The Headbangers' Kitchen 

No, not Iron Chef, dude! This is Heavy Metal Chef.

Race the Sun is getting smashed and grating cheese. The Richmond, Virginia, band is crowded in a tiny kitchen along with some roadies and a couple of busty ladies. They're slugging beers, talking smack, snarling "RAWK 'N' ROLL!" at the camera -- and occasionally watching a burly, round-faced guy in a band T-shirt and skullcap show them how to scoop out baked spuds for crab-and-bacon twice-cooked potatoes. A human skull smirks from the stovetop. Welcome to Heavy Metal Chef.

In this episode, taped last December, Chef Mateo gives the band's guitarist Jason Sowers a knife and commands him to cut up bacon. "Watch your fingers," he says over his shoulder. "I lose my fingers, I'm fucked," the guitarist shoots back.

Mateo, aka Matthew Newton, is a California Culinary Academy-trained cook and chef de cuisine at San Francisco's well-regarded Jeanty at Jack's. Onscreen, he weaves among the slicing, picking, and frying bandmates while a Blair Witch-style camera operator bobs and weaves, occasionally jumping up on a counter to capture the pans on the stove. Sometimes the scene goes slo-mo. Sometimes triple time. And if producer Mighty Bubble Films gets lucky, you'll soon be seeing it all on real cable, not just public access.

Mighty Bubble is pretty much Rhett Cross, a Berkeley-based music video producer who used to play with Seattle-based band Scorching Lilies. He and Mateo met in 1998. The year before last, they teamed up and decided to film a hard-rockin' cooking show. "Our first band was Pony Boy, a punk rock kid with a big mohawk," Cross says. "We did mint mojitos and made Thai coconut soup."

That show, taped last April, was eighteen minutes long. Heavy Metal Chef then started broadcasting on BTV-28, Berkeley's public-access channel, and the pair had to expand to fill up an hour. Cross admits the early shows, starring local groups such as Bottom, Vengeance, and Define Divine, lagged a little. "The next season we turned it into a half-hour," he says. "Things were flowing better. They stayed tight."

The format is always the same: footage of the guest band playing a few songs, interspersed with scenes of Mateo cooking a meal with them in Cross' kitchen. Mateo talks about what he's doing, and sometimes the ingredients for his recipe scroll up the screen. The guest band screws around a lot, and then eats.

Oh, yeah, the dominatrix. "She does ball gags and belittles the bands," Cross says. While the crab cooks, the dominatrix is introduced by the pink cursive title: "Miss Zephyr and the hour of obedience for the bad boys of rock 'n' roll." Said hour of obedience consists of Miss Zephyr, a sexy, pierced-lip brunette in hard-rock-babe attire, forcing the band members to kneel and chug screwdrivers. They're all mugging hard and flashing the Satan sign so often it's a wonder Beelzebub doesn't make a cameo.

The Satan symbol isn't the only thing flashed. "The dominatrix has an assistant called Areola, and sometimes she flashes her tits," Cross says. Sure enough, after the belittling there's a close-up of a nipple getting licked by a bearded mouth, which quickly cuts to the band playing another song. Even when there are no bare breasts to shoot, the cameraman pervs out on any woman who happens to be in the room, zooming in and out on her cleavage. Then the women stick out their tongues to show off their tongue studs. This happens a lot.

But there are moments where the show really rocks. Mateo has a laid-back, everybanger appeal that would play well to the camera if he were better miked. And when the show begins cutting between Race the Sun doing an Ashlee Simpson on its song "Solo Tonight" and high-speed footage of Mateo chopping vegetables, it's hard to avert your eyes. That's when Heavy Metal Chef looks like something you might see on MTV.

That's precisely what Cross and Chef Mateo hope to achieve. After fifteen shows, the two have pulled Heavy Metal Chef from BTV-28 to develop a pilot they hope to shop to MTV and Spike: The Channel for Men.

As of its most recent broadcast, Heavy Metal Chef had improved considerably. The footage looks better. Local rockers Domeshots are slightly better behaved -- if stoned off their heads -- and the herbed stuffed pork with cheddar-scallion mashed potatoes looks tastier, even if the chef fingers the slit in the pork loin before he stuffs it. Chef Mateo, meanwhile, gives a good demonstration on how to make a pan sauce. As he flambés the wine, one of the guys calls out, "Is Whitesnake playing here?" (He's talking about Great White.)

Cross attributes the improvements to a firm called Moss Productions that has joined the team, and has taken over the filming, editing, and effects. An animator is working on a new intro, he says: "We also have a baker from Cafe Cacao. Her name is Elise, and she's a little rocker." Local suppliers are donating ingredients and kitchen equipment, and no more screwdrivers -- Barflight Productions is making drinks with top-shelf liquors.

The pilot in the works features Fingertight, an East Bay band with a 2003 release on Sony/Columbia. The crew has already finished shooting the cooking scenes. Now they have to film the interstitials. "We're going to chase sheep around in Petaluma with butcher knives," Cross says. "Afterward we might go to a poultry factory. And then we're going to jump out of a plane."

Rawk 'n' roll! ... et bon appétit.

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