An active kitchen has so many pleasing sounds.
A knife slices through an onion with a crunch then chop as the blade hits cutting board.
A pork cutlet sizzles in a garlic flecked sauté pan and blends with the jet engine whoosh of the fan above the stove, if you have one of those.
Cutlery rattles in a drawer, the dishes clank.
But like soup that needs just that little something, sometimes you need to add some music to the kitchen mix.
When I get the opportunity to cook, I tend to focus on what I’m doing, as I’ve learned from many, many ruined dinners. So instead of flipping through my vinyl or clicking around on Spotify or iTunes. I usually stream radio stations, particularly ones that play a variety of music, such as BBC Radio 6, Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, or WWOZ in New Orleans, with its gumbo of jazz and R&B.
I’m usually cooking by myself and a DJ or host can be good company while I’m waiting for water to boil or the oven to hit 350.
I’ve lived exclusively in apartments as an adult and thus have always had a tiny kitchen.
Cooking can be cramped in such spaces and sadly doesn’t lend itself to making meals for pleasure. So, a good song can add some life and fun to the experience. Comic Rebecca Rush, a Hartford native who lived for many years in New London, learned that lesson now that she also lives in a New York City apartment.
She said her cooking habits have changed and when she has the time and inclination to cook, her kitchen soundtrack first choice is usually hip-hop or songs from Disney movies.
“I love to cook, but I don’t really have the same luxury to do so as I did in Connecticut,” she said.
Rush said that dinners in the Nutmeg State were sometimes prepared to live music as she lived with musicians.
“They would often start jamming and play classic punk songs and some 90s rock, like Pixes or The Cure.”
Rush, who returns to Connecticut each month with a few New York comic friends to perform at 33 (Golden Street) in New London, said that some “super relaxed” music is what she gravitates toward.
“I sometimes just type ‘jazz’ into YouTube and listen to that,” she said. “Cooking for me is about the act of slowing down.”
Another New Londoner, musician and songwriter Daphne Lee Martin could harmonize with that.
Martin worked for several years as a cook, said the relationship between music and cooking is essential to her, especially when she’s having company over for a meal.
“When I’m making dinner for people that I care about, it’s jazz, vocal jazz,’ Martin said. “It tends to soften the edges.”
Martin said she reaches for the classics, such as Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald.
The mood is different in the mornings, if she’s making breakfast omelettes for herself or friends.
“I want something lighthearted, airy or childlike,” Martin said, noting that Simon and Garfunkel albums come to mind. “It’s happy start-your-day music.”
For others it’s the end of the day desserts which deserve a soundtrack.
Wethersfield native and writer, musician and performer Robin Gelfenbien hosts the popular monthly New York City live storytelling night “Yum’s The Word,” where she makes between three and five ice cream cakes inspired by the theme of each show.
Recent shows have featured various cast members from the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” and “Project Runway” star Tim Gunn.
Gelfenbien’s spring creation was a Belgian chocolate ice cream cake with chocolate covered pretzels and donuts, for which Gunn had high praise.
Preparing such an elaborate sugar rush results in appropriately upbeat music.
“I put on fun, dance music,” Gelfenbien said, adding that she also makes a iTunes playlist of showtunes.
“I don’t want anything too sad,” she said, adding that she sometimes plays some swing music.
Other times, Gelfenbien said she just puts on music she’s loved for years, such as Argentinian tangos and the cult folk-blues singer songwriter Martin Sexton. Many cooks often have a bottle of red or white open as they cook. And as least with smaller vineyards, it’s likely the wine was made to music.
Winemaker Micheal Harney from Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington, said it’s hard to imagine any aspect of making their wine without music.
“We have music playing all time and we incorporate it into everything we do,” he said.
Harney said when he’s has control of the sound system, he likes a good mix of music and often streams a commercial free station such as KGNU out of Colorado.
“We also put on WCNI out of New London,” he said.
When he’s cooking with his family, Harney said there’s almost always music, ranging from new folk rock artists to the oldies station.
For some having a record on, or a roommate strumming a guitar, or even the radio humming along in the kitchen makes for a decent atmosphere. It’s just in the background, for pleasantries, and that’s really good enough.
But Martin said there’s something more ethereal at work when music finds its way into the kitchen as aromas waft out.
“Whatever it is you are doing you’re imparting something spiritual to the cooking,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s a coincidence we refer to preference in music as ‘your taste’.”