On their car, Duluth musicians really cook


One cold winter not too long ago, Jason Wussow needed a ride to Taos, N.M., to visit his girlfriend. He needed to do it cheap, and he needed to eat well. The eating well part was mandatory.

So he teamed up with his friend and musical collaborator, Dan Dresser, to help him drive. They played some gigs to pay their way, and they cooked all of their hot meals on the manifold of their car.

The proof of their excellent adventure  is in their 18-minute short film, “Cooking on the Car,” culled from 6 hours of raw video shot in February of 2008 and released this spring. In July, it premiered at Wrenshall, Minn.’s Free

Range Film Festival.

Wussow runs Beaner’s Central Coffee Concert Coffeehouse in West Duluth, and his restaurant’s carefully crafted menu, from blueberry scones to red pepper hummus, speaks to his love of food. He’s not the kind of guy who’d fast food it all the way to New Mexico.

Despite the fact that two musicians were involved, their journey was not “all about the music.” It was all about the car, or more specifically, the manifold, and what they could cook on it.

Dresser convinced Wussow that they had to acquire a certain 1987 to 1991 vintage Toyota, for its ideal cooking attributes, which they bought and fixed up just for the trip. “For doing what we wanted to do, it was totally important,” Dresser says. “You could do baked potatoes or heat up cans on any car,” Dresser continues before Wussow interrupts.

Venison quiche, the first of many meals, cooked on the manifold of Dresser's 1989 Camry.

Venison quiche, the first of many meals, cooked on the manifold of Dresser's 1989 Camry.

“I’d heard about canned beans and hobo stew and ‘Manifold Destiny’ all that,” Wussow says, naming a book on the subject of car cooking. “Dan told me if we found this certain car, the engine holds a bread panjust perfect so it doesn’t spill.”

“It’s got an alumnimum heat shield so it holds the pan about a half inch off the manifold so it doesn’t burn,” Dresser says of the 2-liter marvel.

Dresser scoured the classifieds and used car dealerships for a month. Finally, for $900, they bought two totaled 1989 Toyota Camrys at a car boneyard  somewhere near the shores of Lake Superior. They raided one for parts and the other they dubbed Ellen, named after the woman whose name was on some receipts in the glove compartment. It was a Saturday in Febuary, five days before departure.

Dresser, a former body shop mechanic, scrambled to get Ellen ready in time, using a tree limb and chain at one point to bend part of the body back in line. The test drive happened Wednesday night at 11 p.m., mere hours  before their Thursday morning departure. “It drove perfectly,” Dresser says. Never mind the dings and two-tone door/body styling, it got an average of 35 mpg on the trip and had a kickin’ new stereo besides.

They wisely drove up Duluth’s steep hillside before placing their first dish in its foil-covered bread pan atop the manifold shield. “We didn’t want it to spill going uphill,” Wussow explains. About two hours — make that 90 miles later,  despite sub-zero wind chills, their noses told them their venison quiche was done. And it was good.  Surprisingly good. “I can’t believe how perfectly it was browned,” Dresser says in the film.

In Aberdeen, S.D., they bought provisions at Natural Abundance, a whole foods store, and later performed at The Red Rooster coffeehouse.  They used a similar approach to

Sara Softich, Jason Wussow and Dan Dresser, musicians and rustic gourmands, share a meal of mahi-mahi, broccoli and new potatoes in Taos, N.M.

Sara Softich, Jason Wussow and Dan Dresser, musicians and rustic gourmands, share a meal of mahi-mahi, broccoli and new potatoes in Taos, N.M.

cook their way through Hot Springs, S.D., Boulder, Colo., and Alamosa, Colo., where a blizzard waylaid them. The delay was frustrating, but it set the stage for their triumphant finish: mahi-mahi in Taos with Wussow’s girlfriend, Sara Softich, a musician who had some gigs in town.

One word of advice: don’t make “cowboy coffee” on the car engine, even though dumping grounds in a pot and boiling seems so right when you’re traveling the West. “It was bad,” Wussow admits. “I’m a coffee snob and I should have known better.” His suggestion: get the water boiling in a separate pot and use a French press for brewing.

They’d like to turn their recipes and knowledge into a cookbook to go with their video. They have a website — www.cookingonthecar.com — which is under construction. And they’re talking about another trip (note the sly “Episode 1” on their DVD’s cover.) They’re toying with ideas of combining music and food and car cooking, maybe even bringing other musicians in on the act. Picture this: player-chefs car-cook their way to a great big gig in a central location and share the food, love and music in a sort of “traveling fun show,” as Wussow puts it.

For now, they’re glad they brought the camera, which doesn’t blink. “The best stuff, you don’t even remember,” Wussow says.

Venison Quiche

Below is recipe for Wussow and Dresser’s first dish, taken from their short film, “Cooking on the Car.” Cooking distance: 90 miles, give or take 30, depending on wind-chill factor.

6 eggs

1/2 pound ground venison
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic
Canola or other high temperature cooking oil
salt and pepper to taste
Aluminum foil
Oil pan to prevent sticking. Mix ingredients. Pour into large loaf pan, cover with two layers of aluminum foil.  When it smells done — 40 to 60 miles — lift foil to check. Caution: watch for burns, a burst of steam will escap.

join duluth dish


2 Responses to “On their car, Duluth musicians really cook”
  1. Roger & Marge W. says:

    A really unique idea but we’re wondering if combustion odors affect the flavor/taste??

    In 1936 when Roger was a baby, his mother told him they heated the water for his bottle on either the manifold or the radiator. Canvass bags hung on the outside radiator grill or under the hood were used in the 30’s & 40’s while traveling in the mountains because the water/alcohol mix boiled at a lower temp in higher elevations (before antifreeze was invented. History 101….

  2. TastyTom says:

    A properly running engine does not leak combustion odors anywhere except the tailpipe. If your manifold/muffler is loose or something then you smell exhaust in the passenger compartment. The food, on this car anyway, sits near the front of the engine compartment, which is also where the fresh air intakes are.

    My mechanic, Jimmy Gaskin (just down the road from Beaner’s) says he remembers seeing a ’50s Ford owners manual that showed you where to put food on the engine block to heat it. And he said his dad once built a metal box on an older car to hold food for heating. I’m not sure if most late-model cars have enough room to squeeze in breadpans etc. Would be worth investigating.

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