The kitchen at Juni is always silent, but before ensconcing himself, Shaun Hergatt, executive chef and partner of the intimate New York restaurant, has his headphones on, most likely hypnotized by the sounds of DJ Danny Tenaglia. “I listen to a lot of different artists—Alabama Shakes, Crowded House, David Bowie—but it’s deep, cerebral house music that clears up and inspires my mind,” Hergatt says.
For stressed-out chefs like Hergatt, whose “life is consumed by work,” a rush of music (his favorite album is Athens, part of Tenaglia’s Global Undergroundseries) helps create the much-needed focus to tackle grueling 14-hour days. But trance-inducing beats aren’t the only conduit to preservice serenity.
Louisiana boy Brian Landry, chef of John Besh’s Borgne in New Orleans, was reared on jazz. Many an adolescent night was whiled away at the Maple Leaf Bar watching the Rebirth Brass Band perform; today he revels in seeing Shamarr Allen take the stage at DBA and Trombone Shorty close out Jazz Fest. During prep, Landry blares Big Easy-style funk and brass—Kermit Ruffins and The Soul Rebels are among his go-tos. “There’s such a wildly eclectic mix of people in the kitchen,but jazz is the universal motivator,” he says. “It leaves everyone moving to the same beat and keeps the energy high.”
Walking into Seattle pop-up-turned-brick-and-mortar Kraken Congee, it’s clear from the stream of Wu-Tang Clan and Grand Puba playing that chefs/owners Garrett Doherty and Shane Robinson are fervent hip-hop fans. Doherty, a one-time club kid from Boston, remembers his sister gifting him A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory when he was 11, which “changed everything—soon I was the only kid in school who knew who Ice Cube was and had an N.W.A. album.” Listening to the likes of Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy, Doherty says, keeps cooks amped and motivated all through lunch and dinner. “Sometimes a bartender will turn on KEXP, the public indie radio station, and play some moody hipster music. It just makes everybody tired,” he points out.
In Massachusetts, Tony Maws, chef/owner of Craigie on Main in Cambridge and The Kirkland Tap & Trotter in Somerville, remembers childhood spent “in the back of the car with the dogs driving up to Vermont and listening to The Band and Joe Cocker.” Those folksy roots inevitably left an imprint on Maws, who is extremely passionate about Wilco, a band that buoyed him through his earliest years cooking. “Whether I’m in my car playing air drums or at home with my son, Wilco is in heavy rotation,” Maws says. Because Wilco has “such a broad personality,” it appeals to his motley staff as well. “Whether they’re rocking out or being mellow, Wilco speaks to a whole spectrum of emotions,” he adds. Something anyone working in a chaotic, adrenaline-fueled kitchen can relate to.