Holiday Music to Cook By

Local chefs crank up these classics (and not-so-classics) for the holiday season.

By Margaret Littman

When Cherry Street Eatery and Sweetery chef and owner Meg Giuffrida heats up the oil for the multi-denominational December latka party she and her husband, musician Paul Burch, throw each year, the soundtrack for her pre-party prep is jazz singer and pianist Blossom Dearie. âItâTMs always New York in the 1950s when IâTMm getting ready for a dinner party,â Giuffrida says.

Of course, itâTMs the ingredients and the time-honored recipes that make a holiday dish taste like our memories dictate. But the music that plays as we roll piecrust and baste turkeys and fry latkas is important for getting into the mood. In âNashville Eatsâ (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, $35) author Jennifer Justus writes, âmusic and food both have a way of bringing us together and telling our stories,â which is why she includes playlists along with the recipes.

We asked local cooks, both home and professional, as well as a few musicians who know their way around a kitchen, which holiday soundtracks are essential to their food prep this time of year. Here are a few of their classics to put into rotation, plus a few suggestions for new downloads.

Nicki Pendleton Wood, author of âSouthern Cooking for Companyâ (Thomas Nelson, $26.99)

âI decided a couple years ago to branch out beyond Vince GuaraldiâTMs â~A Charlie Brown ChristmasâTM and Frank SinatraâTMs Christmas album.â SheâTMs also a big fan of what she calls âa stonkingly good mixâ put out by Janet Timmons (former WRVU and current WXNA DJ) around 2014. Other favorites include Sufjan Stevens Christmas songs and for 2016 she plans to add in the Beach BoysâTM holiday record, plus Christmas music by Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.

Julia Sullivan, chef, Henrietta Red

âAround the holidays, I like to listen to the Emmylou Harris Christmas album,Ââ~Light of the Stable.âTM My mom used to playÂâ~Christmas TimeâTMs a CominâTMâTMÂon repeat and my sister and I loved it. It still gets me in the spirit.â The rest of the year Sullivan leans to power anthems from bands such as Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem and Florence and the Machine. âI need steady background noise. Anything too loud or too busy distracts from the work.âÂ

Deana Carter, Grammy-nominated country powerhouse

Her âFather Christmasâ album was re-released in 2011 (10 years after its original release) and it is an album that has become sweeter to Carter since her dad passed away. So, she cranks that up as she makes her momâTMs special homemade cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce and chocolate chip pie. Also playing are Nat King Cole, Burl Ives, Mariah Carey and big band-style holiday standards.

Brett Corrieri, corporate chef, Embers Ski Lodge

âI always listen to the Ramsey Lewis Trio performing the â~Charlie Brown ChristmasâTM soundtrack. It brings me back to the memories of cooking with my mom at Christmas. We listened to this albumâyes, albumâwhen we made peanut butter fudge to give as presents, and as we decorated the tree. It has the right mix of upbeat tracks mixed with some calmer pieces.â

Jake Veyhl, owner, JakeâTMs Bakes

When alone in the kitchen, Veyhl typically turns to podcasts (or Texas Rangers games). But now that the kitchen is cranking out warm cookies with a crew, thereâTMs upbeat music to âbounce around to. I listen to stuff because itâTMs catchy and keeps me moving aroundânot necessarily because I have songs with deep meanings.â Veyhl says âthe best part about having a bunch of musicians on staff (songwriters Jacky Dustin and Jedidiah Freiheit, among others) is that thereâTMs never a lack ofÂmusicÂin the kitchen.â

Karl Worley, chef and co-owner, Biscuit Love

ItâTMs a James Brown kind of kitchenâsoulful music to match his soulful dishesâat the local favorite Southern brunch spot, no matter the time of year.

Maneet Chauhan, executive chef and owner, Chauhan Ale & Masala House

âWith the kids, I usually listen to Christmas carols when cooking during the holidays. I went to a convent school in India, so I also like to listen to the holiday hymns and carols we would listen to then. We subscribe to Bollywood Radio, so that is always playing in whatever kitchen IâTMm in!â

Bart Pickens, executive chef, Party Fowl

âCooking toÂmusicÂis always about creating a vibe.â A typical Friday night might be a collaboration between Rihanna and Eminem and the âNo More Dramaâ album by Mary J. Blige. But âcooking and baking during the holidays need something different,â Pickens says. âI love toÂcookÂto the holiday sounds from New Orleans...like the Neville Brothers. My other Christmas favorite is LeAnn RimesâTM holiday album.â

LilyÂIsaacs, Dove-award-winning singer

âGrowing up in a Jewish home, we never celebrated Christmas. We had Hanukkah...the Festival of Lights! My parents would sing songs like â~Spin the Dreidel.âTMÂWhen I had children of my own we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. I loved playing the Christmas classics. My favorite artists were Barbra Streisand and Michael Buble. We always playedÂa variety of songs,â says the singer who converted to Christianity in 1971. For Isaacs, who now leads the family group the Isaacs, any favorite is better when sung with all the family. These classics are sung along with their traditional Christmas meal: lasagna and homemade apple pie and the traditional Jewish pastry rugelach.