My son Quinn learned early on that if dad was in the kitchen cooking up a meal that required even the slightest bit of time and prep, having the TV on in the background was not an option. I should say that there is one exception to that rule and that is Thanksgiving morning, when I’m firing up the smoker at 5 a.m. for my annual Smoked Quail and Quiche Brunch with the Detroit Lions game on.
I put “The Last Waltz” on the DVR, the brilliant concert movie from director Martin Scorsese that documents the final performance of The Band. It’s full of epic performances from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell and many more. It’s the perfect soundtrack to an early morning of keeping the smoker stoked at a low and slow temperature of 200 degrees and whipping up a dozen or so quiche. Yes, it’s a random combination but friends and neighbors bring more traditional brunch fare and it’s a fun and unique way to start Thanksgiving.
Music has always been my companion in the kitchen and when the music is spot on, I’m convinced it can enhance a meal. I should note that this combination of food and music was the inspiration for the radio version of Lick the Plate. A very high percentage of chefs I’ve had on the show are as passionate about their music as they are about cooking. Many of them are also musicians on top of that.
In the past, it was that perfect album side during food prep, then came the mixed cassette tape and CD and now the digital options for playlists are almost limitless. I’ve created several iTunes and Spotify playlists specifically for meals and those playlists are always evolving. The eclectic nature of my musical tastes is reflected in all of these mixes but all of them keep me moving, and in some cases singing along.
With that, I give you a recent Lick the Plate mix that powered me through the preparation of some fabulous meatballs.
I’ll start off on the jazzy side of things with “Jam Man” by Chet Atkins, a tune that is currently being licensed by an auto insurance company but don’t let that deter you. Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is another great way to ease into prep. While Deer Tick may not have the most appealing name, their “Miss K” picks up the pace a bit and is a definite singalong. I stay in that signing mode with “September” from Earth, Wind & Fire, “Float On” from Modest Mouse, “Midnight Train” to Georgia by Gladys Knight & the Pips (where I take the lead and backup vocals just because I can) and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” which probably ranks up there as one of the best singalong songs of all time. Same can be said for the simple yet powerful “Hold On I’m Comin’” from the iconic Sam & Dave. For the sake of full disclosure, I am not a good singer. That said, these songs don’t really require a decent voice especially with the volume high enough to drown out my inspired attempts.
Moving on, the playlist segues into tunes that I don’t even attempt to sing along with but have a groove that keeps things moving. Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick Push” makes me feel like a soulful rapping skateboarder — something I’ll never be but it’s such a killer tune and is there a better name than Lupe Fiasco? I think not.
Jake Bugg’s “Lightning Bolt” can now be heard in Mini Cooper ads but that’s OK, it still rocks. Back to some old school with Etta James and her classic “Something’s Got a Hold On Me,” Chuck Berry and his less obvious “You Can’t Catch Me” then shifting gears to the more contemporary and insanely catchy “Default” by Django Django from England. Next I keep that that Euro vibe going with a short trip across the Channel to France for some Phoenix and their hit “Lisztomania” that details Liszt fever, the intense fan frenzy directed toward Hungarian composer Franz Liszt during his performances.
As the meal prep winds down, and it’s time to clean up and start setting the table for whomever I’m feeding, I tend to take it more in the direction of some cool Latin sounds along the lines of The Buena Vista Social Club. I never want the music during dinner to interfere with conversation or be too lyric heavy. That said, smooth jazz is never an option at any point, just saying.
Obviously this is all a deeply personal thing. If your tastes run more toward the heavy metal side of the musical spectrum and that’s what inspires you to create fabulous food, well then, rock on!
Lick the Plate has interviewed over 700 chefs, restaurateurs, growers, brewers and culinary personalities over the past 10 years as a column in The Coast News and in Edible San Diego. He can be heard on KSON, FM94/9 and Sunny98.1. More at www.lick-the-plate.com.