Rock the Back of the House: Nashville Chefs Name Favorite Music To Cook To



It's been said that chefs are the new rock stars. Heck, there are even a number of former rock stars who've become chefs. (Check out this Saveur article on the topic, titled "Kitchen Punks.")

There are parallels between the chef and rock-star vocations: long hours, years of apprenticeship and often low pay. Changing “set lists” from night to night. Performing to the best of one's ability, whether the paid crowd that night is 30 or 300. Oh, and there's this: Chefs, like rock stars, seem to really love music.

“Yeah, we listen to music here in the restaurant,” says Josh Habiger of The Catbird Seat (pictured right with co-chef Erik Anderson, far right). “I think part of the experience here is that people [are in] our kitchen. We choose what they eat, what they drink, and what they hear. We definitely listen to the music a lot louder before we open. The content is not always noisier, though.

“For service, we put together playlists that are intended to correspond with the pace of the room at the time, so generally we start off with some quieter stuff: Americana, Tom Waits, Vic Chesnutt, Will Oldham. And then we move into louder and faster stuff. The busier part of the night will get to Fugazi, The Minutemen, The Pixies, The Hold Steady, and such. Then we sort of wind back to mellower things like Andrew Bird and Tortoise," Habiger adds.

“I think I have listened to music in every kitchen I've worked in except Bouchon in Napa,” says Ashley Quick, formerly of Flyte, who now works in the kitchen at the Capitol Grille. “At the Fat Duck we had one radio for two kitchens. The first person in would have to steal the radio for the day's tunes.

“During prep it doesn't really matter how fast or heavy the tunes are, it just depends on the mood of the staff," Quick says. "Sometimes really frantic music will make you not be able to concentrate or feel like you are going to freak out.”

Quick says he's into “everything from heavy Southern metal bands like Weedeater to Prince. I also like the Buena Vista Social Club and Miles Davis in the fall and winter. Anything from the '90s is good. Jawbreaker, Cracker, The Supersuckers, The Melvins ...”

Jeremy Barlow of Tayst says anyone who works back of the house can pick out music, but that he has ultimate say over trumping any selections: “My sous chef likes to listen to Lady Gaga, so that always gets cut off.”

Barlow, like most of the chefs spoken to, notes that Pandora is an increasingly popular tool, allowing the staff to select tuneage “depending on the mood of the day and what needs to get done.”

Will Uhlhorn of Table 3 Restaurant and Market says that music in the kitchen is “a communal situation,” but the right to bump is based on seniority.

“The bakers and a.m. sous are always listening to Buddy Holly and '50s and '60s doo-wop kind of stuff. We listen to that for about 20 more minutes, then it gets a lot more frantic,” he says. Frantic in this case includes The Pixies, Sonic Youth, and The Clash during prep time, and more laid-back sounds from the likes of Supertramp, Cheap Trick and ELO during break down time.

Verboten? “Radiohead!” Uhlhorn says. “And anything to do with anything like jam bands.” Newer acts Uhlhorn mentions as favorites include Ty Segall, Male Bonding, and Jay Reatard.

So, with all this cross-creative love going on, who would our chefs most like to serve in their restaurant? Uhlhorn mentions The Pixies/Frank Black. Quick mentions Willie Nelson, Gillian Welch and Mozart (“Why not, right?”) before saying he loves to cook for anybody. But most every restaurant in Nashville's seen at least a few celebrities, right?

“We’ve all served a bunch of musicians,” says Barlow. “We get a more excited about serving farmers and other chefs.”

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