Kelis Talks To The New York Times About Graduating From Culinary School, Recipes, And Her Cookbook

How did you get involved in cooking?
Growing up, my mom had a catering business. I used to help her pretty early on and loved doing it. My mom is an amazing cook, and she helped me cultivate a love for food. She taught me that food can be beautiful. We eat not just for survival, but we survive to eat. It’s part of who I am.
Your mother is of Puerto Rican and Chinese descent. What kind of food does she make?
She has vast knowledge of cooking techniques from around the world, even though she is a born New Yorker. As kids, my three sisters and I had very developed palates and ate all kinds of things. She is still a way better chef than I am, and when I’m testing recipes I’ll call her. She trained for a while, but didn’t finish.
But you studied at Le Cordon Bleu, right? What was that like?
My time in culinary school was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I loved the intensity and competition of cooking. It’s a French culinary school, but you learn everything.
What was your focus?
I focused on being a saucier. Anything with a sauce involved, I flourished. I learned the basic French sauces like a beurre blanc or a bordelaise — really basic, classic French red and white sauces, but I would go off on my own.
How do you embellish sauces?
I spent a lot of time out of the country looking for new things to eat. I spent a summer in Malaysia and Bali and that region. I was in Penang, where everything is savory and sweet. I’d make beef and shrimp sauces infused with litchi. I started doing my own thing.
Who would you learn from in these places?
I would try to find a chef to study under. But it’s also about eating and figuring it out myself. As a chef, if I can taste something I can basically figure out what’s in it. I have my own take on green coconut curry and a ginger-sesame marinade.
Do you see a connection between your approach to cooking and your approach to making music?
I think the first thing is that they are lifestyles. Everything I do has a certain quality, a certain flair, a certain flavor. I like to eat the way I like to dress, the way I listen to music: put it all together and it’s a great party.
How did cooking school influence you?
There’s an excitement in cooking. I graduated cooking school with honors, one of the best in my class. I came home from school feeling very competitive. I didn’t realize it, but I’m competitive. With music I don’t really compete, but with food I can actually be better than someone. I’ve been doing music since I was a teenager and being an artist is 24/7, and it’s easy get caught up in it. But with cooking it was really amazing to be passionate about something else besides music. I don’t have to make music, I can do something else.
What is the key to making sauces?
The key to sauces is having patience. I’m not a patient woman, but I learned with sauces that you have to get everything on a slow roll and layer the flavors. That’s where you get robust tastes: it starts one way and ends another.
I understand you have a cookbook coming out.
It’s in the works. I’m still writing and trying to get it all done. I still wake up with recipes in my head and thinking, What if I add guava paste. …


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