OFFSTAGE: Zac Brown One-Ups His Own Chili

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

Zac Brown taught me something last week. Not how to write a song or how to play guitar. Things I’m sure he’d be very good at teaching. But when I caught up with him on Friday (Nov. 4), he gave me a few tips on how to make a better pot of chili. “My chili is a big labor of love, but I’ve evolved it since that [first] cookbook,” he told me when we were talking about favorite recipes. “I started adding dark chocolate to it and adding cabernet and using a veal and beef reduction demi-glace paste.” I said I was going to try that this week, to leave it for my family while I was in Nashville for the CMA Awards , and so he gave me even more specific advice. “Next time you’re cooking down all your aromatics, like your onions and everything, pour in some cabernet. Cabernet is big enough of a red wine and has enough peppery qualities to it that marries really well to the chili. It gives it another whole dimension,” he promised. So it was either that or make his other favorite — mustard fried venison , which he says is pretty amazing. I don’t have any venison in my fridge right now, but talking to him about his made me want to get my hands on some. “Learning how to mustard-fry things happened at deer camp with my dad a long time ago,” he recalled. “When we’d go to hunting camp, we’d sleep in a cruddy old trailer. But when we gathered around the fire when we’d get back to camp, everybody would bring out vegetables and start cutting ‘em up. We’d start collectively making a meal.” That must be what got him started on his whole eat-and-greet idea, where he feeds a lucky group of fans before his shows. “The food is just such a big component, just like the songs and lyrics,” he said. “You really have to care about what you’re doing. You have to really love every step. I’ll be in some dive restaurant that’ll have an amazing dish, and I’ll go sneak in the kitchen and go talk to the guy who made it and just ask, ‘How’d you do that?’ Just trying to be a sponge in all my traveling. I’m blessed enough to play music and to be out there on the road and be in so many places and soak up so many things.” He called that “closing your mouth and opening up your ears.” And who doesn’t love a good meal to go with good music? Brown told me his love of singing and his love of food came at the same time when he was very, very young. “To me, those passions have just always gone hand in hand,” he said. Check back later this week for more from my food and music conversation with Brown.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.