It was inevitable. As cooks and chefs grew into the role of artist so too did they join the ranks of talented expressionists who use a multitude of mediums. If the chef is truly an artist, then it would make sense that he or she would be and should be inspired by those who write, draw, paint, sculpt, sing and play musical instruments. I have long viewed cooks as frustrated artists who are in search of a vehicle of expression that also pays the bills. When thought of in this regard, cooking is the ultimate art form. Where other forms of artistic expression may appeal to one or two human senses, cooking appeals to all of them.
Writers, poets, sculptures, musicians and painters draw their inspiration from life and from things that stimulate their sensory perception. To deny them access to these stimuli would be to deny their art. It would thus be easy to apply the same rules to kitchens and cooks. To deny cooks access to sensory stimuli would be to deny their ability to create for the plate.
Many chefs, (I was one for many years) are opposed to music in the kitchen. There are legitimate reasons for this stance: music could be considered a distraction, musical tastes will differ in a kitchen causing potential friction among team members, and music will limit the necessary verbal communication that must take place in a kitchen throughout the day. All of this is very true, however, there are benefits.
Music has an emotional, spiritual, physiological and psychological effect on people; in this case, cooks. The temperament of a kitchen is critical to success and when people are happy, they produce happy food. Controlling the type, volume and sequence of music can be used to reinforce all of those positive emotional and physical feelings.
Calm, soothing music in the morning can be used to set a positive tone for the day as the kitchen comes to life. Fast paced music that reflects on good times can be used to keep an effective pace during prep when the sheer volume of work needs a healthy push. At service time, the music must be replaced with the cadence of the kitchen. Focus on orders, the expeditor, the chatter from the service staff, sizzle from a sauté pan and clink of china on the pass are the only sounds that have a place during this critical time. Finally, at clean up a good dose of musical energy will help to inspire the team to get through the final phase.
Does music actually inspire cooks to create? There have actually been numerous studies to try and prove or disprove this theory.
“Both Schellenberg and Levitin agree that music will have different effects on your brain and behavior depending on how it makes you feel. Want to be alert and focused? Try an upbeat song that puts you in a good mood, whether it’s Mozart or Miley. Want to step away from a problem and relax in order to find a solution? Play anything you like — and don’t dismiss those sad songs you like to mope around to.
“When we hear sad music, it allows us to empathize with the composer and the musician and makes us feel connected to them,” said Levitin. This empathy, he said, can allow individuals to glean creative insights they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Here’s Proof Music Can Do More Than Just Make You Feel Good
There are mixed feelings on the part of chefs. Eric Ripert does not allow music in his kitchen at Le Bernadin. His rationale would be hard to argue with and the end result is a restaurant that most aspiring chefs would kill to work at. Rated as one of America’s few Michilen starred restaurants and one of the finest in the world, pushing him on this issue would seem to be fruitless.
Others find that music is an essential part of restaurant life and critical to building team spirit and high levels of productivity. Many of these chefs are aspiring musicians as well. Dean Fearing from the Mansion at Turtle Creek is one of the country’s most admired culinary figures who also plays a mean guitar in bands comprised of fellow chefs. Steve Schimoler, owner/operator/chef at Crop Bistro in Cleveland is also an accomplished drummer whose band “Cream of the Crop” performs around Cleveland and at the restaurant carrying the same name.
Although the media and Food Network would have us believe that chefs are the new rock stars, it is really the influence that music has on their everyday hard work in the kitchen that is most important. So, back to the original question: does music have a place in the kitchen? This is really up to the operator to determine. We do know that music is important to people and can, in many cases, positively impact on morale, creativity and production. If a chef can control the sequence of music throughout the day and appease the team with music that universally inspires, then this may be an issue for even the older stalwarts like me to reconsider.
If I were to embrace music in a kitchen that I was responsible for, here is a possible music playlist that I could accept and use to inspire:
5 a.m – 7 a.m. – BREAKFAST SHIFT
A mix of Switched on Bach, Bela Fleck, Yo Yo Ma, Pat Methany and Early Pink Floyd.
7 a.m. – 1 p.m. – PREP SHIFT & DELIVERIES
A eclectic mix of music from the 60’s and 70’s including Little Feat, Allman Brothers, British Invasion Groups, California Groups like Quicksilver, Jefferson Airplane, and Grateful Dead as well as a touch of Hendrix and British Blues. Of course I couldn’t forget the Gipsy Kings, Los Lonely Boys and Bob Marley.
1 p.m. – 5 p.m. – CRUNCH TIME PREPARING FOR SERVICE
A bit of hard guitars like Joe Satriani, Stevie Ray, Joe Bonamassa, Walter Trout, Eric Clapton,Eddie Van Halen, and Jeff Beck (the best guitarist on the planet).
5 p.m. – 11 p.m. – SERVICE
No music, only the pleasant sounds of the the ticket printer, clanging china, service staff chatter and the chef calling out orders.
11 p.m. – close – BREAKDOWN
Line cooks choice. What ever gets them through it. I’ll close the office door.
What would your playlist look like?
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