“I know that I don’t look it, but I can cook,” Kelis sings on “Floyd,” a track off her sixth album, Food, which she’ll release with indie label Ninja Tune on April 28. Many wouldn’t guess that the singer of the global hit “Milkshake” graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in 2008 (where she became a certified saucier), or that her mother owned a catering company and taught her how to cook at an early age, or that she dreams of one day penning a cookbook and opening a restaurant of her own.
But Kelis Rogers’ deep passion lurks in the details of her new album, produced by TV on the Radio guitarist Dave Sitek. (“Hi guys, are you hungry? My mom made food,” a small boy says in the intro to the first track, “Breakfast.”) And it’s even more apparent once you get her talking; regarding culinary school, Rogers says without hesitation, “It was one of the best years of my life.”
We spoke with the sultry 34-year-old chanteuse about her future culinary aspirations, her signature dish (no, it’s not a milkshake), and what she and Sitek were feasting on when they recorded the album.
What is the connection between food and the new album?
Food was always around while we were making the album. I recorded in Dave Sitek’s house, and it was a home, so we were able to cook and sort of relax and really take our time. It was always just this great, bountiful evening with musicians and band members and friends and food—and, obviously, there was music. It wasn’t so much that there was some actual deep-seated meaning, it was just because that’s what was around.
What did you eat while recording the album? Does cooking help with the creative process of making music?
There was just so much going on; we were eating all kinds of stuff. I made jerk ribs, for sure. We definitely had a fish fry. The girls from CSS made micheladas. Or sometimes Dave would go over to this bagel shop by his house [in L.A.] that’s just amazing—it reminds me of New York. It wasn’t like there was any kind of theme or master plan, there was just always food around.
Food and music go together. It’s sort of how you’re living, what you’re listening to, who you’re with, what you’re eating, what you’re wearing. It’s a lifestyle, you know?
If your milkshake brought the boys to the yard, what dish brings grown men to the yard?
The jerk ribs. They’ve sort of become my signature dish. I don’t know, but quite frankly, I’m beating guys off with bats over here [laughs]. You know, people love food, especially when the flavors are rich and full. So, to answer, we’re doing okay over here.
I have no idea [laughs]. You know, I think chefs have started to become our new-era rock stars and people are starting to want to eat better and make every meal an event. For me, food and cooking was something I grew up with my whole life. My mom had a catering business and I used to cook with her all the time. Obviously, going to [culinary] school was really the next level.
Food and music go together. It’s sort of how you’re living, what you’re listening to, who you’re with, what you’re eating, what you’re wearing. It’s a lifestyle, you know, being consistent.
You went to Le Cordon Bleu back in 2008. A lot of people argue that cooking school is a rip off and you’re better off just staging at a restaurant. What was your take-away?
I personally didn’t learn how to cook in cooking school, but it was one of the best years of my life. And I don’t know if it’s because of what was going on in my life and just sort of what I was doing—it was really a departure for me from music, and it was just the right break and great to be back in school again, and I really appreciated it.
Chefs have started to become our new-era rock stars and people are starting to want to eat better and make every meal an event
I guess it depends on what it is you’re looking to gain. For me, It wasn’t about learning how to cook—I could already cook—it was about homing in on the skill and gaining a confidence and really delving in one-hundred percent. I went five days a week, seven hours a day. I found my specialty and I had a great time.
I heard you’re launching a line of sauces called Feast. When will people be able to buy the products, and why did you decide to focus on sauces?
I decided to focus on sauce because in school I realized that was what I was best at, and I started to come up with these recipes that were special and just stood out on their own. I feel like sauce is what accessories are to a woman’s outfit. Sauce defines where the dish is from and who’s making it. I don’t know—I like all of the extras in life, I feel like those are the things that distinguish one from the other. I love sauce, and I think everything is better smothered, poured, or dipped. As far as when people can get the sauce, I’m hoping for May.
I feel like sauce is what accessories are to a woman’s outfit. Sauce defines where the dish is from and who’s making it.
What are some of the sauces you’ve developed?
The jerk sauce is an herb-based sauce with fresh thyme. We have a ginger-sesame glaze which is fantastic. There’s a pineapple salsa, a guava coulis, a traditional cranberry sauce, Thai coconut curry, salsa roja, and a wild-cherry barbecue sauce that’s infused with espresso. There’s also a chocolate wine sauce which is amazing—it’s my favorite thing in the world. We’re going to start off with eight solid ones.
What are your future food aspirations? Where do you see your culinary career going?
We’re releasing the sauce line this year, and from there I’d like to do a cookbook and open up a restaurant. Those are my most immediate goals with food.
You can stream Kelis’ new album on Sound Cloud.