Kelis Brings Us to the Yard and Dishes on Her New Cookbook
Twelve years after getting us to shake our asses to her musical ode to that infamous milky beverage, Kelis is back and taking us to the kitchen. The New York native has been slaying the music industry for over sixteen years with six albums to her credit, but has somehow found time to become a classically trained chef through Le Cordon Bleu. Her foodie influence cropped up in 2003’s hit single Milkshake but has transformed into a major focus musically with the release of last year’s album, Food. Not content to just release a record named after one of her passions, Kelis has gathered recipes and created a cookbook called My Life on a Plate to serve as a savory companion to the album. Ahead of the books’s release, Milk‘s Chris Thomas sat down for a chat with the singer to talk food, motherhood, bringing the boys to the yard, and working with Bjork.
You took a break from music to become a classically trained chef. What led you to this switch?
I think that I was just at a point in my life where I was ready to do something else. I woke up one morning and it had been ten years of doing music and I realized I hadn’t really done anything else. I had so many plans. It was time for a change.
Absolutely. You’ve always been around food and cooking. I’m wondering what your favorite childhood food was and what it would be now—if it’s changed at all.
I don’t know that much has changed, to be honest. My mom used to cook and she was amazing. She made a lot of Latin and Asian food and those are still my favorite things now. My favorite foods are always from cultures where the people are loud because that means the food has a lot of heart and flavor.
Have you collected recipes from across the world that are based around experiences you’ve had or is it more organic?
I wasn’t so much collecting recipes. I’ve been to so many places and I’ve been able to travel so much based on the nature of my business that I fell in love with certain things. I was in Penang and then I’m home and I don’t know when I’ll be in Penang again and I really want that. [Laughs] How do I make that happen here?
What has been your most memorable experience with a certain kind of food as you’ve traveled the world?
There are so many different things. I’ve lived in Spain and Rome and spent a lot of time in Asia. I have a dear friend who has a house in Saly. I went out there and spent a few months. You know, there’s all kinds of different moments I can think of in my life where food was integral. I was there and just could not forget this time. Living in Spain, the Jamón ibérico was one of the best things I’ve ever had and I crave it daily. In Rome there were all these different dishes and sauces. These moments are now part of who I am.
“Music is subjective–You can pretend. Food is not something you can pretend with–it isn’t something you can fake.”
So you recently killed it at Afropunk Festival. That festival is different from others because it’s such a welcoming space for black creativity. What drew you to Afropunk?
You know what, I don’t want to sound arrogant but I love it and I feel like it’s about time. It’s one of those things that I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s great to now have a platform that’s joining me in it. All of these artists have been doing it on their own, you know what I mean? It’s awesome when someone recognizes that and has made a forum for us to all come together. It’s amazing because it’s one thing to be standing on your own doing it versus being able to go to some place like Afropunk. This is what I do anyway but I’m just blessed to be able to do it here with these guys. It’s a great feeling.
Did you catch any of the other acts? Grace Jones perhaps?
I’ve actually seen Grace Jones three times before and she’s always a good time. Again, these are people who are peers of mine and people I’ve admired for a long time. And it was actually on my birthday which was fun.
Happy Birthday! Throughout your career you’ve collaborated with so many different artists. What was it like working with Bjork? She’s such an enigma and that was one of the most odd collaborations you’ve done.
She’s great and it was one of the more natural collaborations I’ve done. I’m trying to remember how that came about since it was so long ago. I remember there were curtains between each of our rooms somewhere and it was literally Bjork, Grace Jones, and me. The three of us joined up and I think Peaches was performing somewhere and I just yelled out, “I love Peaches!” So after that we saw each other out somewhere one night and then another night. A few days later I got a call about doing a song together from Bjork. She’s a forward thinker and I respect that. I think it was a very easy partnership.
In your music there are a lot of underlying sexual themes. With the mixing of sex and food, is there any food that ties into sexual expressiveness for you?
Food is extremely sensual. I think that food is really honest and you’re the most honest you can be when you cook. I feel like it’s different than music. Music is subjective and you can put on something with music. You can pretend. Food is not something you can pretend with—it isn’t something you can fake. I think that’s what makes it really sensual and sexy. There’s a sense of sharing with food. You want to bring people into it and have an experience together.
This is making me hungry. [Laughs] Now, I’ve tried out a lot of different recipes and I can’t get the boys to come to the yard. What is the secret ingredient I’m missing?
[Laughs] It’s never a milkshake for me. It’s always been something else I make. Men definitely respond to good food.
I guess I should learn how to cook better because my milkshakes aren’t workin.
Yeah I mean I guess you’ve gotta try something else. [Laughs]
I think it’s safe to say food is a very connecting influence on you. In terms of accessibility, are there many vegan or vegetarian options?
Well you know what, most of the recipes… I have a sauce line called Feast and all of my sauces—with one exception—are vegan and most of my recipes are vegetarian or can be if you take out the meat.
Is cooking a bonding experience for you and your son or is he uninterested?
He loves to cook! He knows that that’s my happy time so he’ll be upstairs crying and if he hears me in the kitchen he’ll come downstairs. He’s like, “Hey mama what’re you cooking?” He knows I’m in there and having a good time and that’s the time to come and join me. It’s not so much me telling him to come join me, you know? If he comes in and asks to help I’m like, “Absolutely. Let’s do something.”
Get a copy of Kelis’ new cookbook right here
Photos by David Lotus