The music chefs most love to cook to (and Poh's go-to Spotify playlist to make you mambo while you make a sambo)

Known for her very loud laugh, Poh Ling Yeow loves music that encourages that kind of mood.
Known for her very loud laugh, Poh Ling Yeow loves music that encourages that kind of mood. Photo: Supplied

Music and cooking… They go together like Fred and Ginger, a wink and a smile, gin and tonic. Not surprisingly, with some of us having more time to devote to the latter, we've become a little obsessed with the former.

According to the data team at music streaming service Spotify, Australians created 63,000 cooking playlists during September. And those who couldn't be bothered compiling their favourite whisking tunes listened to someone else's foodie mix, with a 42 per cent increase in daily plays over the same amount of time.

Just search "cooking playlist" on Spotify and you'll be served a cornucopia of offerings. Padma Lakshmi's got one, as does Ina Garten, whose Women Who Rock cooking playlist goes from Shania's 'Man! I Feel Like A Woman!' To Patti Smith's 'Because the Night'.

Ask any chef and you'll quickly discover cooking and music are the perfect mix. Tunes play an integral part in most kitchens, powering staff members from first coffee through prep and to service's end.

Scott Lord of New Quarter and team have a playlist called 'Kitchen Swagger' to help them get into the mood before service.

Scott Lord of New Quarter and team have a playlist called 'Kitchen Swagger' to help them get into the mood before service. Photo: Supplied

"We have a couple like playlists here," says head chef Scott Lord of New Quarter in Melbourne. "We've got one called Kitchen Swagger that's got a lot of, like, Leon Bridges and Michael Kiwanuka. It's just a chilled, relaxed way to get into work and start prep. Then at five o'clock we start listening to like some upbeat music to get us in the mood."

Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams' happens to be the most popular track on cooking playlists, according to Spotify.

Ask around and Daft Punk appears on lots of pump-up kitchen mixes. It's a favourite at Chin Chin, although they're not afraid of bigger sounds. "Occasionally we'll pull out on Rage Against the Machine, which is good if you need a bit of energy," says executive chef Benjamin Cooper. "Sometimes it's Queens of the Stone Age."
It's a similar story at Melbourne's Farmer's Daughters. "When it gets closer to the weekend and the atmosphere is building, it might be the Sex Pistols, Jane's Addiction, Pearl Jam, Silverchair," says chef Alejandro Saravia, who starts a kitchen playlist at the beginning of each year and keeps adding to it. "But at home with the kids – they're three and four and love to dance – it could be the Wiggles or some Latin music."

Where the Heart is

It's  not surprising to hear that what happens in the restaurant kitchen and the home one varies considerably. Bodriggy Brewing Co's Johny Dominguez listens to classical music, favouring Vivaldi and Debussy, when he's cooking alone. "Or some salsa," he says. "Because when I'm cooking I'm dancing at the same time, but I do have a cooking playlist that that is a mix of genres and singers and everything I love, including Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams'."

Thanks to a certain skateboarding, cranberry juice-sipping viral TikTok, 'Dreams' also happens to be the most popular track on cooking playlists, according to Spotify. With it in the top five at two Etta James tracks, 'At Last' and 'A Sunday Kind of Love', despite them being recorded six decades ago.

Liber Osario

Liber Osario loves to make ceviche to old-school Peruvian psychedelic cumbia. Photo: Kitti Gould

Memories Are Made of This

Nostalgia reigns supreme in our enjoyment of both food and music. "Our senses play such a role in unlocking memories," says Liber Osorio, from Sydney's Milpa Collective, which includes Taqiza, La Palma and more. "When you re-create the sounds, aromas and flavours of a special time or place, there's a magic that happens that takes you on a journey right back to that moment in time.

"Every time I cook ceviche at home I love to play a vinyl record with old-school Peruvian psychedelic cumbia. When I cook asado, I have to play some boleros."

TV cooking star and owner of Adelaide's Jamface, Poh Ling Yeow, put together a Mambo While U Gumbo playlist for Spotify that's all about familiarity. "I like that it's very non-ageist," she says. "It's OK for when your parents come over but little kids also respond to it because the beats are really simple and old fashioned.

"I love music to be like food, which is all about conviviality. I'm known for my very loud laugh, and I love music that encourages that kind of mood."

It can also be that certain music triggers a memory that sets you down a prep path. "If my wife is putting on some music, she might go for European house, so I'll cook a barbecue," says Hello Auntie's Cuong Nguyen. "And if I put on hip-hop I'll end up making pasta. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I grew up with both."

Time For Tunes

There's no doubt, some chefs who spend long hours at work are making the most of time at home.

"At home, there's no point in being stressed, especially not while you're cooking so it tends to take me a really long time," says Embla's Dave Verheul. "Lately, I've been having a glass of something fairly enjoyable and listening to heaps of reggae, like Chaka Demus & Pliers, Ken Boothe, Desmond Dekker and stuff that's just positive and has great vibes while I cook."

Embla's Dave Verheul has been listening to lots of reggae while cooking at home.

Embla's Dave Verheul has been listening to lots of reggae while cooking at home. Photo: Chris Hopkins

At Fancy Hank's, explains executive chef Mike Patrick, they've got a go-to playlist. "Andee Frost, who's a really good Melbourne DJ, made us a whole hog playlist," he says. "We're sending it out with our at-home barbecue packs at the moment. It's a lot of fun, and goes from southern soul to old American stuff."

At home though, he and his wife take a beatier path. "We're 90s hip-hop tragics, so we go to that a lot and teach our five-year-old girl, Billie. She loves Snoop Dogg and West Coast hip-hop. We'll often make Tex Mex tacos with it, which is pretty fun."

With more time at home, executive chef at St Kilda's The Prince, Dan Cooper, is doing it from scratch with tunes from another era: "At the moment, Italian classics are getting a big spin. On a Sunday afternoon, I'm in the kitchen with a glass of wine, making some pasta and listening to classic Italian songs, like Dean Martin's. It transports me back to another time when we could travel."

Poh's spotify playlist. Good Food use only. 

Poh's put together a Mambo While U Gumbo playlist for Spotify, with familiar bangers to cook along to.  Photo: Supplied

Make Me a Playlist

We asked everyone who they'd like to make them a cooking playlist. Here's what they said.

"Matt Heafey, who's the guitarist and lead singer with Trivium. He's an absolute legend, and massive foodie. When he was in Australia several years back, he came and spent the morning cooking curry with me." – Benjamin Cooper

"My friend and business partner Pablo [Galindo Vergas]. He has such good taste in music. We like similar styles, which is great, but he is a bit more edgy, so he is always bringing new tracks to the playlists we share." – Liber Osorio

"Keith Richards. He goes from reggae to ska to classic rock. He also plays bit of jazz. So I think that would be a very, very diverse playlist." – Alejandro Saravia

"[Canadian] Matty Matheson because he's just really quirky and he's in the food scene as well." – Cuong Nyugen

"Maybe this is because I've been watching a bit of No Reservations again lately, but Anthony Bourdain. He always has an open mindedness, and because of the way he approaches food and the world in general, I imagine his taste in music would be very similar. I'm sure it would be a pretty mixed playlist and that it would be something everybody could listen to." – Dan Cooper

"Probably Richard Fidler who hosts Conversations on ABC Radio. I don't know what his playlist would be like, but goddamn it'd be interesting to have for dinner. He wrote this incredible book [Ghost Empire] on the history of Constantinople." – Dave Verheul

"Picasso. I love his work and his brain. It'd be really, really interesting." – Poh Ling Yiew