The Kitchen Ambience

I woke up last Wednesday to the daily email push from the NY Times, the Wednesday dining section and their Diner’s Journal. Two articles grabbed me out of the gates – What Chefs are Rockin’ to in the Kitchen, and an amazing piece of news on one of my heroes, Louis Armstrong.

A 1961 NY Times photo.

It’s not uncommon knowledge that as chefs, we work ungodly hours. April in Charleston is one of the truly great experiences of a lifetime. As visitors flood our city, it drives business, increased covers mean longer hours, days, weeks in the kitchen. We spend more time with each other than our families who (mercifully) have that pot of coffee waiting for us in the morning. How do we stay engaged during these 6 day work weeks and 16 hour days? Music.

Let it be said – I’m not a musician, I’m a chef.I was only in a band once. Texar. I played theremin and looped location recordings with my then brother in law Darren Brown (of Boy Dirt Car fame) and Rick McCollum (he also played lead guitar in a band called The Afghan Whigs). SO, as far as street cred goes, I feel like I can check off being in a band as I did pretty well. I can’t imagine a life without music. As Darren once put it – “Music’s like food – there’s always something old, and there’s always something new.”

Just like the chemistry that makes up the creative sum of your line, most cooks bring a different taste in music to the kitchen. This adds to the creative atmosphere, the mish mash and collage of tastes, styles, arguments about what sucks and what rules. As we have frequent guests in the kitchen, my only standing rules are no f bombs, n bombs, anyone has a right to a veto and no volume past 11.

I’ve lived in Michigan (Stooges, MC5, White Stripes, Carl Craig, Juan Atkins), Minneapolis (Prince, The Time, Husker DU / Bob Mould, The Replacements, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Felt) and Nashville (Duh.) My tastes reflect all this, plus a liberal sprinkling of Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Pearl Jam, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Roots, Thievery Corporation, Allman Brothers, Drive by Truckers and Jane’s Addiction. I really could go on and on and on. Most of the chefs I know could as well. We all cook our asses off to our own soundtrack.

Here’s my current 5:

  1.  Tinariwen – Matadjan Yinmixan. Their story is one of war, loss and longing in the deep Sahara. Their desert blues are otherworldly, their live performance is not to be missed.
  2. Sam and Dave – Hold on, I’m Coming. Reminds me of my visits to Memphis, of Revdezvous and Gus’s Chicken. I heard stage crews used to have to mop up the stage after they performed because there was so much sweat.
  3. Bob Marley – Slave driver. When your boss is down on you, Bob Knows. Listen to Bob.
  4. Mark Lanegan Band – Harborview Hospital. Good music while prepping through cases of those beautiful beets from Ambrose farms.
  5.  John Butler Trio – Ocean.


It was such a great way to wake up today that they have found and released the final recordings of one of my musical heroes – Louis Armstrong. At a concert given to the National Press Club in January of 1971, of which original pressings were limited to 300. The release’s liner notes included 3 dozen of Satchmo’s favorite recipes, including white beans and ham hocks, gumbo, po-boys and Louisiana caviar, an eggplant dish. From the genius who brought us “Struttin’ with some Barbecue.”

Red Beans and Ricely Yours indeed. Thanks Mr. Satchmo!

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