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Chef and Food Network personality Aida Mollenkamp provides some insight on which style of music matches certain types of cooking -- particularly how Bossa Nova encourages “cooking from the hip” and how indie rock helps her hone in on recipes. She is a culinary and musical chameleon who spans the world in her love of both arts, as you can hear in her Guest DJ set. Aida is hosting a new show called “Foodcrafters” which recently debuted on the Cooking Channel.
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Mario Cotto: Hi this is Mario Cotto from KCRW and I’m here with chef and Food Network personality, Aida Mollenkamp. She’s a founding editor at Chow.com and we’re curious to find out what music has inspired her - in and out of the kitchen - as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Aida, how are you? Thanks for coming in.
Aida Mollenkamp: I’m doing well.
MC: Alright, so let’s get this started. Looks like your first pick has a Bossa Nova flavor to it. It’s the RJD2 remix of Astrud Gilberto’s The Gentle Rain.
AM: I turned to Bossa Nova toward the end of high school when I really started cooking and decided I wanted to go into hospitality management, into the culinary arts, as a career. And the cool thing about Bossa Nova is you can turn it on, you can just start kind of cooking from the hip when some Bossa Nova is playing. You throw in a little spice and then you like simmer down the onions just a little longer because Bossa Nova like slows everything down.
It’s really definitive of kind of the femininity that I’ve put in my food over the years – it’s just got this kind of little constant Bossa Nova beat in the background, it’s like ‘dee doo doo dee dee doo’ but then RJD2 got in mix, and the remix kind of like redid the whole song for me. And it really brought it to the forefront because, all of the sudden, the way I cook was kind of represented in one song. There’s this real kind of feminine undertone with these like high, high hits of hip hop and RJD2’s sound right on top of it, that’s a little more of like a masculine sort of peppering, like a garnish, to the whole thing. And that’s how I try to cook. Mostly feminine because, you know, I’m a chick, but every once in a while, I like throw my fist down and kind of put some masculinity in there.
Song: “The Gentle Rain” by Astrud Gilberto (RJD2 remix)
MC: Do you find that music, depending on what you guys are working on, music is completely different and, sort of, drives it?
AM: Definitely. I mean, I think, all chefs will tell you that music’s always on in – well, there are people who have silent kitchens, but people who don’t have silent kitchens have music going. I’ve always been more productive, even through college writing term papers, with music on in the background. So, there’s definitely times when you’re cooking where there’s only a certain kind of music that’s going to work.
Pastry work I think is definitely jazz influenced. It’s just got to be. When it comes to something that’s a little more forceful, then you can go a little more hip hop if you want but yeah – definitely all the time music is piped in when I’m cooking.
MC: That was “The Gentle Rain,” the RJD2 remix of Astrud Gilberto’s track. We’ve got an amazing Mali group Amadou and Mariam on your list here. What track is this?
AM: Oh it’s “Je Pense A Toi.” I mean I think a lot of people know “Dimanche a Bamako,” Manu Chao helped with that record and it’s ridiculous. I mean, that’s a record I could listen to over, and over, and yet over again. I really like it. But “Je Pense A Toi” has a lot of meaning to it.
First of all, it’s one of their way back, original, songs before they kind of got refined and I appreciate that. And it also means “I think of you” which kind of insinuates I’m missing you. And, when I lived in France, I was going to culinary school and I lived in a part of Paris that was really a North African Immigrant area - it was like an enclave. And the people, everybody from the grocer on the corner to the local coffee shop guy, they really influenced my whole perspective of that area. I really got into North African food way more than I ever thought I would. Like, all of the sudden I was cooking everywhere from the Ivory Coast to all through Moroccan and everything.
And the two of them have kind of gone from lesser known to better known as I’ve gone from France back the United States. And when I started working at Chow.com, I realized I was with a bunch of Francophiles there. And so we would turn on this track and kind of start working together and it was this instant bond of listening to Amadou & Mariam and enjoying it and thinking abut what we’ve had and where we were going to go with life.
Song: “Je Pense A Toi” by Amadou & Mariam
MC: And that was Amadou & Mariam’s “Je Pense A Toi” which means “I think of you.” I’m Mario Cotto sitting here with Aida Mollenkamp just cooking up some tracks for KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. And what’s this next one?
AM: Geographer – they’re a local San Francisco band and I am fortunate to live in a city where live music is everywhere. I’ve used that as my break from when I’m recipe testing, especially when I first started out at Food Network. I was still working at Chow and, having two jobs, you need some form of release. Well, mine was going out to live shows. So, fortunately they start at like 10 at night and I would be wrapping up my work, I’d be able to go out. And Geographer had a whole album out – played all their old tracks most of the time.
But they started to put “Original Sin” into rotation probably a couple years ago and it was the song that, my best friend and I would go, and the minute they started playing it, we’d just start like jumping up and down, releasing all the tension, having a good time – like all the worries melt away. So it’s kind of like this universally attractive sound that’s pretty – I don’t know – centering almost. So it’s – to this moment I can play it any time – like something bad in my life it’s like ‘oh, oh, oh let me just find ‘Original Sin’ and everything will be ok.”
Song: “Original Sin” by Geographer
MC: That was “Original Sin” by Geographer. And next up we’ve got a track, a classic track by Desmond Dekker, called The Israelites. Now, how did you discover this track?
AM: Well, you know there was a ska revival in the ‘90s. I actually kind of was in a ska band for a brief two seconds and…don’t go checking out any of the tracks on that because I was horrible.
MC: What was it called?
AM: I’m pretty much tone deaf. I’m not telling you what it was called!
And so we were really into first wave stuff and that was the first time I woke up and kind of paid attention to music beyond the pop charts and really – grew up in Manhattan Beach so there’s just kind of that surfer culture. So I got into Desmond Dekker and just all those really early guys. For me Desmond is kind of –he really changed me with the song “The Israelites” and it’s a song I turn to even today. So if it’s late night – I’ve got all my friends I grew up with, we’re all hanging out and we don’t know what to do. We throw on the LP of “The Israelites” and everybody just kind of gets jazzed - it’s like the perfect restart the party, middle of the morning, kind of song. Say it’s like 2am, throw it on – everybody just kind of gets picked back up again from that song and it even makes a reference to food right in the beginning so you know I had to choose it.
Song: The Israelites by Desmond Dekker
MC: That was The Israelites by Desmond Dekker and we’ve got one track left here. What track is this? What do we have here?
AM: It’s “Sooner or Later” by Zaza. You know, I grew up here in LA and have been a KCRW subscriber since I had my own means of paying for a KCRW subscription. And I was realizing when I was putting together this list, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard this song played on this radio station.
Song: “Sooner or Later” by Zaza
AM: When it comes to really getting down to work, I need to have something that’s a little more chill and this song, “Sooner or Later,” kind of does that. It almost has this like psychedelic, melodic thing going on to it. And it kind of takes you on a little trip. But what it does is it allows me to kind of zone out everything around me and really zero in on whatever I’ve got to be doing. So lately I’ve been working on putting together the beginning steps of a cookbook and that requires a lot of undivided attention and this is a song I can just like throw on repeat and know I’m gonna get it done.
MC: Aida, thanks so much for joining us on KCRW.com today.
AM: Thank you! It was a pleasure to be here.
MC: Cool. Cool. Now for a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject.