley of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese--to be served up for her usual cadre of pals at an informal home dinner party, which is why Lang has hopped on a friend's Honda motorcycle and made her way some 20 miles to L.A.'s Chinatown. "This is the only place I can find this Vietnamese mint," she says. "When I entertain, I try to go the whole way. It makes it more fun when you put effort into it". Maneuvering through a crowded North Broadway market, helmet tucked un-der her arm and knapsack on her back, the strict vegetarian passes by the meat counter and scours the shelves for organic peppers, field greens, scallions and rice paper. It's not just the particular ingredients that lure her here, though; it's the experience. "I Iove how in L.A. you can drive 20 minutes and be in a completely different culture." Duly inspired and well stocked, she puts the groceries away and heads for home and her guests, who are due at 6 P.M. Half the success of any party is setting, 'and Lang's is just lovely: a natural-wood hideaway with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto a hillside forest and a lagoon-style pool. When she moved in three years ago, " the big selling 'point was these massive, 100-year-old sycamores," says Lang, as she whips a towel over her shoulder and races around the tiled kitchen. "I grew up in Alberta, Canada, on a flat, wide-open prairie. I'm tree-crazy now." She organizes the ingredients with the self-assurance of an accomplished chef. Lang, it turns out, has been passionate about food for as long as she has been about music. As a kid she invented her own catering business, Kathryn's Kitchen Korner, serving the immediate Lang family, including two older sisters and an older brother. before bed she would slide a breakfast menu (prices included) under each door for them to check off their selections. Her early-bird specials of poached eggs and, pancakes have today given way to a more exotic menu: Vietnamese mint salad; shiitake-and-tofu spring rolls (a K.D. invention); tofu topped with sesame sauce; tofu, scallion and shishiro peppers on skewers; and, for a sweet note, store-bought Japanese mochi ice cream, to be served with homemade strawberry coulis. Lang starts by whisking up a souvenir from her travels, a basilcilantro, vinegar-free salad dressing she discovered in Melbourne, Australia. The high energy of this chef in motion is counterbalanced by the almost zenlike calm of the interior, which she has decorated with girlfriend Leisha Hailey, a singer for the band the Murmurs. Thanks to the open layout, muted color scheme and impressive collection of Eastern art, the Asian vibe is built in. As Lang slices the tofu, Hailey takes charge of decor, arranging the orchids she found at the flower market downtown, Iighting ivory pillar candles, and selecting the china for dinner. Lang con-fides her admiration of her partner's aesthetic knack: "I'm kind of a just-throw-it-on-the-plate type." The guests, four of their closest friends, arrive early, because in this house everyone pitches in. "Good cooking is about sharing," says Lang as she sips a Sapporo beef and gives her pals marching or-ders. Michael Tuttle, an entrepreneur, is dispatched to grill the skew-ers on the hibachi while Jodi Rappaport,' a photo agent, preps dessert. For now, Dani Knight, an attorney, and Merilyn Carne, an acting coach, can hang in the kitchen. In no time Leisha is ushering guests out of the kitchen ("No pick-ing ! " Lang scolds) and into the dining room. Lang's demeanor shifts as she trades her chef's toque for a playful hostess hat. While the sake is poured, she explains why they're all sitting on the floor: "This was originally a regular table, and I Iooked and looked but couldn't find matching chairs. So I cut the legs off and had tatami mats made." Though sitting on mats and silk pillows seems to suit this bohemian group fine, Lang says it can be "a bit taxing on the spine." So, when either Leisha's or her own mom visits, they screw in steel legs. As the late-day sun casts a warm glow, the group digs into the brightly flavored repast, set out on black lacquer trays. The talk is decidedly non-industry-not a mention of Lang's summer tour or her new album (which she says is influenced by Brazilian music, surf punk and old faves the Mamas and the Papas). Instead there's much laughter over past parties, including a New Yeai's lunch, and a din-ner devoted to downing a 1963 vintage port. But the focus rarely wanders far from the dinner at hand, with particular exclamations over dessert. Rappaport concurs with a chef who once said to her, "If you don't love food, then you don't love life." Because it's a school night-tomorrow K.D. must shoot a video-the friends forgo the usual apres-dinner games (Jaenga, Cranium, Boggle) and move into the kitchen for group cleanup. As the last dishes hit the drying rack, talk turns to when Lang's gang will next break bread. Rappaport nails the secret ingredient in tonight's feast. "Cooking is a very passionate activity for K.D.," she says. "It's another way for her to express her creativity. " "It just makes me feel good," says Lang, wearing the relaxed smile of a successful host, "and it's giving people something that inspires."
18-37F, 1271 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10020