Good Food Blog
Music while you workPosted at 4:45PM, 22 February 2010 by Stuart Walton - Food and wine writer
If you're like me, you'll have spent a significant part of this grim winter in the kitchen. There's something hugely therapeutic about filling the place with the aromas of cakes and pies baking, pots of slow-cooked things simmering on the top and, of course, the Sunday roast.
Spending so many hours at the stove has reminded me that, in less busy times, cooking felt like a luxurious retreat from the world out there. You'd shop in the morning and cook all afternoon, and what reinforced that impression of cocooning yourself was playing some music while you worked.
Call me snobby if you will, but I don't want to listen to what everybody else is listening to
I don't know when I stopped putting music on while I cooked, but I'd forgotten how pleasant and helpful it was. Most people have a radio in the kitchen, but - call me snobby if you will - I don't want to listen to what everybody else is listening to, and I mostly can't bear the yammering of the DJs, the interminable phone-ins and spirit-crushing news bulletins on the hour.
No, what I want is my own music, and I'll bet you do too, but what sort of music fits the bill? Nostalgia has to be top of most people's lists. A quick survey of friends reveals that Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald score highly as accompaniments to cooking. The tunes are all viscerally familiar, and dooby-dooing along to them keeps you nice and calm, so when your pastry-dough sticks to the rolling-pin, there's likely to be less effing and blinding than usual.
From the modern era, cool R&B ladies work well. Beyoncé, Rihanna and Jamelia have been regular companions (are you surprised?), whereas their male counterparts (Kanye West, 50 Cent) are too attitudey to suit the context. The less rackety guitar bands can be good. A double-CD set of James gets me through a whole afternoon's baking, but again anything shoutier, like Oasis, feels like it's demanding too much of your attention.
And isn't that the point? Music while you cook isn't just background music. Your favourite tunes lift you into a mental space where you feel supremely content and warm and happy with what you're doing. Whatever's going on outside the kitchen window (rain turning to sleet, then snow, and back to rain again here today) can carry on as it likes. You're in here pounding herbs and garlic, and the closest you're going to get to rain is singing along to 'um-ber-ella'.
That said, I wonder whether different types of music might suit different styles of cooking. A blast of Green Day for tenderising meat with a mallet, or smashing digestive biscuits into cheesecake base? Pavarotti doing Verdi for wrapping up ravioli parcels? Splashes of Debussy piano for delicately tweezering the bones from fish?
I'm making enchiladas tonight. Now where did I put that mariachi band album?
What's your favourite soundtrack to an afternoon in the kitchen?