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Music and lyrics (and food)!

I cook my best food when I’m emotional because then I can transfer these strong emotions into the food.

I am certainly not a musical person. Just ask any of the chefs and cooks who’ve worked for and with me, and they’ll attest to the long, horrible hours of them listening to my music choices for the kitchen. While most chefs have playlists that feature R&B, rap, rock-’n’-roll, or even heavy metal music, mine’s filled with hours of sentimental songs and ballads. Hey, that’s how I roll. However questionable my music choices are, I deem music to be integral to the preparation of food. In fact, just last year, I held a fundraising pop-up dinner where each of the dishes was inspired by an OPM (Original Pilipino Music) song.

Speaking of OPM and music, I celebrated Chinese New Year with my Curve Entertainment family at the Quezon City Sports Club. Curve Entertainment not only manages me, but they also manage a host of gifted artists and musicians. I was most excited to see the talent surrounding me at the table. Beside me was Hazel Faith, who not only appears on TV in various television shows but also owns, in my opinion, one of the country’s best singing voices. Next to her was the acoustic singing duo BOU (Both of Us), whose remake of Extreme’s More Than Words is one of my favorites.

Across from me was Zsaris, the ultra talented musician who is a singer, musician and beatboxer — essentially a one-woman band — whose live loop cover of Rivermaya’s Himala continues to amaze me, and I finally met the seemingly shy Melbelline Caluag, who is actually a powerhouse. If you don’t believe me, just ask everyone she slayed with her kundiman performances at Talentadong Pinoy.

Over lunch, I was curious about their thoughts on the relationship between music and food.

Zsaris, singer, musician and beatboxer, with Natasia of BOU (Both of Us)

In the culinary world, most chefs turn to music to help with prep. Music helps chefs like me develop a rhythm and it helps calm us down, too. (Yes, I must admit that Taylor Swift helps with my prep.) People give me grief about it, but I do have what I call my Kitchen Playlist. This is going to sound weird to some, but I choose songs that I not only love, but also elicit strong reactions from me. My belief is that I cook my best food when I’m emotional because then I can transfer these strong emotions into the food. (Bear with me here, but I think it really is true!)

So every time I start work on any of my catering or pop-up events, I put on my kitchen playlist composed of songs from some of my favorite artists like Don’t Kick the Chair and Stay by Dia Frampton, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing by Aerosmith, The Story of Us by Taylor Swift, Hindi na Kita Mahal by Hazel Faith, Migraine and Itulog Mo Na ‘Yan by Moonstar 88, Inside Out by Kate Voegele, Man on a Wire by The Script, Gupit by Toto Sorioso and the like, take in the emotions, and begin chopping. Now, if music was this important to food professionals like me, I was most interested to know if the reverse was true. Does eating food help with performing at all?

For Natasia, one half of BOU, it certainly does. “Sobra. I associate it with my mood, so every time we have a gig, I can’t be hungry. I have to eat something delicious.” She is not alone, either. Just as I consider music as vital to my kitchen prep, food is vital to singers’ performance prep.

“I need to eat just so I can process. For me, I would love to have soup, if possible, so I can warm the body up for performances,” adds Zsaris.

Curve Entertainment talents: (from left) BOU, Melbelline, Zsaris, Hazel Faith, the author and Brownman Revival

If you think food is just a minor thing for these artists, think again. For Melbelline, it certainly isn’t. “When I perform and I haven’t eaten, you know, I can’t seem to focus on what I’m singing. I keep thinking I want to finish performing so I can eat.” (Laughs)

Apparently, food plays an important role in songwriting as well. For Hazel Faith, food, or the lack thereof, directly ties in to the kind of songs she writes. The hungrier she is, the more hugot (sentimental) her songs are. When I asked her about her experience writing her hit song Hindi na Kita Mahal, her response was succinct. “I hadn’t eaten anything that day.” (Laughs)

It’s pretty much the same for Melbelline. “Oh, yeah, if the food’s delicious, it pushes you more. When I’m hungry, I write angrier songs.” (Laughs)

With food being this important in their professional lives, the chef in me wanted to know some of their favorites. Zsaris uses food to reward herself when she finishes a song. “Steak if I can, but chicken wings, okay na rin ‘yan!”

For a reward, Melbelline turns to something else. “My favorite reward really is pasta.”

Meanwhile, Natasia is pretty clear with what she wants, too. “Carbs. Anything with carbs. Rice, pizza, bread.”

Hearing their answers, it’s clear to me that food and music do share something in common and Hazel Faith agrees. “I associate food with certain emotions. I don’t like vegetables, ’di ba? But I remember a good experience with monggo, so every time I have it, I am happy. When it comes to music, it’s the same — some songs you associate with certain feelings. Some foods you associate with certain songs.”

As we enjoy our time conversing, I realized all of them were drinking ice-cold drinks, so I thought I would end my informal interview with them by debunking what I suspect has been a myth all along. Old timers would insist that it’s bad for singers to drink cold liquids, but is it really true? Everyone at the table shook their heads and Hazel Faith explains, “I think it really depends on the singer. For me, it’s not a problem.”

So there you have it. Apparently, it’s not just chefs and foodies like me who view food as a significant part of their lives. For musicians, songwriters and singers like Melbelline, Hazel Faith, BOU and Zsaris, food is central. Now, that is music to my ears!

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You can check my food adventures on Instagram and Twitter @chefsharwin and for any questions or column suggestions, visit www.sharwintee.com.

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