Kitchen Sound Off

Local chefs dish on what music they listen to while they cook

click to enlarge Jackson Rouse and his crew at The Rookwood listen to vinyl while they prep.
Jackson Rouse and his crew at The Rookwood listen to vinyl while they prep.

There have been many studies done to show how music in the workplace can affect workers’ mood and performance.

In her 2005 paper titled “The effect of music listening on work performance,” Dr. Teresa Lesiuk, assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami, found that people who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn’t, and, in fact, that music often improved their mood.

Recently, as I often do, I probed the members of our local restaurant/chef Facebook group page for article ideas. Chef Jackson Rouse, executive chef at The Rookwood, suggested we take a peek inside our local kitchens and ask everyone about their choice of music during kitchen prep time; hours of repetitive, often mind-numbing work that must be done to get a restaurant ready before a guest steps foot through the door. Certainly good tunes can help make the day go by smoothly, right? But do they have any effect on the food? Only you can be the judge.

Jackson Rouse, executive chef at The Rookwood — Music is key at my spot with custom playlists. We listen to vinyl while we prep in the basement — from Ethiopian Funk, local Metal from Hamilton (sous chef James Gadd’s father has a band, Fury), obscure ’80s Hardcore and Punk 45s, Gospel and cheesy religious banter, how to train your parrot 45s from the ’50s to Hank Williams (Sr. only). On the line, we have theme nights: ’80s dance parties usually on Sunday, Trap night and ’90s Hip Hop mix, Punk night, Jay Reatard night and, last but not least, The Mentors night.

Arik Messerschmidt, executive chef at Son of a Preacher Man — Michael Jackson and James Brown in the morning. Then move on to Techno as service approaches to get the blood pumping.

Jack Hemmer, chef de cuisine at The Mercer OTR — Wu-Tang Clan and Hall & Oates.

Tricia Houston, farmer and chef at The Farm Girl Chef — Usually we are in a Classic Rock mash-up mode and we use the iHeartRadio app to pull up Gran Torino Radio — which also was the first car I ever owned. But on any given day, it could be Blues, Classical or Reggae.

Loren Hunley and Doug Nawrocki, owners/operators at T la Bar + Kitchen — Our entire friendship/partnership here at Tla was forged long ago over our mutual interest in music, especially of the Jam band variety. We tend to listen to a lot of String Cheese Incident in the morning (favorite of chef Jerry) and slowly transition into mixes which include, but are not limited to, Grateful Dead, WSP, moe., Umphrey’s and of course Phish — after all, we named the place after one of their songs.

Dave Taylor, executive chef at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse — Lots of Hall & Oates, a little bit of Kenny Loggins; music is universal. Play a jam in the kitchen that everyone can get down with, then no matter how much pressure or chaos is present everyone magically gets on the same page. We’re all bobbing our heads, finding rhythm, establishing order and continuity among that chaos. Boom! Things fall into place the right way, morale goes up, we sing and dance and service goes smooth.

Molly Wellmann, owner of Wellmann’s Brands — I listen to Classical, 1920s Jazz, David Bowie, sometimes Elton John while making up cocktails. It’s usually super early in the morning; I put on my big ol’ headphones and I fade away into the work I love best: creating super-cool drinks.

Thomas McKenna, baker at Dutch’s Larder — NPR.

Matt Madison, owner of Madisono’s Gelato — We listen to SomaFM Indie Pop Rocks DJ-generated play lists, commercial free; they are listener supported. Soma is an Internet radio station out of San Francisco with many genres. 

Kayla Robison, executive chef at Nation Kitchen and Bar — My chefs and I were just discussing this the other day. Most at our restaurant know what mood I’m in by what Pandora station I’m listening to. When I’m stressed or have a huge prep list and need to focus, it’s Classical, mostly Chopin, which could sometimes mean “enter my kitchen with caution” or “better come in with a great joke.” When I’m in a great mood, it’s Frank Sinatra. When my chefs are stressed on line, we usually put on Hip Hop BBQ — it’s probably the best station on Pandora. Don’t believe me? Listen to it. Moods change and our cooks start dancing while flipping burgers. Love that vibe! It’s also something our customers comment on — our cooks are always having a fun time singing in the kitchen.

Mike Florea, executive chef at Maribelle’s eat + drink — We always listen to some Hip Hop and R&B. Something up-beat that makes you bob your head and cut some shit.

Travis Reidel, sous chef at Le Bar au Boeuf — I will play mainly things that get us pumped during our prep period. Pandora helps a lot and the station that gets played the most is New Order. The New Wave sounds of the ’80s is perfect… it gives us the juice, especially when “Bizarre Love Triangle” comes on. The next prep music is Opera. I will play Luciano Pavarotti Radio on Pandora. Next thing you know, Mirko (executive chef Mirko Ravlic) is joining me in some baritone, and in comes the rest of the crew that is felling it and can imitate the Italian.

Josh Freid, owner/operator at Mac’s Pizza Pub — Mexican Rap to Queen to Metallica. Oldies. Newbies. Anything goes. Nobody fights and everyone is happy.

Todd Hudson, executive chef at The Wildflower Café — Damian Marley. Jam rock equals about to get rocked. Crank Yankers comedy equals prep is good to go. 

No music equals somebody majorly f’d up. My kitchen doesn’t work without music.

Melissa Cox Howard, chef at The Kitchen Factory — I start the day with some New Age to stretch, then James Brown, Rolling Stones and Brazilian Spanish music takes over.

Want to cook like a pro? While prepping your food, listen to Chef Jackson Rouse’s Spotify playlist, “Swoop.” He adds a new song every day: tinyurl.com/hf82ms9.


CONTACT ILENE ROSS: [email protected]

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