Last year, Texas Monthly described the inside cover of ZZ Top’s 1973 LP Tres Hombres as “perhaps the most famous and salivating example of Tex-Mex food porn of all-time.”
The album’s gatefold photo captures a huge Mexican feast catered by Leo’s Mexican Restaurant—a Houston institution that shuttered in 2001. Yesterday, celebrated Austin chef Tom Micklethwait of Austin’s, Micklethwait Craft Meats, posted a short film—ZZ Tom—to Vimeo that pays his respects to both Leo’s and the Lil’ Ol’ Band From Texas by meticulously recreating the image from scratch. And then, after the replica is complete, Chef Micklethwait eats it all, on camera.
First posted by the Austin-American Statesman, the video seems like a viral sensation waiting to happen. It’s the perfect reflection of our ongoing fascination with both food preparation and Texana nostalgia. And it’s got a great soundtrack.
Thursday afternoon, I called ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, who was in Lexington, Kentucky, on tour to promote his solo project to ask him for more details about the original Tres Hombres gatefold and to get his reaction to Micklethwait’s film:
You’ve seen Tom Micklethwait’s short film?
It’s crazy. Absolutely nuts. I stand in awe of what he’s accomplished. I have to hand it to him, he recreated every last element that you see in the centerfold with exacting detail. It’s rather remarkable. But what’s most remarkable for me is seeing the preparation and then witnessing the consumption. The whole film? As Matthew Odam in the Statesman so aptly concluded: “Hot. Delicious. And righteous.”
Do you remember who had the original idea for the Tres Hombres gatefold?
When we started working on the packaging, we had a pow-wow with the band and Bill Narum. Bill, of course, was the resident freehand artist who did most all of the classic ZZ album covers, rest his soul. We talked about how the album was once again a return the brotherhood of the Texas border and threw around some ideas to reflect that. At one point, I said, ‘Give me an hour I’ll be back with an idea.’ After the truck pulled up to open the rear doors and unload all this stuff, we said, ‘Perfect. Line it up. And let’s have a go at it.’
The feast in question was the creation of Leo’s Mexican Restaurant on South Shepherd in Houston. I assume that by then you were already a regular?
Always. Leo’s had a Mexican dinner special for $2.99 that was huge. And terrific. But it was also a far cry from what they prepared for the gatefold shoot. Galen Scott was the photographer who shot it. We did it down the street in his photo studio.
And all the props surrounding the food were on-hand?
Basically. We found an antique radio and tuned it to our favorite border radio station, XERF, 1570 on the dial. And the calendar with an Adelita, the famous female revolutionaries, similarly set the mood. And then we threw in the bottle of Southern Select, the Houston beer Howard Hughes owned. Being the consummate eccentric that he was, we thought it would be a fitting to top it all off.
How long did the shoot take?
Not as long as we’d hoped. The shot from the gatefold is the final frame Galen was able to snap. At some point, we took a fifteen-minute break. And when we returned we found his German Shepherd laying on his side gasping for breath. He’d jumped up on the table and consumed the entire lot. He got it all.
Bill Narum once told me he believes that gatefold played a huge role in introducing Mexican food to people outside Texas.
I suspect it did. And recently, I’ve seen a number of food critics and bloggers talking about how real Tex-Mex preparations are disappearing in favor of what I guess could be aimed at a little more healthful preparation of the recipes. But there’s still a lot of people who like their good grease with the good groove of Tex-Mex. If you’re missing it, just open up the cover to Tres Hombres for the full megillah. Or call Tom Micklethwait.
A few years ago, Lyle Lovett found himself embroiled in some controversy by suggesting “Never eat Mexican food east of Mississippi or north of Dallas.” How do you stand on that?
He’s got a point. I think the map is being expanded and generally, I’d say “Go get it where you find it.” But I’ll go with Lovett on this one. In essence and fact, Tex-Mex is still the property of that particular region. So it’s not bad advice at all.
And I assume you now owe Tom Micklethwait’s trailer a visit next time you’re through town?
I owe him a visit for sure. His accomplishment is significant. Next time I’m through, we should invite half the city of Austin to come with us and sample the Tres Hombres platter. He’d make another, right? Tell him I’m coming.