Of all the creature comforts this pandemic has impacted the most, our ability to gather and enjoy each other’s company through shared experiences has been the hardest luxury to live without. Nowhere is the potency of that unique fellowship greater felt than at restaurants and clubs—two destinations where, for the foreseeable future, going “back to normal” simply isn’t an option.
For renown chef and pasta maker Evan Funke, the repercussions of the lockdown were violent and abrupt. His critically acclaimed Felix trattoria, located on the high-rent Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, downsized 85% in 48 hours. The massive influx of information—and misinformation—distributed to restaurateurs only muddied the way forward. As the pandemic worsened, Evan’s older brother and longtime DJ Graham Funke started to see gigs drop off his calendar one by one as clubs closed and festivals rescheduled events to 2021.
“Going from literally traveling every week since the fall of 2004 to not traveling at all was a shock,” says Graham, “but it was good to get back into the rhythm of a normal life.”
In order for the public at large to get back to their “normal” lives, people like Graham and Evan Funke have to slowly re-enter their own chaotic ecosystems, but the process of achieving and retaining excellence amidst unpredictability has been a staple of the Funke way.
The patriarch of the family is Alex Funke. As a special effects photographer for major motion pictures like The Abyss, Total Recall and Blade Runner 2049, Alex Funke carried a highly unpredictable schedule. During the marathon filming of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, he moved to New Zealand in 1999 and pretty much stayed there through Jackson’s subsequent projects like King Kong and The Hobbit trilogy. In fact, his tenure there was so long that he obtained dual citizenship and now splits his time between LA and Wellington.
“He set the bar and the work ethic that all of us share,” says Evan. “He never said you have to be perfect but he definitely let it be known that striving for perfection was a good thing.”
“My mom was an amazing mother and the ringleader of all the kids,” adds Graham. “We’re all still really close, and that’s credit to my mom instilling those values in us and keeping it together.”
There are five Funke children in total. Graham (46) is the oldest and Evan (41) is the middle child. Jens, a touring bass player who pivoted into scoring film trailers and TV commercials, is 43, while Andy, the youngest at 36, is an optometrist whose DeadEyes Vintage online store deals in high-end eyewear. Sophia, 38, is the lone sister amongst a quartet of boys, and lives with her husband in Colorado with their three children. When I ask what a typical week was like in the Funke household, laughter breaks out on the other end of the phone. “There was nothing typical about anything,” says Graham.
Evan was a late bloomer and worked as a massage therapist before flirting with the idea of joining the Marines to “bring a little discipline and structure to his life.” It wasn’t until his girlfriend’s mother encouraged him to ditch boot camp and enroll in culinary school that he made the move to food. Three months into his education he was recruited by Wolfgang Puck to work at Spago’s iconic Los Angeles location until 2006. That journey was followed up by a lucrative, four-year tenure at Rustic Canyon before the meteoric rise (and subsequent fall) of Bucato, where he was head chef until 2015. When it comes to pasta, Funke is nonpareil. The 2018 documentary that bears his surname documents the chef’s “maniacal” journey to create the most comprehensive pasta program in the United States, a quest he is unapologetic about.
“I’m known to be very candid,” laughs Evan, who admits that he was summarily fired after 12 weeks teaching back at Le Cordon Bleu for “being too aggressive.” “In order to build a team inside a kitchen, you have to have an intimate sense of transparency. If you see someone who is dropping below a certain standard, you must, in the moment, correct them and coach. I just don’t see any reason for false diplomacy.”
Graham and Evan are both measured, thoughtful speakers, but it’s through their hands that they do their best talking. Not only did the Funke household feature floor-to-ceiling stacks of books in multiple rooms, but Alex built a workshop in every home they lived in. (Before his film career, Alex worked for designer Charles Eames in the late ‘60s the through the ‘70s.) That dexterity, for Graham, took the form of DJing and the now-somewhat-forgotten turntablist skills of cutting and scratching records. He’s enjoyed longstanding residencies at E11even in Miami and the Highlight Room in Los Angeles, played a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton during her 2008 primary campaign, DJed multiple official afterparties for the MTV VMAs and has been the opening DJ for bands like Guns N Roses, Linkin Park, Snoop Dogg and the Foo Fighters, to name just a few. As one-half of the Captains of Industry with DJ StoneRokk, Funke has been a purveyor of the art of DJing and turntable storytelling. Like his younger brother, he is drawn to technique and the historical preservation of his craft.
“I can’t imagine involving yourself in something without having a deep interest in how it got to the point where you started,” say Graham. “For me, that would be learning, protecting and promoting the fundamentals of DJing. The fame and money stuff came later, but a lot of people focus on that.”
Evan, who moved to Bologna in 2007 to study under master pasta maker Alessandra Spisni, seconds the notion: “The historical value is integral to the fabric of what we do. You cannot understand modern pasta-making without understanding the foundation of it. It’s bullshit. There’s no value in it.”
Both brothers operate in fast-paced environments where judgements are levied swiftly. People have primal connections to food and music. They know what they like—and they really know what they don’t like—and years of tradition, artistry and dedication to one’s craft can often be mercilessly sacrificed at the altar of public opinion. But they’ve got thick skins and are grounded enough to know that, for some people, a bowl of pasta is sometimes just a bowl of pasta, and a night at the club doesn’t have to be a musical history lesson, even though the DJ may have walked you through the chronological history of new jack swing and its impact on modern-day R&B.
“Whether that’s cooking, DJing or whatever. You learn the fundamentals and then you practice,” says Evan. “But you can’t skip the fundamentals.”
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