Kelis On Her Cookbook, Food She Won’t Eat & Which Coast Has The Best Burger: Interview
Kelis has been serving up some serious jams since her 1999 debut album Kaleidoscope. It turns out that the “Milkshake” singer, who in 2014 released an LP titled Food, has more than a passing connection to edibles.
In addition to music, Kelis’ other passion is cuisine. Raised in Harlem by a mother who owned a catering business, Kelis became a certified saucier at Le Cordon Bleu several years ago, in between albums. She then used tour dates around the world to indulge her inner global foodie, amassing a collection of ideas brought together in her new cookbook My Life on a Plate: Recipes from Around the World.
The recipes are as rich and full as Kelis’ smoky alto voice, and – like her music – diverse, surprising, and richly satisfying. We spoke with her after concocting a few of her signature dishes to talk food and music — and to have her settle once and for all which coast makes the ultimate burger.
I tried out a few of the recipes – love, love, love Knight’s Tuna Sandwich, and the corn chowder is delicious!
KELIS: Awesome, oh good, I love hearing that! Thank you.
I always plan my big cooking nights just before my cleaning lady comes.
KELIS: You know what, can I tell you something? I’m the exact same way. That’s so ridiculous that you said that. I literally do the same exact thing. I’m like, okay, she comes Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays — I will cook then! [Laughs]
Yes! Because I love to cook but I hate to clean.
KELIS: I hate it – it ruins the whole process. I’m glad I’m not alone. I felt terrible about it but I’m glad you do the same thing.
What music do you listen to while cooking?
KELIS: It depends. Sometimes I go through bouts of silence, which I actually do enjoy. Other times I listen to a lot jazz, gospel — the list is endless.
Do you find any similarities with constructing a meal versus a song?
KELIS: Not really. I think being a creative person, I might have similarities just in my process, but I don’t know that it’s really because it’s the same thing. I think it’s because of me.
When creating a meal, do you start with the protein or a sauce in mind and go from there?
KELIS: Usually I’ll just go to the market and see what’s exciting. I have my regular spots: this Mediterranean grocer; Whole Foods; my butcher; [Korean grocer] HK for crabs and shrimp; or I’ll go to my farmer’s market and spot something, like persimmon and think, oh, I can do something with that! It sort of depends on my mood and what the market has to offer that day.
What was the last meal you made, and who was it for?
KELIS: In London, for Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube, I made fried pork belly and a black bean Spanish soup, hickory smoked bacon empanadas, Colombian ahi and ginger sesame-glazed shrimp with pomegranates and bok choy. I cook a lot on the road. I’ve traveled with three hot plates and pans and gotten groceries on the road. I travel with my son [Knight] and don’t want him to eat crap.
I’m getting hungry. Is Knight an adventurous foodie as well?
KELIS: He actually is for [being] six years old. He’s adventurous and very open and experimental, but if he doesn’t want something I don’t push.
You have a lot of recipes in your cookbook with spices, which you can be really creative with. Do you prefer that type of cooking versus baking, where you have to be so exact?
KELIS: I’m not a pastry chef. I figured that out in [cooking] school. I love it and it’s super fun. I make a lot of bread, to be honest, but I’m not a pastry chef at all. I think it takes a different type of person. When you meet a pastry chef versus a savory, they are completely different people, very different characteristics. I can do it, but I’m a lot better on the savory side.
Is there anything you won’t eat?
KELIS: Oh, yeah — for sure. I have textural issues. I’m not big on slimy things. I like fish, but I don’t like when things have fish flavor, like squid ink pasta. I don’t understand why I’d be eating that. I want to eat the actual squid.
During your training, or when you were developing the recipes for the book, did you suffer any cooking disasters?
KELIS: Yeah, French. I don’t fail well. Doing the French macaroons, it took me three times to get it to where they looked great. It was frustrating. It didn’t come naturally to me.
You’ve been all around the world, in different time zones. These things can mess up your internal clock. What are your thoughts on breakfast for dinner?
KELIS: I think that’s a really male thing. I feel like men have no issue with breakfast for
dinner. My observation is that men like breakfast more than women do. I don’t have an issue with it, but I don’t crave it. I’ll do steak and eggs for a very late night situation, but I don’t crave pancakes for dinner.
Do you have any secret food spot recommendations from some of the cities you’ve traveled to?
KELIS: In New York, Don Antonio’s is great. They do a fried pizza, which is very crackish. Mamoun’s [Falafel Restaurant], which I wrote in my book, on 3rd and Macdougal, which I’m trying to get down to while I’m in here. It’s the best falafel and shawarma situation. It’s not a secret spot, but the original Il Molino on Thompson is the business.
I love that one, but I’m always full before the entrée even comes!
KELIS: Of course, right, all the little stuff they bring out. I love it, it’s the best. So good. For L.A., there’s so many. I love Animal. There’s this little Japanese noodle bar in a strip mall on La Brea and Hollywood — I can’t remember the name, but it’s ridiculously delicious.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your kitchen?
KELIS: I can’t live without a blender. I make sauce so my life revolves around my blender collection.
Do you think Knight will follow in your footsteps with a passion for either music or cooking?
KELIS: He’s told me specifically he doesn’t not want to be chef. I hope he follows his own path, and I’ll support him regardless.
What’s next for you, musically?
KELIS: I’m starting to think about it. I’m not in any particular rush.
You’ve lived on both coasts, so here’s the ultimate question: which burger wins out — In-N-Out or Shake Shack?
KELIS: Oh stop it! Shake Shack bodies it, like demolishes. It’s a massacre! For me, Shake Shake annihilates it in every way possible.
You may start a war with that one.