Cooking to the Rhythm: Chefs' Playlists in the Kitchen

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If you’ve ever cooked professionally, you know that working the line requires not only talent and dedication, but also inspiration and motivation. Many chefs use music as their muse. We asked chefs across the country to share their go-to kitchen playlists.

Photo by Jon Selvey

Joey Campanaro, Market Table, The Little Owl and The Clam, New York

“Cooking is rhythm, and music complements that; there is euphoric receptors that are triggered when you listen to what you like and keep you moving and in a good mood,” says Campanaro. “There are certain times during cooking where you need a burst of confidence or even a rage release that can be found in a few of these tracks.”

Chef Campanaro’s Playlist

“My Way” – Sinatra

“Dazed and Confused” – Led Zeppelin

“Break Stuff” – Limp Bizkit

“Por Tu Maldito Amore” – Vicente Fernandez

“No, No, No” – Dawn Penn

“God’s Child” – David Byrne and Selena

“Luck Be a Lady” – Frank Sinatra

“Could You Be Loved” – Bob Marley

“Turn Your Lights Down Low” – Bob Marley

“Little Birds” – Bob Marley

“Natural Mystic” – Bob Marley

“Kinky Reggae” – Bob Marley

“War Pigs” – Black Sabbath

“Iron Man” – Black Sabbath

“La Vie en Rose” – Edith Piaf

Fernando Darin, Ray’s and Stark Bar, Los Angeles

Fernando Darin, chef at Ray’s and Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, was a musician before he became a chef — he played guitar for 14 years — so he takes music very seriously during prep time. (Dinner service is silent.) He has a designated playlist on his Spotify account that he plays in the kitchen for his staff. “For breaking-down time, we always listen to Jazz,” he said. “Coltrane is my favorite — we actually have a picture of him in the kitchen.”

Chef Darin’s Prep Playlist

“Little Monster” – Royal Blood

“Little Sister” – Queens of the Stone Age

“By the Grace of God” – The Hellacopters

“Standing in the Way of Control” – The Gossip

“Grey Day” – Zoot Woman

“Tap Out” – The Strokes

“Future Crimes” – Wild Flag

Anita Lo, Annisa, New York

Lo has earned numerous accolades for her inventive contemporary American cuisine that reflects her multicultural upbringing and classic French training. She says her playlist is “all soulful and for the most part calming yet hopeful.”

Chef Lo’s Playlist

“Still” – Macy Gray

“Rain Song” – Led Zeppelin

“Skinny Boy” – Chicago

“Heaven” – Talking Heads

“Hallelujah” – K.D. Lang

Photo by Lisa Romerein

Tal Ronnen, Crossroads, Los Angeles

Music is a big part of the picture at Crossroads in Los Angeles. The name of the restaurant references a Robert Johnson song; the team has created and named the drinks after favorite bands; the photographs on the walls in the dining room are taken by legendary music photographer Jim Marshall; and the guests at the restaurant include music royalty such as Jay Z, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Travis Barker.

“Music is just as important as the food,” said Chef-Owner Ronnen. “I always listen to what I grew up with — punk and New York hardcore. The aggressive fast-paced music gets me charged and ready to take on anything.”

Chef Ronnen’s Playlist

“Live at CBGB” – Agnostic Front

“The Age of Quarrel” – Cro-Mags

“New Direction” – Gorilla Biscuits

“Appetite for Destruction” – Guns N’ Roses

“London Calling” – The Clash

“One Life, One Chance” – H2O

“Demonstrating My Style” – Madball

“Disillusion” – Sick Of It All

“Suburban Rebels” – The Business

“A Band in DC” – Bad Brains

“Chinese Rock” – The Ramones

“I’d Rather Be Sleeping” – D.R.I.

“Children of the Grave” – Black Sabbath, Master of Reality album

David Barzelay, Lazy Bear, San Francisco

“I like cooking to complicated, atmospheric albums, especially late at night after everyone else has left the restaurant,” says Barzelay. “It’s one of the few times I can actually devote a lot of listening time and focus. I always come back to those distinctive and evocative albums, the kind where any chord instantly conjures a very particular feeling or time or place, instantly recognizable and transportive. This list has some of my favorite songs of the moment on it, most of which come from complicated, atmospheric old albums by complicated artists.”

Chef Barzelay’s Playlist

“American Music” – Violent Femmes

“Oliver’s Army” – Elvis Costello

“St. Elmo’s Fire” – Brian Eno

“Dead Man’s Party” – Oingo Boingo

“Under the Milky Way” – The Church

“Good Vibrations” – The Beach Boys

“Modern Love” – David Bowie

“Amanaemonesia” – Chairlift

“You Were Right” – Built to Spill

“Party at Ground Zero” – Fishbone

Joel Harrington, Oak Restaurant and Quill Lounge, Dallas

“Lately I have been a bit nostalgic in my music tastes,” explains Harrington. “What I dig about listening to music while creating dishes or menus is, when I hear a song, it reminds me of where I was in life when I first was into a band or a song, and that in turn influences the dish by association. I am not the best at keeping old recipes, but sometimes music helps bring back old ideas, which then end up being the base of a new dish.”

Chef Harrington’s “Nostalgic Punk Hop Jam” Playlist

“God Save the Queen” – Sex Pistols

“Waiting Room” – Fugazi

“Sacred Love” – Bad Brains

“The Hurdy Gurdy Man” – Butthole Surfers

“Captain Fantasy” – Ween

“Cream” – Wu Tang Clan

“Going Back to Cali” – The Notorious B.I.G.

“I Like It Raw” – Ol’ Dirty Bastard

“Paul Revere” – Beastie Boys