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Holiday Music to Cook By

Local chefs crank up these classics (and not-so-classics) for the holiday season

By Margaret Littman
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W hen Cherry Street Eatery and Sweetery chef and owner Meg Giuffrida heats up the oil for the multi-denominational December latka party she and her husband, musician Paul Burch, throw each year, the soundtrack for her pre-party prep is jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie. “It’s always New York in the 1950s when I’m getting ready for a dinner party,” Giuffrida says.

Of course, it’s the ingredients and the time-honored recipes that make a holiday dish taste like our memories dictate. But the music that plays as we roll piecrust and baste turkeys and fry latkas is important for getting into the mood. In “Nashville Eats” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $35) author Jennifer Justus writes, “music and food both have a way of bringing us together and telling our stories,” which is why she includes playlists along with the recipes.

We asked local cooks, both home and professional, which holiday soundtracks are essential to their food prep this time of year. Here are a few of their classics to put into rotation, plus a few suggestions for new downloads.

Nicki Pendleton Wood, author of “Southern Cooking for Company” (Thomas Nelson, $26.99)

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“I decided a couple years ago to branch out beyond Vince Guaraldi’s ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ and Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album.” She’s also a big fan of what she calls “a stonkingly good mix” put out by Janet Timmons (former WRVU and current WXNA DJ) around 2014. Other favorites include Sufjan Stevens Christmas songs and for 2016 she plans to add in the Beach Boys’ holiday record, plus Christmas music by Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.

Julia Sullivan, chef, Henrietta Red

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“Around the holidays, I like to listen to the Emmylou Harris Christmas album, ‘Light of the Stable.’ My mom used to play ‘Christmas Time’s a Comin’’ on repeat and my sister and I loved it. It still gets me in the spirit.” The rest of the year Sullivan leans to power anthems from bands such as Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem and Florence and the Machine. “I need steady background noise. Anything too loud or too busy distracts from the work.”

Jake Veyhl, owner, Jake’s Bakes

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When alone in the kitchen, Veyhl typically turns to podcasts (or Texas Rangers games). But now that the kitchen is cranking out warm cookies with a crew, there’s upbeat music to “bounce around to. I listen to stuff because it’s catchy and keeps me moving around—not necessarily because I have songs with deep meanings.” Veyhl says “the best part about having a bunch of musicians on staff (songwriters Jacky Dustin and Jedidiah Freiheit, among others) is that there’s never a lack of music in the kitchen.”

Karl Worley, chef and co-owner, Biscuit Love

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It’s a James Brown kind of kitchen—soulful music to match his soulful dishes—at the local favorite Southern brunch spot, no matter the time of year.

Maneet Chauhan, executive chef and owner, Chauhan Ale & Masala House

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“With the kids, I usually listen to Christmas carols when cooking during the holidays. I went to a convent school in India, so I also like to listen to the holiday hymns and carols we would listen to then. We subscribe to Bollywood Radio, so that is always playing in whatever kitchen I’m in!”

Bart Pickens, executive chef, Party Fowl

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“Cooking to music is always about creating a vibe.” A typical Friday night might be a collaboration between Rihanna and Eminem and the “No More Drama” album by Mary J. Blige. But “cooking and baking during the holidays need something different,” Pickens says. “I love to cook to the holiday sounds from New Orleans...like the Neville Brothers. My other Christmas favorite is LeAnn Rimes’ holiday album.”

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