The two things in life that we have an instant connection with are food and music. In both cases we learn, through our associations and connection to knowledge, that we are more inclined toward certain foods and certain styles of music, but that initial desire to enjoy eating and listening is apparent from the moment we take our first breath of fresh air.
“Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back; to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, and it’s strengthening.”
We learn over time that certain type of music support specific styles of cooking and even certain dishes and feel a real attachment to that music while enjoying complementary foods even if we don’t feel that connection at other times. The music and the food are one, they influence and complement each other, they inspire the cook and the musician, and embrace the consumer.
Music and food are nourishment for the body, mind and soul and as such are extremely important parts of a fulfilled life. We may sense this at birth, but we grow to know this over a period of years and decades. Our connection with food matures and broadens in scope, as does our appreciation for musical genres.
“As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.”
Chefs are compelled to cook and musicians are compelled to write and play. This need to perform is part of their physiological, mental, emotional, and spiritual self. This commonality that they share with other artists is very evident as a catalyst for connecting with one another. Great food without music is somehow incomplete and great music without the opportunity to break bread lacks the vitality of a perfect marriage.
“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. “
To me, the type and style of cooking and the restaurants that you engage in dictate the type of music that you connect with and vice versa. Here are some examples:
CLASSIC FINE DINING/CLASSICAL MUSIC:
In the execution of a fine dining experience there is no room for error, no excuse for deviation from established standards – the food is prepared the way it was meant to be prepared. This is true whether the food is inspired by Escoffier, Careme, Point, or Scappi. The same is true with classical music – the conductor spends hours, even days working with an orchestra, struggling over a single notes execution from a score. It must be perfect – no deviation from the way it is meant to be played. Both in classic food and classic music there is always conflict over interpretation, but in the end both share this commonality of the search for perfection and as such are natural together.
TASTING MENUS/AMERICAN JAZZ:
Jazz is an interpretive style of music with improvisation as an important element. A jazz composition begins and ends with structure, but everything in-between allows the musician to express him or herself based on emotions, memories, and a desire to put them out there. The American Tasting Menu is a platform for chefs and cooks to do the same. There is most always a central theme that is woven throughout a meal, but each course can take this theme and move in a variety of directions giving the chef the opportunity to put a signature on a dish based on the environment that surrounds the occasion. The jazz musician plays off the energy of the audience, as does the chef executing a tasting menu.
“Jazz is smooth and cool. Jazz is rage. Jazz flows like water. Jazz never seems to begin or end. Jazz isn’t methodical, but jazz isn’t messy either. Jazz is a conversation, a give and take. Jazz is the connection and communication between musicians. Jazz is abandon. “
I remember a tasting menu experience at Charlie Trotter’s restaurant where each of the 16 courses was built off the chef’s observation of how the guests were responding, the tempo of the moment, and the atmosphere that food and wine had created.
“A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music. He understands how things go together. For a chef, once you have that basis, that’s when cuisine is truly exciting.”
MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY/ELECTRONIC and AVANT GARDE MUSIC:
Those who prepare and those who consume creations involving molecular manipulation of food are oftentimes looking for unique experiences as much as good tasting food. To this end they are willing to experiment, to push aside norms and established processes – looking for something that surprises and even shocks the consumer. You may not fully understand what it is being done, but you find it intriguing and memorable. The same is true with electronic and avant garde types of music from Harry Partch to Bjork – these musicians push the envelope and even make us a bit uncomfortable just as chefs like Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz.
“I don’t expect people to get me. That would be quite arrogant. I think there are a lot of people out there in the world that nobody gets.”
AMERICAN BURGERS AND FRIES/ROCK and ROLL:
Rock music makes you want to move, it brings a smile to your face and easily connects to memories. The American diner fare that built a nation that grew up on burgers, fries, chicken wings, and pizza finds it hard to sit still when the music and the food combine to create that always – present “American Graffiti” moment.
“Rock and Roll: Music for the neck downwards.”
America grew-up, it came of age, with a burger in hand. When people think of America they automatically associate hamburgers, rock and roll, and Levi jeans.
“You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars.”
BBQ/COUNTRY and the BLUES:
Both country and blues music are American inventions. Their common thread is that they are the vehicle for storytellers – storytellers that reflect the everyday challenges of life – the ups and downs, the joy and the sadness of the human condition.
“Country music has the great stories.”
“The blues is a mighty long road. Or it could be a river, one that twists and turns and flows into a sea of limitless musical potential.”
Barbeque is the answer. Barbeque makes the pain go away, at least for a time. Barbeque is sunshine on a cloudy day and a reason for people to celebrate. Barbeque unifies and as such has become an essential part of life in many parts of the country.
“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.”
VEGETARIAN and FARM to TABLE/FOLK and BLUEGRASS:
Those who have a philosophical connection to food and the way that they eat have a tendency to make connections and statements regarding their beliefs. They also (sorry for the generalizations) search for a connection to the source, the history of a thing, a place, or a society. Folk and Bluegrass music provide that vehicle for expression and connection and are natural complements to a “back to nature” approach towards food.
“I’ve spent hours and hours doing research into Appalachian folk music. My grandfather was a fiddler. There is something very immediate, very simple and emotional, about that music.”
Let the good times roll – whether in celebration or in mourning – the true Louisiana Cajun is all about finding a reason to feel good. Music and food are the common antidotes for the curve balls that life sends their way and the country comforts of Cajun/Creole cooking with the influence of Acadian French, Haitian, Southern Black, and Spanish foods are brought to life with the addition of a fiddle, washboard, and upright bass. Zydeco and Cajun food is the consummate combo.
“In Louisiana, one of the first stages of grief is eating your weight in Popeye’s fried chicken. The second stage is doing the same with boudin. People have been known to swap the order. Or to do both at the same time.”
Food and music give us all a reason to jump out of bed, put our feet on the floor, grab a fork and relish the opportunity for another day on earth.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training