The other day, when we were deep in a conversation about writing cookbooks with chefs, a friend recommended listening to the same music as the chef. This would help get in her head. It made sense. Music, or lack of it, can define a kitchen.
Chefs usually fall into two categories. Those that want music in their kitchens to help them get into the groove and those who feel it is a distraction. When I cook and bake at home, I fall into the “listen to music” camp, but most chefs I’ve worked for have not been supporters of a greasy staff boom box. Yet most of the kitchens tended to have at least one resident music geek who did his share of talking about bands, shows, trivia.
It took working with food for me to truly listen to music. I spent my undergrad years at the kind of university that excelled in training future food scientists, engineers, veterinarians, and sports psychologists. The most musical nook on campus was the tiny theater/art/music department, where a music appreciation class had us singing Gershwin’s Summertime on the first day. Otherwise, our campus was not musical, and neither were my friends. Dave Matthews Band and Phish loomed large and no one thought there was anything wrong with that. Toad the Wet Sprocket was the biggest show to come to campus. But UCDavis wasn’t really about music. It had Picnic Day dachshund races instead.
When I worked at La Farine, a bakery on the Oakland/Berkeley border, straight out of college, it was different. Music was everything. Corey, the afternoon bread baker, took pity on my music starvation diet and we began to work through Dylan albums (with John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline on heavy rotation) until everyone needed a break from the nasal incantation. Lanky and pale, with a skull and crossbones tattoo in the back of his head, Corey had a ghostly presence, intimidating to the unacquainted. But he hardly poked fun at my vanilla music background. When the shop closed up and we were left with our mixers and dough, Corey would switch to Anticon and other music that was percolating in the Oakland scene at the time. The memory of some sounds ties directly to the memory I have of bakery smells—eggy lemon curd for the cheesecakes, damp waxy boxes of lemons, sweet/sour butter, omnipresent cinnamon. Jeff, the owner, studied music at Northwestern and never minded tunes in the kitchen.
After locking up for the day, the other Jeff, the manager, would stand by Corey’s table as he shaped sour baguettes. Jeff would fill us in on the neighborhood gossip. There was the woman who came in a couple of times a week for a brownie and then would berate us about how terrible our brownie was. Jeff always suggested something else—a chocolate cookie? a luscious slice of tart? She would not be swayed from her brownie purchasing or hating. Rockridge in those days was not short on strong personalities, and Jeff liked to spin a yarn. But the main topic of conversations—other than tattoos; Jeff had several and Corey was working toward becoming a tattoo artist—was music. Everyone seemed to play some sort of instrument. Sometimes, if Jeff and Corey forgot I was coming in, they would be blasting their doom metal band du jour, although they never thought it was polite to do so around me.
Today Jeff and Corey have scattered to the winds and La Farine is populated with completely new faces. But there is still a stereo. I hope someone still has fun with it.