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Chef Susan Feniger has endless enthusiasm and creativity in the kitchen, but her personal soundtrack is designed to slow her down. She favors songs that inspire introspection, with themes of hope, love and loss. Susan is the owner of Susan Feniger's Street and co-owner of the Border Grill and Ciudad. She will also be competing on season two of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters premiering in April.
Anne Litt: Hi I'm Anne Litt and I'm here with award-winning chef Susan Feniger, owner of the LA restaurant Susan Feniger's Street and co-owner of the Border Grill and Ciudad. Today we're going to be playing excerpts of songs that she's selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Susan, first of all, welcome back to KCRW.
Susan Feniger: Thank you very much. I'm thrilled to be here!
AL: It's so good to see you back in the studios here. Susan, one of the co-creators of Good Food here on KCRW, and you've brought in a bunch of music for us today, so why don't you start and let's just get into some of these great songs you've brought.
SF: Oh my god, this was impossible – impossible -- to pick my favorite songs. There's so many. But it totally took me down a path of memory lane.
AL: Great! Well, what's first?
SF: I think Joni Mitchell, “Circle Game.”
SF: Most of the songs that I picked are sort of deep moving songs for me. I think they're all a little bit down and intense. I think I sort of live my life out there and publicly and I'm passionate and up. I mean, music is just huge for me, always has been, and it's something that I think often brings me back inside. And so, “Circle Game” I is one of those songs that, because my life is so fast, there often are those things that happen where they take me back to thinking about my life and it's going by so quickly and “Circle Game” is sort of all about that. About how life, just all of the sudden a year's gone by, or three years have gone by, and we can't really change that. It's the circle of life and it's true. It takes those things…maybe some passionate song like this or some big incident or some sad incident that makes you stop and look back and appreciate your life and try to enjoy it more in each moment. And it sort of tells the story of how I often live my life -- which is very, very busy -- and then all of the sudden it's like "oh my god, that just went by," and how do I make my life more rich in the moment.
Song: Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game”
AL: That was “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell. So, what else do you have for us?
SF: This is by my partner, Liz Lachman, who is a writer and director but all of her life she grew up in Detroit and was in the world of music as a singer/songwriter from the time she was 10 years old. And when I first met her, we would be out on our first date - or on a date - or whatever, whatever - not our first date but we were out and all the sudden, she'd write something down or she'd leave a message at her house about some line. Then she would go in the studio with her partner, Richie Raposa, and there would be these lyrics written out. And it was from that one thing that she had left a message on her voicemail and I was just sort of blown away with the process of how then, a week or two weeks in the studio, and then she'd come back with this like first run of a song that she'd written. And then all of the sudden there would be this finished product. And I'd never seen the process of how someone writes a song and, of course, that made me have the biggest crush ever. But this was just one of those songs that I felt was just full of passion. It's called “Rumble,” and it sort of builds in passion and its about how sometimes there are these things in your life that you can't control - you feel it, you want to just do it, and you don't have a control button. You try to go to sleep at night thinking you're going to forget about what's going on and then there it is in your dream.
Song: Liz Lachman’s “Rumble”
AL: That was Liz Lachman with a piece called “Rumble.” I'm Anne Litt here with Chef Susan Feniger for KCRW's Guest
DJ Project and up next…
SF: Annie Lennox “Why.” There you have like the most amazing, you know, song, songwriter…
SF: I mean, they all are! “Why” I just think is one of those incredible songs that asks that question of -- something is so fantastic and yet something's off in it and do you communicate it or what is it or how do you communicate it. We don't get any textbook that tells us when something's not right how you deal with it exactly in a respectful way or are you being honest and then it's being mean.
Lots of times I listen to the music and I'm not even listening to the words. Actually, it's interesting, when I first was with Liz, we've been together 15 years, she said to me -- you know, 'cause I would sing, I would put Why on and I'd be like singing it, bouncing all around -- and she said, "Have you ever really listened to the words of Why? This is a totally depressing song!"
Song: Annie Lennox’s “Why” SF: This music that is very sort of moving and big. I mean, truly I think I go to movies that make me just feel - and they make you feel down but I…there's something about when I go inside and, even if I feel very low, there's something that makes me question and look at life and my life and what I'm doing and music does the same thing to me. I mean, I definitely feel like whether classical music or jazz, that there is something about music sometimes where I feel like music is speaking. I hear words even if there are not words. When I put music on it puts me into a frame of mind that, its just - warm. It slows me down.
AL: That was Why by Annie Lennox. Your next selection is…
SF: “Emily” and this is played by Bill Evans and he’s one of the most amazing piano players ever. And, you know, I love that song, but having him play it and the way that he goes from one chord to the next. I mean, I think if you're anyone that loves jazz and you hear a Bill Evans song you almost always can know it's Bill Evans because of how those changes happen.
Song: Bill Evans’ Emily
SF: It's just so spectacular and it is - you just want to sit there and, you just are dreamy thinking about that. And that's one of those songs where when it's playing you feel like you are hearing the words in a big way.
AL: That was the track “Emily” from the record Further Conversations with Myself by Bill Evans. To wrap up your set of music, what do you have to bring us to the end?
SF: I think Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” -- for every single reason. Taking me back to my childhood, which “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” that's about that time. And knowing Eva Cassidy's story of her life, which is just moving and unbelievable. But to hear her sing the song -- I mean it's about dreams and childhood. I've always had tons of dreams and always have thought they'd come true and many of them have come true. It's a song about hope and I see it as, even though it's interesting and it's sad, it's actually very moving and uplifting because it is, it's about dreaming and life and being a kid and what you imagine and everything you want to do and be and you just couldn't have someone with a more gorgeous voice singing that song. I just love that song.
Song: Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
AL: Well, hope and sadness and intensity sort of seem to be this through-line in all the pieces you've chosen. Which is why it's really fun to hear your perspective and hear what moves you, , especially someone who spends all this time in the kitchen creating these amazing things to eat and I want to thank you so much, Susan, for coming here and joining us for KCRW's Guest DJ Project. This is just great!
SF: Thank you so much.