Speaking to Action Bronson, the thick-bearded, 300lb tattooed Albanian-American rapper who has forged a second career as a gourmand TV presenter, it seems surprising that more musicians aren’t foodies. Surfing from city to city on expense accounts, with plenty of free afternoons, life on tour offers a lot of scope for exploring out-of-the-way restaurants and eateries.
“Music and food go hand in hand,” Bronson explains. “The dish in the middle of the table is like the song you put on for everyone to start grooving to. It’s the language of the world, a way of bringing people together.”
As he explains, for him the food came before the music. He grew up in Queens, New York, son of an American mother and an Albanian father. “My grandmother would be making food three times a day,” he says. “Delicious Albanian delicacies, but I didn’t appreciate it until I was older. I’d be eating hamburgers like a little prick.” He worked as a chef, and even briefly did food TV himself, before an injury led him to focus on the music.
Soon, however, Bronson’s catholic palate and growing hip-hop fame led to a show on Vice’s food channel, Munchies, called F*ck, That’s Delicious.
As you might guess from its title, the series does not dwell long on the finer points of flavouring or sous-vide technique. Instead, Bronson travels around, meeting local chefs, exuberantly sampling their wares, and swearing a lot.
“This is going to blow your pussy off,” he says of some fried chicken in New Orleans. “This tastes like my grandmother. Not like her, like the things she used to make,” he says of a meat-filled pancake in Paris. “I feel like Jamie Oliver,” he says, showing us how to make Hawaiian poke on a New York rooftop. It’s funny, unpretentious – and filthy.
Perhaps inevitably, given the millions of views it has received, the show has led to a cookbook of the same title, co-written by Rachel Wharton. In it, Bronson lists 100 of his favourite things to eat, going into 40 recipes in depth, as well as telling some colourful stories from his childhood.
“Think of it as volume 1,” he says. “You can’t fit everything into just one book. It’s the start of an Encyclopaedia Britannica of food.” Like its author, the book is equally devoted to haute cuisine and street food.
“I’m not a snob,” he says. “I didn’t grow up on fine dining and I love everything. I love going to the shittiest part of the neighbourhood for a barbecue and then going to a three Michelin-star restaurant where you have to wear a tie. It’s about experience. That’s how you increase your knowledge of who you are.”
Not that he doesn’t have his favourites. Copenhagen and Paris are his top cities to eat out in. He’s been fed by Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana in Modena, and Rene Redzepi at Noma. But in the UK he goes straight to east London for earthier delights.
“As soon as I touch down in London I go directly to Lahore kebab in Whitechapel, straight off the plane. They know where to sit me, what to bring me. I get a shish kebab, lamb vindaloo, vegetable curries, two types of naan. It’s a staple.” He’s good friends with Lee Tiernan of Black Axe Mangal in Highbury, and Tom Adams at Pitt Cue Co. “Those places are cathedrals.”
Other food presenters have spoken about the inches the job puts on their waistline and what it does to their blood pressure. Is there ever a move from the people around him to make a programme about, say, yoga instead?
“You try not to eat the whole meal,” he says, “but I don’t even think I’m overweight. I know the way I move on stage, and I could do 50 push-ups in a clip. The only thing that makes me feel overweight is when my shirt clings a little bit. But it’s all about how you feel. You can change the outside, but it doesn’t change what’s inside.”
Besides, he has important work to do showing his fans how much great food is out there to be discovered. “I hope I’m helping to make it happen. People in the music industry you’d never expect have told me they love the show. And I’ve had messages from the fans telling me they’re eating this or that. Motherfuckers from the hood saying, ‘Yo, I made octopus tonight,’ who would never have tried it. They’re getting the hype. I don’t know what I could have done with my life, besides some sort of humanitarian work, that would have been more satisfying,” he says. “I’m very fucking satisfied.”
To order a copy of F*ck, That’s Delicious by Action Bronson with Rachel Wharton (Abrams, £19.99) for £16.99, go to bookshop.theguardian.com