Painted in WaterloguePainted in Waterlogue

A common thread, a core philosophy on life, and a shared heartbeat can make you believe that cooks and musicians may be twins from different mothers. The similarities of their craft, the dedication required, and the innate talent that must be present point to an uncanny understanding, one that might easily demonstrate that if a chef were not cooking for a living, he or she might very well be playing music and vice versa.

Both music and food require very definitive skill sets and mindsets from those who choose to make their interest, a career. True, there are many who attempt both careers and are unsuccessful due to a lack of respective DNA, but what attracts individuals to these fields is still largely parallel. Here are some examples of those parallels:

  • To be a musician requires an ear for harmonic sound; to be a cook requires an acute palate. It would be very difficult for anyone to become a successful musician without an ear for organized sound and just as difficult for a cook without a responsive palate.
  • Both musicians and cooks need to have a natural sense of rhythm. It is this rhythm that allows them to function.
  • Both musicians and cooks share a commitment to the foundations of their craft. Musicians learn to read music and understand scales and chord sequences. Cooks learn about knife control, foundational cooking methods, and how to adapt recipes to accommodate variables.
  • Even though certain musicians and cooks may be born with remarkable talent, they are only able to apply this talent through consistent practice, practice, and more practice.
  • Both musicians and cooks are influenced by, and heavily rely on the influence of other accomplished artisans who came before them.
  • Cooks and musicians see the beauty and sometimes the “lack there of”, in their surroundings and use this as a stepping-stone for developing their artistic signature.
  • Musicians and cooks respect, appreciate, and care for their tools of the trade whether a beautifully made guitar, violin, or drum kit, or a razor sharp French knife, slicer, or flexible boning knife.
  • Musicians and cooks live by organization (even though some music may seem to drift), an appreciation for putting notes, or ingredients in a specific position, or incorporating them at precise moments in the process of making music or a signature dish.
  • When young and eager, many musicians and cooks try to flex their creative muscle, occasionally to extremes, as they experiment with what could be, but over time, they mature with their craft and build a brand around how they interpret notes or food ingredients.
  • Musicians and cooks become one with their craft and frequently blur the meaning of self.
  • Cooks and musicians thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes from knowing their stuff and being able to execute their craft at a very high level.
  • Both cooks and musicians enjoy pleasing others with their work, but are even more concerned with meeting and exceeding their own standards of performance. They find that meeting these personal standards and even winning the respect of their professional peers, trumps any recognition from those who pay to consume their work.
  • All serious musicians and cooks are true to their craft and feel honored to be able to make a living while doing what they love.
  • Inherently, all musicians and cooks are teachers who take great pride in sharing their skills with others who aspire to become accomplished in those fields.

Here are some parallels that through observation, I feel are apparent:


Both artists are revolutionary and evolutionary and over time have matured with their craft. Clapton from the anything goes band: Cream, to his solo career as a respected blues guitarist and singer. Achatz from his adaptation of molecular cuisine, to become one the world’s most accomplished restaurateurs and culinary alchemist who blends classical preparations with contemporary flair.

“I found my God in music and the arts, with writers like Hermann Hesse, and musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter. In some way, in some form, my God was always there, but now I have learned to talk to him.” 
― Eric Clapton

Both artists are undeniably the perfectionists of their trades. Bela from his work with The Jazz inspired Flecktones to his accomplished work with bluegrass, classical and even world music. In all cases, his versatility on the banjo is amazing. Keller, through his undeniable fanaticism towards food finesse, has accomplished what few others have been able to. From The French Laundry to Bouchon, Ad Hoc and Per Se, he has shown the same level of perfectionism with food that Bela Fleck does with varied genres of music.

“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.” 
― Thomas KellerThe French Laundry Cookbook


Experimentation and pushing the envelope define both of these artisans. Jeff Beck in his growth as a musician beginning with the Yardbirds, work with Rod Stewart, Jan Hammer during his electronic jazz phase, and on to an extraordinary solo career as a master of tone and one of the top ten guitar masters of all time. Beck morphed numerous times as he chose to experiment with different styles of music and pushed what a guitar was capable of doing. Ferran Adria, through his space aged restaurant: el Bulli, went where no cook has gone before. As much as Grant Achatz pushed his career with molecular cooking interpretations, it was Adria who invented the methods and became the bridge between cooking and scientific possibilities.

Creativity means not copying.

Ferran Adria, Washington Post, Oct. 11, 2011

A consistent, always interesting, rhythmic backbeat continues to be the hallmark of these artists and their influence on others. Stanley Clarke was the keeper of the musical footprint for Chick Corea, Return to Forever, and Animal Logic. His solo work and adaptation of a unique bass player style has earned him the respect of musicians from every genre. Mario Batali, one of America’s most influential and successful chef/restaurateurs, carries a similar backbeat in his multiple restaurant concepts. His style, and more importantly, his consistent steadiness as a restaurateur is the envy of everyone else in the business.

“The very common error of young or unconfident cooks is to keep putting more of their own personal ideology into a plate until there’s so much noise that you really can’t even hear a tune. You can say more in an empty space than you can in a crowded one.”

Mario Batali, Harvard Business Review


In your face, is probably the best way to describe both of these extreme artists. John Bonham, former drummer of Led Zeppelin, created a beat that made you marvel at his rhythmic style and feel sorry for the drum kit at the same time. Marco Polo White – referred to by many, as an extremist in the kitchen, or even the devil himself, was always powerful in the way he approached his work, the food he prepared, and the fellow cooks that he verbally battered on a daily basis.

“If you are not extreme, then people will take shortcuts because they don’t fear you.” 
― Marco Pierre WhiteThe Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef


Two descriptors come to mind when talking about these artists: Elegant and Class Acts. Sting, a teacher by trade, became one of the world’s most recognized and admired musicians as he began with The Police, subsequently moved on to a long and rewarding career as a solo singer/songwriter/musician, and now Broadway playwright and composer. Alice Waters is the chef of common sense advocacy for wholesome, natural cooking and the first flag waver for farm to plate mentalities in restaurants. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse was the training ground for many of the farm to table chefs of today. She is the Grand Dame of the restaurant business, as Sting is the noble gentleman of rock and roll. Both are consummate artists and accomplished storytellers through their crafts.

“For to sit in a room full of books, and remember the stories they told you, and to know precisely where each one is located and what was happening in your life at time or where you were when you first read it is the languid and distilled pleasure of the connoisseur.” 
― StingBroken Music

I could certainly go on and on with comparisons, and it may be a stretch to build a case for genetic similarities, but there is little doubt that those who are creative, share a unique bond, a common set of traits that make them who they are.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC


  1. Nice article. I live all the real musician | chef comparisons!

  2. This is just beautiful, Paul. Rock on, my brother!!!


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  3. […] shockingly similar, and I thank a blog post on Harvest America Ventures that helped mesh this idea together better than I am probably capable. Let me take some of their […]

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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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