Friday, August 3, 2012

Music in the Kitchen

If you are working in a kitchen where spoons, pindrops and chef rage is all you hear, then this blog probably doesn’t apply to you.  I’m sorry.

Here are my 50 fun random thoughts on music for the restaurant:


  1. If I ever have to listen to La Raza 93.3 on the goddamn kitchen radio ever again.  I will punch someone in the nuts. 
  2. Friday night service in my world is known as Michael Jackson time.  Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough is thus known as the Powersong – yes, like on your iPod Nano Nike+.
  3. When you have no idea what type of music people enjoy in your kitchen, the best defaults that should piss no one off are the following: Golden Oldies, Old School Golden Age HipHop, Classic Rock or 80’s Cheese.  If you have issues with all of those then you’re a douchebag emo asshole.  Really, get over yourself.
  4. The Mexican Dudes I used to cook with (Tomas, Nacho, Cheesco, David) were the best, the funniest and the most illogical barometer for “acceptable” American kitchen music.
  5. Great In Theory But Poor In Reality Kitchen Music Choice: Tribe Called Quest.  Yeah, I fucking said it.
  6. Poor In Theory But Great In Reality Kitchen Music Choice: Pat Benatar.  No, really.
  7. I go to Lers Ros (Larkin) for the really bad 80’s and 90’s soft rock.  It’s like the best karaoke bar in San Francisco with awesome food. 
  8. If you sit in Lers Ros long enough and daydream of a shitty soft rock song hard enough, it will come true.  I tested this theory out 3 times – I’ll Make Love to You by Boyz II Men, Endless Love by Lionel and Diana, and I Swear by All 4 One.  I have witnesses.
  9. You’re not cool for playing really loud metal or house music during brunch hours, you’re an asshole and I hate you.
  10. Good for FOH Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Dinner or Dessert: Feist.
  11. If I could pace a kitchen service with a song, I would pick No Diggity by Blackstreet.
  12. If I could pace the FOH service with a song, I would pick Feel Like Makin Love by D’Angelo.
  13. I could prep and cook for hours to Bob Marley. 
  14. Great in Theory and Great in Reality Kitchen Music Choice: Prince.
  15. Poor in Theory and Poor in Reality Kitchen Music Choice: Taylor Swift.
  16. Do. Not. Touch. The. Radio. When. It. Is. Playing. Sinatra.
  17. Try not to listen to music that make people who work with sharp knives go crazy.  That is the simple rule that we all must live with.
  18. I used to whistle in the kitchen while working, then my sous Elgin told me it drove him insane.  2 months later, the sound of whistling started to drive me insane.  Weird but true.   
  19. We used to have these DJ Vinroc neo-soul mixes for Poleng’s FOH – it was the best thing to listen to after a long night of service and the best mix to mingle at the bar scene with.  I am still looking for that mix somewhere… I suck.
  20. It was all fun and games when we let customers pick out the playlist in the cafĂ©, until they kept playing Ace of Base.  It was like 1992 all over again with no escape from the Swedish and their goddamn Signs.  We have ourselves to blame.  That and the assholes that kept playing Ace of Base.
  21. Consider the following artists banned from any future restaurant of mine for being overplayed: Ace of Base, Empire of the Sun, and Beach House.
  22. The RIAA can suck it.
  23. There are a few songs out there that the minute they come on – the entire place lights up and sings.  The first: Al Green – Let’s Stay Together.
  24. The second: I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston.
  25. The third (a tie): Sir Duke by Stevie and Real Love by Mary J. Blige
  26. Laura, one of my favorite cooks and people in the world, now working at the always amazing Nopa, loves I Wanna Dance With Somebody like no other.  Totally embarrassing, huh? 
  27. My people party on industry nights at Krazy Mondays at the Beauty Bar.  Good hiphop on Monday nights without the typical weekend hipster assholes – downright therapeutic.  There used to be this girl Kyle who spun the most chill neo-soul hiphop at Double Dutch every other Monday – I think I was in love with her just cause she would spin exactly what I wanted to hear on my night off.  Well, I think she might have been a yoga instructor too, so that doesn’t hurt.     313136_10151267554675116_954642480_n[1]
  28. Good all day today and tomorrow and everywhere: Winehouse.   
  29. The artist that everybody hates but me: U2. 
  30. Great In Theory But Poor In Reality in the Kitchen: Radiohead.  Love the band, but sometimes it’s the kind of stuff that you don’t want knives around for.
  31. Favorite Morning Hangover Prep Song: Sweet Nuthin by Velvet Underground.
  32. I break into full song after service while I’m wiping, mopping and cleaning – it is the ultimate secret to breaking down your stations efficiently and quickly. 
  33. There does not exist a world where any of my HipHop kitchen playlists do not include Ms. Fat Booty or Girls Girls Girls. 
  34. Great In Theory But Poor In Reality: The Go Team. 
  35. Poor In Theory (for some) But Great In Reality: The BeeGees.
  36. Country pop music has no place – absolutely no place – in a kitchen.  Sorry.
  37. I once listened to Explosions in the Sky with my cook Tom.  I think we both wished we were 10 years younger and smoking weed.  Definitely not the most productive kitchen tunes.
  38. Simple rule: if you didn’t bring your iPod to work, then you have no say in pretty much what music gets played that day.  Good luck with La Raza or Slayer.
  39. I created Boner Jams Mix #1 for enjoyment in the kitchen.
  40. I then created Boner Jams Mix #2: The Sequel for more enjoyment in the kitchen.
  41. When cooks gotta pump shit out during service, there’s always a few mojo bands that we all have – everyone’s got a few of them. 
  42. My mojo music? Zeppelin, Sinatra and MJ for service, prep and cleanup in that order.
  43. Good In Theory But Poor In Reality: Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors – totally down with those guys, but man, its like a brain scrambler on your focus.
  44. Every time I play “Nothing Compares to You” by Prince, everyone thinks it’s a cover of Sinead O’Connor.  Prince + Rosie Gaines is the original and only version of the song you should ever know or listen to.
  45. Guiltiest pleasure in the kitchen: tie between Usher and Boyz II Men.
  46. I have lived happily without ever hearing a Bieber song in a kitchen, let’s keep it that way. 1281543881_justin-bieber 
  47. Serious rappers during prep time, fun rappers during service time.
  48. Spotify > Pandora – simply because I can skip the shit songs as often and as much as I want.
  49. I have a couple of other dream jobs that I'd never pursue over cooking: one of them is the guy that picks the tunes they play at department stores, malls, grocery stores, elevators, etc..  It would be such an awesome job.
  50. If you don’t like D’Angelo then you are telling me you are vanilla and have no soul.  Don’t be vanilla.  Have a soul.  Listen to D’Angelo.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Food and the Modern Zeitgeist

"Considering the current Zeitgeist, I just don't feel comfortable dining as I used to; there seems to be a very 1% feel to it."

That line was delivered from one of my roommates in my NY sublet.  It sat entrenched in my mind all day Sunday after it came at roughly 11:00AM in the middle of a breakfast conversation over eggs and tortillas.  During which, an enjoyable and lively debate ensued over the relationship between fine dining and its juxtaposition in the current socioeconomic climate of America.

It was a valid, innocuous and sensible argument which unfortunately had all the elements of surreal paranoia and overgeneralized logic that a majority of our country operates on.  The mental constitution of this country right now can be conservatively described as fragile.  My roommate recounted his years of having an affinity for fine dining and restaurants, but also noted that he has become increasingly self-aware of the indulgence of food and its perception in our Zeitgeist.  He honestly admitted that it is this perception which has turned him away from dining - which is becoming an increasing popular sentiment over the last five years.  Despite reassurances that he still went out and dined out, I couldn’t help but think of the idea as unsettling – almost as if I was tuned to the echo of the paranoid schizophrenic.  It seemed to resonate in my head a little louder – especially considering it was coming out of the mouth of someone who happened to work in a notable public forum on culture and the arts.

I think when we entertain this stream of thought, we enter dangerous territory.  There are few facets to this comment that are disarming to me.  The first is the history.  History has told us that when people reach times of religious, social, moral and financial crisis, mob mentality has always been quick to extricate the things that may symbolize indulgence.  And inevitably, art and intellect are always the smoking gun for the indulgent.  Great paintings, sculptures, monuments and city structures have been leveled in the name of the righteous.  Chunks of culture are often lost in the shadows of the "modern" Zeitgeists of other dark periods.   I can list examples, but there is no point to doing so: just blindly turn to any page in the history book listed under human atrocities, significant war or social "revolution."
You can argue the merits of whether you should consider food as art, but if you choose to create food for a higher cause beyond its basic value, then you are speaking of art. Art, in its core simplicity, is partially defined as taking something physical (or not) and elevating it to a metaphysical consciousness or expression. And if you deny this, then you are denying the purpose of many - and that denial, historically, is considered as ignorance.  It is during these dark ages that people stop considering the arguments and lessons of our art, but only see the danger assessed to its value.

The second reason for my issues with this comment are a byproduct of the first.  A big reason that humanity goes through this cycle of destruction is mainly associated with a lack of appreciation - attributed to either poor education or a disdain for culture.  We can continue to spin and speak soft sentences to lessen the grimness of such a statement, but coddling the sensitivity of the stupid is the reason for our issues and not the resolution.  It is increasingly clear to me that we are beginning to fall into a social trap that dictates that the intelligent must repress any display of their intellect, whereas the stupid and plain-spoken must find every opportunity to parade their shortcomings.  See: social media.
Generationally, we are forfeiting the understanding and inherited education with food and cooking at an alarming rate.  Today, fast food, convenient fixes and quick meals are the replacement for the nourishment provided and taught to us by our previous generations.  Food interest may be peaking (Food tv, Top Chef, Yelp), but what is the gauge of our skill beyond the fodder?  (Some of which are funded by the interests of fast and convenient processed products.)

I understand that people liken dining choices to a mine field.  And I agree.  It is almost impossible to distinguish one chef's intention over another. I also understand that placing the idea of "value" onto the dining experience is only relative to the circumstance of the individual (or his wallet).  Manhattan is probably one of the best examples of the current situation; a concentrated area that is saturated with empty dining experiences made fulfilling by its trendiness, reputation, bloated expense accounts, uninformed tourists and streams of professionals with easy smiles and good looks.  Fittingly, these empty dining experiences always seem to be physically full (i.e. seating capacity).  To this, I have almost no solution. It is a endless cycle of money, property, image and derivation in a place that replaces the one pretentious hedge fund foodie for the next.  And, in this specific microcosm of the modern Zeitgeist, I am close to speechless.

It is only through an appreciative, honest and educated approach to food that we can start to see the art behind the wall. How can people begin to argue the merits of restaurant value, the 1% or the "current Zeitgeist" when most people hold no basic understanding of whether good apple pie or chocolate pot de creme is more impressive?  The gap between the level of know-how and appreciation for cooking between the diner and the restaurant is beginning to sound more like the ever expanding tectonic rift in the ocean.  Compounded to that issue, print journalism and professional critics continue to give way to the free enterprising mediocrity and delusions of the "my-voice-matters" generation.  (Yes, I blindly defend the food critics of the world, whether they deserve it or not.)  While I am truly amazed by how wonderfully interwoven the power of cause-and-effect can sometimes be, this is not one of those cases.

A lot of times when people see an expensive and intricate tasting menu, they tend to bring the value system of all their bad experiences from bad restaurants with them.  It is a very natural response, but as difficult to believe as it may seem, there are restaurants who put bet their stars and reputations every night to make sure that their customers [of all different value systems] leave fulfilled with the proper impression of what that experience was worth.  Though great places may be few and far in between, they are the shining examples of dining as a perceived value and not a extension of financial worth.  And, in many cases (especially for those in consideration for best restaurants in the world), these restaurants operate on no profit or a loss despite being full every night.