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I understand the notion that it distracts away from the food, but keep in mind that people go to restaurants and dinner party not just for the food, but also for the environment. 

The other aspect of it is to create an atmosphere in which there's a base level of noise to help distract away from any lack of conversation.  I don't like taking first dates anywhere that's too quiet.  No echo chambers, no matter how good the agnolotti is.

I love the sound of a busy restaurant; the chatter, the clink of glass, the clang of the grill, the sizzle of oil and the whoosh of fire.  Ah, the sweet music of an industrious crew.

This gets away from Tim's focus, but I'd like to say the final items on your list are fine by me. However, I have to repeat one of my pet peeves: I hate the fact that you cannot go anywhere to drink coffee, read, and maybe down a pastry without listening to music.

Ipods are lovely inventions, but I wish they would inspire coffee houses and restaurants to stop assuming our experience is enhanced by having someone else's musical tastes imposed upon us. Let others bring their music with them if they want it and leave the rest of us in peace.

Especially when there are lyrics involved, music is distracting, even when sung in a language I do not understand. (The only time I enjoy "background" music is when I am performing mundane tasks; I'll turn it off if I am depending on a recipe, even, when making something new that requires me to concentrate.) Sometimes you just want quiet to think, read, write, or listen, talk and enjoy your company. Our lives are not empty without a perpetual sound track.

* * *

And Maggie, yes, your signature line is as appropriate as your clever pun. Sometimes you do need to shout and wave your hands. Now, brace yourself for less subtle references to Cream, Lovin' Spoonfuls...


Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I tend to be a bit freakish and enjoy good jazz, especially when I am cooking. Chris Botti is a favorite. I have a couple of his albums on my ipod to listen to whenever but they are nice for cooking and dinner. He plays trumpet ala Wynton Marsalis but it is different. Very sexy and very nice when entertaining. :biggrin:

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This gets away from Tim's focus, but I'd like to say the final items on your list are fine by me.  However, I have to repeat one of my pet peeves:  I hate the fact that you cannot go anywhere to drink coffee, read, and maybe down a pastry without listening to music. 

Ipods are lovely inventions, but I wish they would inspire coffee houses and restaurants to stop assuming our experience is enhanced by having someone else's musical tastes imposed upon us.    Let others bring their music with them if they want it and leave the rest of us in peace.

Especially when there are lyrics involved, music is distracting, even when sung in a language I do not understand. (The only time I enjoy "background" music is when I am performing mundane tasks; I'll turn it off if I am depending on a recipe, even, when making something new that requires me to concentrate.)  Sometimes you just want quiet to think, read, write, or listen, talk and enjoy your company.  Our lives are not empty without a perpetual sound track.

*  *  *

And Maggie, yes, your signature line is as appropriate as your clever pun.  Sometimes you do need to shout and wave your hands.  Now, brace yourself for less subtle references to Cream, Lovin' Spoonfuls...

Your lament is one of the main reasons I am sorry that Brian Eno's great experiment with "ambient music" didn't achieve wider penetration into the collective consciousness than it did.

The problem with most atmospheric music is that it falls into a specific genre of some sort, and some segment of the general public will invariably find that genre grating.

If you are seeking to attract the type of people who gravitate towards this genre and repel all others, this is not a problem. Most businesses aren't aiming for such specific niche markets, though.

And yet...if I wanted a library-like level of background noise, I'd go to one--or I would, as I am doing now, simply turn off Rhapsody on my computer while working. When I'm out in a social setting--and I consider restaurants, coffee houses and bars social spaces--I expect some sort of background buzz, whether that comes from the other patrons or the sound system, to add to my mood. (I can be depressed quite nicely in the comfort of my own home, thanks.)

The idea of music that you could tune out without difficulty that would nonetheless prove interesting if you chose to listen to it intrigued me greatly, and still does. However, I don't listen to that many artists who call themselves "ambient," for usually their music comes up short in the latter department. Generally, the New Agey crowd that gathers around the Narada and Windham Hill labels comes as close to ambient as I am willing to go.

Though there's plenty of genre music that, by force of repetition, becomes ambient if only because you've heard it so much that you deliberately try to tune it out. Claude Bolling's "Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano," which graced a few too many Sunday brunches I attended in the 1980s, and which for some reason popped into my head as I read this essay, is one of those tunes.

Edited to fix subject-verb agreement.


Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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And yet...if I wanted a library-like level of background noise, I'd go to one--or I would, as I am doing now, simply turn off Rhapsody on my computer while working. 

HA :laugh: !

Your libraries in Philly must be very different from the ones I've visited oh in the past 15 years or so. The age of Marian the Shushing Librarian is over, dude! :hmmm:

* * *

To get back on track, though, especially since Tim's essay is about music to COOK by, does anyone find the occasion, regional origins of the dishes, or the nature of a guest list to determine the type of music? Or is it always a matter of personal taste/mood?


Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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To get back on track, though, especially since Tim's essay is about music to COOK by, does anyone find the occasion, regional origins of the dishes, or the nature of a guest list to determine the type of music?  Or is it always a matter of personal taste/mood?

[emphasis added]

Even here, the subjects "music to cook by" and "music to dine/entertain by" overlap.

If I were alone in my apartment and cooking up a storm, I would have "Resolution" from John Coltrane's masterpiece "A Love Supreme" cranked up full blast.

But I almost never find myself in this situation. Other factors invariably come into play.

My own tastes in music lean heavily towards jazz and R&B, so that's usually what I put on when working in the kitchen before guests arrive. However, if you recall the kitchen shots I posted on my foodblog, the kitchen is a semi-open space off the L-shaped living/dining room, which means that it's not really practical to have something on in the kitchen separate from what's playing in the living room. So if I'm playing music and I have to accommodate my jazz-hating partner, I might reach for a Windham Hill anthology album or Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Arajunez, a contemporary classical work I'm quite fond of. But even then, eventually, the music will work its way towards the Yellowjackets or Herbie Hancock or Joshua Redman or Rickie Lee Jones or Pieces of a Dream or something in these veins. In most cases, however, the music is upbeat--I find it helps me work better.

I generally don't go to pains to match musical and culinary styles if I'm preparing dishes from a foreign land. I do, however, try to provide music that I think my guests will enjoy, especially if I know some of their tastes and have something suitable in my collection. If it's the Class of '81 member who I mentored my sophomore year and his partner, for instance, I know to break out the Steely Dan. For friends who like international fare, I have Celtic music on hand plus a smattering of world music. I often like to introduce friends to artists I enjoy that I think they may not have heard of--Allen Toussaint (who makes an excellent accompaniment to Cajun or Creole fare), for instance.

And I have a confession to make: Not long after moving into my current apartment in 2000, when I had a few casual acquaintances over for Sunday brunch, I played "Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano." It seemed appropriate for the occasion.

On ordinary weeknights, however, the aural accompaniment to my work in the kitchen is usually "Jeopardy!" followed by Britcoms followed by "The O'Reilly Factor." :raz: (Okay, I do like all three. But it's usually my partner who turns on the TV--though if he is home at 7, I can't watch "Jeopardy!")


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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However, I have to repeat one of my pet peeves:  I hate the fact that you cannot go anywhere to drink coffee, read, and maybe down a pastry without listening to music. 

Ipods are lovely inventions, but I wish they would inspire coffee houses and restaurants to stop assuming our experience is enhanced by having someone else's musical tastes imposed upon us.    Let others bring their music with them if they want it and leave the rest of us in peace.

Problem is, Pontormo, that the sort of people who work in coffee houses are, for the most part, underemployed hipsters. Who are also the sort of people who want to show off how much cooler their taste in music is than yours. In other words, this is irresolvable dilemma.

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my kitchen music tends to stuff that gets me sailing: songs by friends mostly ... lyle lovett's "this old house" album (not lovett, the songwriters), jimmie dale gilmore, joe ely, lucinda williams, etc.

I want Russ's friends.

That said, when I want some music when cook, I tend to like some funk, soul or R & B: Lee Dorsey, the JB's, Irma Thomas, etc. If it gets me moving, it gets me cooking. But I confess, on an average night, when I'm making dinner, it's probably gonna be NPR in the background. (God, I'm square.)

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To my opinion it doesn't matter to much what you are listening to while cooking, as long as it is your music and no radio music, so you can be sure you will enjoy every single track you are listening to. You can easily use your shuffle and it doesn't matter whether classic, jazz, folk, metal...... pops up, you will adapt immediately, its your music!

If you prefer to choose the music yourself and let not the shuffle decide for you, make sure the music doesn't take your complete concentration, like the Goldberg Variations played by Gould. Choose something which allowes you to concentrate on cooking, nevertheless it should make you happy. I like to listen to an interpretation of the Goldberg Variation by the Canadian Brass (it don't requires your concentration this much), for example.

It is different while you are eating. Here one really has to dicide the music played very carefully, no way of shuffling the playlist. It shouldn't be off-beat music(I think it is not a good idea to start noding while eating). Off course metal isn't a good idea than as well (head banging while eating is quite challenging).

I thing something smooth is perfect. Something in between Jazz and Classic, for example. I for myself found Jaques Loussier the perfect attendant for eating (gives you again a possibility to listen to the Goldberg Variations in a very different interpretation).

But of course this is my way and everybody has to find his way!

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Rossini's Quatre Mediants (figs, almonds, raisins, and hazelnuts) and Quatre Hors d'Oeuvres (radish, anchovy, pickles, butter)... now there's good eatin' classical music for you.

And, in a completely other vein... Squeeze's "Black Coffee"...


SaltShaker - Casting a little flavor (and a few aspersions) on the world of food, drink, and life

Casa SaltShaker - Restaurant de Puertas Cerradas

Spanish-English-Spanish Food & Wine Dictionary - a must for any traveler!

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Rossini's Quatre Mediants (figs, almonds, raisins, and hazelnuts) and Quatre Hors d'Oeuvres (radish, anchovy, pickles, butter)... now there's good eatin' classical music for you.

Now you have me fascinated.... it's on order.


Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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my kitchen music tends to stuff that gets me sailing: songs by friends mostly ... lyle lovett's "this old house" album (not lovett, the songwriters), jimmie dale gilmore, joe ely, lucinda williams, etc.

I want Russ's friends.

That said, when I want some music when cook, I tend to like some funk, soul or R & B: Lee Dorsey, the JB's, Irma Thomas, etc. If it gets me moving, it gets me cooking. But I confess, on an average night, when I'm making dinner, it's probably gonna be NPR in the background. (God, I'm square.)

A bizarre image of you chopping vegetables to "One Nation Under a Groove" just popped into my head.

I'm probably going to need a stiff drink to exorcise it.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I've found that the music I play when cooking professionally (punk rock on the Epitaph label, mid-american indie-roots rock from the '90s) is markedly different from the music I play when cooking at home (Mathematical jazz and acid house). Although when the waitstaff were getting too annoying, some of that mid-70s Miles Davis heroin jazz would clear them out of my AO to let me do my thang in peace.


This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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However, I have to repeat one of my pet peeves:  I hate the fact that you cannot go anywhere to drink coffee, read, and maybe down a pastry without listening to music. 

Ipods are lovely inventions, but I wish they would inspire coffee houses and restaurants to stop assuming our experience is enhanced by having someone else's musical tastes imposed upon us.    Let others bring their music with them if they want it and leave the rest of us in peace.

Problem is, Pontormo, that the sort of people who work in coffee houses are, for the most part, underemployed hipsters. Who are also the sort of people who want to show off how much cooler their taste in music is than yours. In other words, this is irresolvable dilemma.

Having been one of the aforementioned underemployed hipsters who blasted all sorts of abrasive, weird, unmellow stuff at the coffeehouse where I worked, I can say that the rest of the hipsters and I weren't that interested in proving our hipness. It was more that we had to deal with nutbars and assholes all day for very little pay, and control of the stereo was one of the only perks.

When you've just spent an hour cleaning shit off the walls (don't ask me how that happened, I have no idea - if you are in that much gastrointestinal distress, just stay home, please!) or have had to call the police because an elderly man is pleasuring himself on the patio after having covered himself in butter from the bowl of butter chips used for muffins, sometimes you just need to blast Red Medicine at top volume so you don't pour steamed milk on the next person who asks if you have vegan, organic pastries.


Edited by phlox (log)

"An appetite for destruction, but I scrape the plate."

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Which is much the same reason I kept Bad Religion's best stuff always ready to go: In a world where I was at the mercy of every little whiny d*****nozzle with a special order--and waitstaff who were hired more for their looks than their actual skyllz-- it was a welcome release. Sometimes there is an overwhelming need to start a mosh pit on the line. And yes, I am hipper-than-thou. My music proves it. Sorry you went and got boring, but it's an imperfect world..


This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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In the past week I've heard two great songs that made me think of this story and thread:

"Pick Up The Pieces" by Average White Band

"Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" by Otis Redding

The first is the best song in the world to add energy to the kitchen.

The second is the one to run and turn off real quick unless you want everyone heading for a beer (oh excuse me I mean a bottle of water of course) and some good old hanging-out time outside the kitchen door. . .

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Nice to see everyone enjoys music as much as myself. But, I have to say, after working in numerous kitchens for numerous chefs and one stint where I was el hefe grande, I like working sans music. When I was in charge I allowed music and in return dealt with all the problems that come with it. I have noticed that I can personally concentrate better without background music. I guess I don't mind it as much during prep but when service starts...all quiet for me!

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