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From Farm to Turntable - Nashville's Top Chefs Weigh in on Music

Music City, the Athens of the South, Smashville, or Hot Chicken capital. No matter what you call it, there's no question that Nashville is a popular destination. With the home of "Country's most famous stage," Nashville has been the destination for top music talent and die-hard country fans for over eight decades. This lively town is one of the most influential music cities in the world, so it may seem like an unlikely candidate to play such a major role on the world’s culinary stage. These days, you can’t open a magazine and not see a Nashville chef, restaurant, or artisan mentioned. Nashville is a culinary treasure that has caught the eye of iconic restaurateur's, Michelin Star chefs, and James Beard Award winners.

If there's one thing to know about Nashville, the city celebrates food as much as it does music. In most restaurants, music is often just background noise to cover the sounds of strangers chewing. But for some Nashville chefs, the worlds of music and food intertwine in a more meaningful way. Music both motivates and inspires. The playlists are often as varied as the people who work there. So what musicians do chefs listen to and where do they like to go? We got the inside scoop.

Chef Margot McCormack, Chef and Owner of Margot Cafe & Bar James Beard Foundation, Best Chef Southeast Semifinalist "Music is the pulse of the restaurant. Whatever is playing sets a tone and mood for service. You really have to hit the right note to keep everything going along harmoniously. All puns intended," says Chef Margot McCormack. "Destin Weishaar, our GM, always has the best playlists of favorites and music you want to get to know. We gauge the dining room and the service to what we play. When we are getting slammed we most definitely want upbeat to keep us moving along, but nothing too erratic cause that can make everyone crazy. I love Miles Davis, but sometimes the notes he hits are disruptive to my thought process. I work with a younger crowd, so we often listen to today’s hits. We are mad for Dua Lipa at the moment. Last year’s favorite was Jess Glynne." When it comes to streaming music, "I’m an Apple Music fan, but am old enough to still have a healthy CD collection. St Paul and the Broken Bones, Michael Kiwanuka, Chris Stapleton, and Adele are some of my favorite artists- seriously talented vocalists. I’m always listening to music- home, car, work. I make a soundtrack of my favorite songs that chronicle every year. I would be a musician if I could sing." When it comes to listening to music at home, "Music is such a mood thing, so at home I might ease into the day or rock it out first thing with the Kings of Leon. My 7-year-old son and I have a lot of weekend dance parties. He currently digs the na-na-na song, translation, "Havana." As for some of the best places for live music, "I don’t get out as much as I’d like to, but when I do I prefer a smaller more intimate venue, Mercy Lounge, Marathon, Basement East, 5Spot. The Ryman and Ascend for bigger shows."

Chef Andrew Little, Executive Chef & Partner of Josephine James Beard Foundation, Best Chef Southeast Semifinalist "The best music to cook to really depends on the time of day and my mood. We don't have music playing in the restaurant kitchen, but we do play music in the restaurant itself during the day. I usually default to Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones. Fridays are usually ‘80s hair bands during the day. Once we open the restaurant to guests, we rely pretty heavily on Jason Isbell, Leon Bridges, Valerie June, Andra Day, The War on Drugs, and the occasional Chris Stapleton via Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music." When it comes to his favorite musicians, "Bruce Springsteen is at the top of the list for sure. (I saw his solo show on Broadway in December and when he played the first cord I started crying like a baby.) Jason Isbell is a really close second then Chris Stapleton, John Prine, Leon Bridges, Brandi Carlile, and Anderson East. Motley Crue and Van Halen make the list to." Music at home is no different than in the restaurant. "I usually play from the artists above when I'm at home. The music in the restaurant is pretty similar, since that's kind of my house too. Except, no Motley Crue or Van Halen during dinner!" What's Chef Andrew Little‘s go-to place for live music in Nashville? "Well, obviously, The Ryman. I've never been to a better place to hear a concert. Also, Robert's Western World and The Station Inn."

Chef Tony Galzin, Executive Chef & Partner of Nicky’s Coal Fired "In the daytime, during prep, we play a lot of 70's funk and disco and classic 90's hip hop via Spotify. The all time best song to cook to is 'Holy Ghost,' by The Bar Kays." said Chef Galzin. "Some of my favorite musicians to listen to are James Brown, Parliament, Rick James, Biggie, A Tribe Called Quest, and Gangstarr." But at home it's a different story for the chef. "I usually watch tv while cooking at home." His go to place for live music in Nashville? "Roberts Western World has the old school country thats pretty unique to Nashville. Its a cool change of pace."

Photo: Blackberry Farm

Chef Cassidee Dabney, the Executive Chef of The Barn at Blackberry Farm James Beard Foundation, Best Chef Southeast Finalist "The music I play in the kitchen depends on what’s cooking and my mood. My go-to Pandora stations are 90’s Alternative, 80’s Workout, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, Classic Rock, and the Humpty Dance station. I also play from a very unkempt vinyl collection from my 20’s."When it comes to some of her favorite musicians, "I’m pretty open to just about anything. A lot of what I listen to is based on what fits my mood that day. I always have music on at my house. I head more in a blues direction when I’m listening at home. At work we try to stay upbeat. Any karaoke list tends to be hilarious." Whats's Chef Cassidee Dabney's go-to place for live music in Nashville? "Definitely the Blue Bird Café." The Barn has been recognized as one of the top restaurants in the South and hosts the 2014 James Beard award for Outstanding Wine Program and the 2015 James Beard award for Outstanding Service.

Chef Matt Farley, Executive Chef for TomKats Hospitality An avid musician, Chef Farley originally fell in love with Nashville while visiting to record an album. Since moving to Music City, Chef Farley has immersed himself in Nashville’s music scene by regularly playing shows and recording with his band, as well as touring with other local musicians. When it comes to the best music to cook to he says, "It all depends on what you are cooking! But if I'm cooking at home, I usually listen to classic country. Most likely Merle Haggard." When it comes to streaming music, "I usually do not stream. I usually will buy on iTunes or actual hard copies (both CDs and vinyl). As a songwriter, I feel an obligation to buy records to support artists." For his favorite musicians,"the Beatles are always first for me. Then Merle Haggard, Tom Waits, Kings X, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Black Sabbath, The Cure, and most recently I've been obsessed with Blackberry Smoke." But for him playing music in the restaurant's kitchen is a big no. "I do not allow music in the restaurant kitchens. I worked in a couple kitchens very early in my career that played music during service and found it to be very distracting." But at home is a different story. "Usually if I'm cooking at home we are entertaining and there is ALWAYS music playing! Hopefully we are having fun and I will usually have a glass of whiskey in one hand. That is very different from our work environment." His favorite place for live music in Nashville? "Roberts Western World."

Chef Gerald "Jerry" Infantino Executive Chef at Centerplate for First Tennessee Park The best music to cook to is anything upbeat. I am a country music fan, so I have an Amazon music playlist of energetic songs.” Some of his favorite musicians are George Strait, Chris Stapleton, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Hank Williams Jr, Johnny Cash, and Garth Brooks. When cooking at home the music typically comes from the TV on CMT and GAC. Whats's Chef Infantino ‘s go-to place for live music in Nashville? "Legends or the Ryman Auditorium."

Photo courtesy of The Westin Nashville

Chef Jake Strang, Executive Chef of The Westin Hotel's Decker & Dyer and rooftop bar L27 Rooftop Lounge "The best music to cook to just depends on how you’re feeling. Mostly I’m a rock and roll guy; classic rock or 90’s alternative type stuff. It helps keep the energy up in the kitchen. Occasionally, I’ll throw on some blues if it’s a more mellow kind of day." said Chef Strang. "Lately I’ve been using YouTube Music and iHeart Radio. I have a pretty big CD collection, but I just don’t use them anymore. I would love to pick up a record player and start collecting vinyl’s though. There’s just something about the sound." For his favorite musicians, "I know it’s kind of 'nerdy,' but I’m a huge Rush fan. I have been since I was a kid and for some reason their music never gets old to me. I saw them the last two times they were in Nashville and for as long as they’ve been performing, they still rock and have fun doing it. I’m also a big Gov’t Mule/Warren Haynes fan." For him, music at home is a little different than in the restaurant. "I don’t usually have music on when cooking at home, but if I do it’s something for my two daughters. They like Kidz Bop, which is not something I would put on in the restaurant kitchen." What is his go-to place for live music in Nashville? "For the little bit I do get out to see live music, the Ryman is always great. Over the summer I saw Blackberry Smoke and Gov’t Mule at Ascend Amphitheater and that place is awesome. Great music with the Nashville Skyline as a backdrop is pretty amazing."

Chef Sean McTiernan, Executive Chef of Adele's As a chef he has been honored with Michelin Bib Gourmand and James Beard Foundation nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2009 "Music and food have so much nostalgia. I could go on for days. I love cooking to the sound track of the movie, 'Big Night.' I am also inspired by anything that Nathaniel Rateliff puts out. My taste in music is really eclectic, and you'll hear everything from 'The Grey Album' by Danger Mouse, to Willie Nelson, to classic reggae from the 40's or 50's, to the Chieftains." But when it comes to music at home he says, "I have an old Motorola record player from the late 40's and I play Nat King Cole and Big Band. The sound of these artists on a record player is unparalleled." Some of his favorite musicians are local, "for some real home-grown inspiration, I default to the king and queen of "East Nasty" (East Nashville) Kim & Scott Collins, aka The Smoking Flowers. Think June Carter & Johnny Cash meets the Black Keys, but with that East Nasty soul. If I am looking for live music, I'll head to Robert's on a Sunday during football season. If there is a home game, it's usually quiet and there are no TVs and no wait for a beer. It's bliss."

Chef Duane Loftus, Kitchen Manager at Von Elrod's Beer Garden & Sausage House

Chef Duane Loftus, Kitchen Manager at Von Elrod's Beer Garden & Sausage House "Some of my favorite music to in the kitchen is Social Distortion. All there songs always have a good beat and that rockabilly/punk sound always gets me going," said Chef Loftus. "At work and home I listen to Pandora. But, mostly at home I listen to vinyl. I have a country collection that was passed down to me from my granddad. I love the sound of that old 60's vinyl." Some of his favorite musicians are, "Sturgill Simpson, REM, Waylon, Social Distortion, Howling Wolf and The Steel Woods. At home is definitely more country because of my record collection. At work I want a little more fast paced but when I am home I just want to cook dinner and tap my feet to a good beat." As for the best place for live music, "Paula's or Robert's are both great venues and always have better music than the mainstream bars on lower Broadway."

Chef Deb Paquette, Chef and Owner, Etch and Etc

For the best music to cook to, "I love Michael McDonald, Crosby Stills and Nash, anything Motown, Van Morrison, Jack Johnson, Joan Osbourne, Rag'n bones, Camilla Cabello, Earth Wind and Fire, Mandalay, and whatever my husband wants to listen to; he does 90% of the cooking in our home! I love listening to his playlist. He sets the tone and I enjoy!" said Chef Paquette. When it comes to her favorite musicians, "R & B, so anything with soul and a beat!! My husband cooks and I dance! My very favorite is Marvin Gay, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin. Etch has a random playlist, but etc. has a fabulous Motown mix. My partner Doug knows Motown is my fav and I do think that has something to do with the choice he made for our guests. Nothing too loud, but just right. Doug has a great ear for good music!" For live music in Nashville, "I love the Ascend. I am an outdoor fanatic! To hear a great band and watch the sun go down makes for a great evening...and let's not forget the cocktails!

Chef Kyle Patterson, Executive Chef of Sinema The best music to cook to, "Anything upbeat works, really. I tend to listen to a lot of Vivaldi when I'm testing recipes out and Adventure Club or other EDM via Spotify and Pandora when I need to crank out massive amounts of prep. We're a show kitchen at Sinema so at 5:00pm the speakers are turned off in back, and for the rest of the night it's all about the clanging of pans, the sizzling of fat, the buzz of the tickets coming in. That, to me, is my favorite music," says Chef Kyle Patterson. For his favorite musicians, "I'm all over the place. Gaslight Anthem, Bill Withers, Katy Perry, Sam Cooke, Slayer, The Black Keys, and Guy Clarke."But is there music playing at home? "Always. I tend to listen to The temptations, Sam Cook, and Bill Withers a lot at home. That era of music is a lot of fun to cook and dance to." And for the Nashville music scene,"Haha, honestly I don't get out to shows half as much as I should. I do love that Nashville has live music everywhere, all the time though."

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