Last month Harlem-born singer Kelis (née Rogers) brought her food truck with her to the SXSW Festival in Austin, a city known for its street food. Who doesn’t love a food truck? Surprised patrons were greeted by Kelis, who handed out homemade treats like duck confit sliders with sesame ginger glaze, jerk ribs with jerk BBQ sauce and cole slaw.
And it’s no coincidence, either. A graduate of the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, over the past several years singer/saucier Kelis has made waves in culinary circles, releasing a line of sauces, hosting Saucy & Sweet with Kelis on the Cooking Channel, and now infusing her passion for food with her passion for music.
Food, Kelis’ sixth studio record, out April 22 on Ninja Tune, brings these two sides of her personality together through music. Looking back to tracks like the insatiable, absolutely booty-pop-tastic “Milkshake” from her 2003 album Tasty, and new ones like “Breakfast,” a scorching opener that perfectly sets the backdrop for her’ soulful, raspy vocals, it seems like this soulful singer has come full circle. Produced by Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio and recorded at his house in L.A., Food is fun and upbeat but personal, too.
We caught up with Kelis and talked about her new album, the right way to make ribs and being “bossy.”
So your hair is always flawless by the way. I have waited so long to say that to you.
Thank you! I agree. [laughs]. I’m glad you agree with me.
Hair is fun, hair is a woman’s greatest accessory. I always play with it and have a good time.
Your sixth studio album Food drops on April 22, then starting May 8 you’re off to Europe for a string of gigs. How do you feel about hitting the road again with a new record in hand?
I’m excited about the tour [but] I have done nothing to prepare yet! [laughs] It’s one of those things where I’ve been doing this for a really long time so you kind of just get back into the flow.
You worked with Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio on Food. I’ve been listening to the record for a while now and it is a lot of fun. “Cobbler,” for instance, begins with a group of friends laughing and in a lot of ways Food feels like a deeply personal record. What was it like recording it?
Oh good! Recording an album is always a good time. It’s can be really therapeutic. It’s also interesting when you’re an artist and you’re recording because you have these “Ahah!” moments where everything is right with the world. That always feels great and extremely reassuring. It was a great time. Dave Sitek [TV On The Radio] and I became really good friends in the process. We had a great time writing and working and learning about each other. Hopefully people will come away from my album feeling full and nourished and ready to take on the next thing.
I heard that there are potentially two records in the pipeline.
Well, we recorded so much music that we could probably have a whole gang of records. I love Dave, I could work with Dave forever. I don’t doubt that we’ll get back in and do some more work.
You went to the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, released line of sauces, and have a show Saucy & Sweet with Kelis on the Cooking Channel. What made you decide to pursue the culinary arts?
You know it was always something that I said I wanted to do. I didn’t ever know that I’d really genuinely be able to. I always wanted to go. I thought, “One day, when I’m retired, I’ll go.” But when the opportunity presented itself I was like, “You know what? I’m going.” What better time than now, you know?
I love walking past cooking classes in New York City because you can kind of peek in and it always looks like so much fun. What’s the first thing they teach you?
Knife skills. You learn all your cuts and stuff and you learn of the French culinary lingo because they train you to be in a professional kitchen.
“Jerk Ribs” — a gyrating, soul-colored throwback — was your first musical collaboration with Dave Sitek, and as it turns out you actually have a signature recipe for Jerk Ribs, which I’m planning to make this weekend! Any side tips you want to throw in for those of us who want to give it a try?
Oh good! I would say don’t be shy. I’m not a modest person so I don’t cook modestly. When you make your ribs you season them and cover them completely when you bake them so that they kind of steam. They’ll steam, and then they’ll be really, really, really tender. You almost can’t overcook these. And the other thing is, too, don’t be afraid of heat. I don’t know what kind of oven you have, but whenever I bake them I bake them at 400, 410 give or take.
JERK RIBS RECIPE, COURTESY OF KELIS
That seems straightforward enough.
So you cover them without the sauce, and then probably 15-20 minutes before you take them out, then add your sauce. The sauce will cook down more, and then all that flavor comes out and it’s great.
“Bossy” (2006) was an anthem for female empowerment and lately there’s been a lot of people who want to ban the term “bossy” because they think it makes young girls afraid to lead.
I think people should probably spend their time doing something more useful. And quite frankly, I am bossy. And I’ve been called a whole lot worse. So if you want to ban a few words, I’ve got a list that’s a whole lot worse than “bossy” [laughs].
Finally — I have to ask — do you have a favorite milkshake!
[laughs] I don’t have a favorite milkshake and I don’t get milkshakes that often! However, I did order a milkshake the other day, ironically. It was Cookies and Cream. Pretty damn delicious, I have to say.