Foodie Underground: Can Music Make Your Food Better?

ColumnThe wonderful world of pairing your culinary experience with a musical one.

In my world, there’s nothing better than a night in the kitchen, a glass of wine in hand and St. Germain playing at full blast. Music is to cooking like coffee is to a Monday morning; it injects a level of energy and fuels the creative spirit.

Think about it: how often do you cook in absolute silence. Whether it’s the calming voice of the NPR reporter, the Latin love of Gypsy Kings or the electronic beat of Daft Punk on in the background, many of us set the mood with one sound or another. Of course there are the cooks that bask in the silence, but pairing your food and music is an art.

In my adolescent years, my mother and I had an obsession with the Big Night soundtrack, a constant reminder of film about food and passion. Personally I am a fan of French-inspired rhythms when I am in the midst of kitchen creativity, but that could just be a lusting after European dinner parties of yore. But music for cooking and music for eating are two very different things, and as it turns out, there’s a song for every meal. Turntable Kitchen knows that well, running a food blog that’s devoted to mixing recipes with music, and creating a delicious experience in the process.

“In my mind, there is a natural affinity between the two because the experience of enjoying good food and good music can be so powerful that it can be almost transcendent. A good meal or a good song can call to mind old memories,” says Matthew Hickey, who runs Turntable Kitchen with his wife Kasey Hickey.

In fact, thinking about what we’re listening to while we eat might be one way that we put a bigger focus on what we’re eating. Much like a dinner with friends heightens our culinary experience, music accents what we’re eating.

“Music definitely improves our eating experience. I think enjoying a meal should be about more than just consuming food. A great meal should be a memorable experience that appeals to all of your senses – and music plays a big part in creating the perfect ambiance for that experience. Not only that, recent studies have demonstrated that when drinking wine while listening to music, people perceive the wine to share the same characteristics as the music they are listening to. I believe the same is true for food. Thus, listening to rustic, smokey music (for example) while enjoying a meal can enhance our perception of those same flavors in our food,” says Hickey.

It all comes back to appreciating and honoring the food in front of us. In a rushed world of fast food, we zip back and forth between errands, hopefully finding five minutes to cram a sandwich in, not caring about the ingredients or care put into making it. But in a world where we honor food, and the tradition around it, we give it time and thought, and music merely accentuates the process.

A couple of months back, we came up with Rocking Out in the Kitchen, a playlist of all of our favorite songs to cook to, which I have had on repeat ever since. Does St. Germain influence my cooking, or is my music taste inspired by what I want to eat? Hard to say, but either way, pairing the two is almost as important as picking a good bottle of wine to put on the table; some restaurant professionals, much to the chagrin of others, seek advice on their playlists. Apparently, musical failure is not an option in the food world.

But food isn’t the only thing that gets a technological aid in pairing it with music. Drinkify is a new website that picks a drink for whatever you happen to be listening to. From the website:

 Drinkify automatically generates the perfect* cocktail recipe to accompany any music.

* May not actually be perfect.

Example of “not perfect:” typing in M83 – as I was having an obsession with this song last week – got me a recipe for 8 oz. water and 8 oz. of iced tea in a highball glass. Maybe not what I would have personally chosen, but the idea is fun and quirky which certainly gets it points.

We can be as obsessed with food as we are with music, and vice versa, idolizing our favorite dishes and artists. Love Music Love Food, an artistic endeavor that resulted in a book documenting musicians and their favorite foods, does exactly that, finding a perfect combination of the two, half food porn, half rock star love.  “I found the thought of a rock star so involved in food intriguing and had the potential for some creative imagery combining the portraits of artists with their favorite food or drink,” says food photographer and LMLF founder Patrice de Villiers.

So how do you go about pairing your dinner with the perfect mix? I asked Hickey, who’s the food music master.

I think it is important to pair music that shares similar qualities as the food you are eating. Sometimes, an album just intuitively feels like the right pairing for a dish. Other times, it takes a little more thought. When selecting our pairings, I take a number of factors into account. For example: “Does the dish use ingredients that are specific to a geographic area?” and “What are the most prominent flavors in the dish?”  I’ll sometimes make a list of the adjectives that come to mind. Then, I’ll look at the list I’ve made and try to find an album that shares those same characteristics.

There you have it, now go forth and pair your dishes with equally good musical masterpieces. Bon appetit!

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

Images: Victor Hertz, pincusvt, Brandon Giesbrecht


Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.