In my life as an educator one of the things I do is teach culinary skills to young people. I am one of the faculty sponsors of our farm to table club. It was, this past school year, the most popular club on campus. Everyone is enthusiastic about our weekly Friday meetings. It would be nice if we could have music playing while we're having our club meeting but, with anywhere from 6 to 24 people running around playing with knives and fire, I need to be able to communicate clearly and quickly with people, sometimes from across the room, so music playing in the background could have a negative impact on the meeting should an emergency arise. Yes, there is another teacher in the room with me but, again, when we have a lot of students in attendance we both have our hands full making sure nothing or no one gets set on fire and no one has to go see the nurse from the improper use of knives. Nothing like dealing with angry parents, administrators, and school board members for the sake of having a musical atmosphere. Thus, we do not have any music playing while we are working. And, really, when I'm demonstrating a particular cutting technique we shouldn't be distracted by music. And, given the variety of students' musical, as well as my own eclectic, musical tastes, I predict that chaos would ensue if I subjected them to my soundtrack while cooking. At the end of this post will be a Spotify link to what I call my cooking soundtrack (yes, one track is a gratuitous insertion of me playing a movement from a concerto by Vivaldi). It continues to grow as I hear things and think that they would be a good fit for the background music.
In the privacy of my own kitchen, however, I can play my soundtrack as loud as I want and without impunity.
Here are a couple of pictures from last night's fun. A composed salad with lettuces, greens, and herbs from our own garden. The nuts, seeds, olives, and feta cheese did not come from our yard. I believe J. B. de Boismortier and Fleetwood Mac were playing . . .
Unlike most of my posts where I start talking about some esoteric or arcane musicological or historical performance practice concept, finally connecting it to gastronomy or culinary techniques in the last few paragraphs, this particular post gets right to the point. I know, you are amazed that I'm getting right to the point. What, exactly, is the point?
The Point: Different musics have different effects on different processes, and music often functions as an inspiration, a motivator, and, for certain tasks, a pace setter or mood enhancer. Nothing like roasting, sweating, and peeling chile peppers while listening to "Highway to Hell," or improvising a new recipe while listening to a group improvise on the "Passamezzo moderno." And who doesn't enjoy mincing garlic, herbs, or chopping onions with a fast moving piece of music from any genre going on in the background. I often listen to things at a loud volume so the last thing the music functions as is background music. I could go on an extremely long and overly erudite tangent about the history and function of work songs or the relationship between manual labor and music that helps make the work less onerous, But I won't. I will leave that to the musicologists. And ethnomusicologists. And historians.
My designated cooking soundtrack is 3.5 hours long, and it would be an epic repast if I were able to listen to the entire thing while preparing one meal. I have set it to randomize the tracks, but I often just pick a song somewhere in the middle and start there. But most of the time I start at the beginning. The first song is the ubiquitous "Green Onions," by Booker T and the MGs. How could anyone NOT be inspired to dice, chiffonade, or batonnet any vegetable after hearing this?
[Side bar: I played "Green Onions" as students were leaving class and one student stopped and said to me, "Excuse me sir, but is that what you play when you walk away from a bar fight?" It made me wonder, "What about my appearance would cause the student to think I'm the kind of person who gets into bar fights? I can't even remember when I was last in a bar."]
The songs on the list were not chosen for any particular reason or need to inspire a particular technique or process. They do, however, seem to have a metaphysical alignment with what ever I'm preparing. Every time. Wonder how that happens?
Here is my Cooking Soundtrack.