Cooking food and making music

Not being a major gourmet, I’d never considered any link between the respective arts of cooking food and music making until recently. What triggered it was attending the funeral of a friend’s mother, a Jamaican lady of the Windrush generation who had made her transition in December 2021 at the age of 85.

Among the tributes given was one by a woman who as a thirteen year old had attended a cookery class delivered at Bradford West Indian Parents Association by this Jamaican ‘auntie’, and another Caribbean lady. By all accounts these two women were a joy to work with, yet with a formidable strictness that would have made Gordon Ramsay quake in his chef’s hat. In her tribute, she recalled one class in which she took out a notepad and pen to write down in great detail the directions given to her. Noticing the skeptical looks of her teachers, the conversation that followed ran a little like this:

“Weh yu doing?”

“Oh, I’m just writing down the ingredients.”

“No need, love. All yu need in the kitchen is yu hands, yu eye, and yu mout’.”

It wasn’t until I thought about this anecdote the following day that it struck me how much this approach has in common with music making. The sense of going by your own feel and intuition rather than following a strict format. The feeling of being in the moment, where the piece of music doesn’t have to be identically played every day, sticking rigidly to the same arrangement. In this way, the same meal/piece of music will be different each time but still taste good.

I’m sure people have experienced how food prepared by sticking to the letter of a recipe book usually doesn’t taste right. It’s as though there’s something missing. Even more in keeping with the musical process, I’ve seen a couple of cookery articles where writers are saying it’s OK to make mistakes in the kitchen, embrace them! I’d be willing to bet that some of the tastiest meals were created despite the misgivings of the cook believing they’d put either too much or too little of an ingredient, over-cooked it, etc.

To end on a culinary note, here’s Candy Mckenzie performing ‘Ice Cream’, with Lee Scratch Perry at the controls.