Singing Chef Jackie Gordon (you may know her as “The Diva That Ate New York”) found the time to answer a few questions for our March interview. A prolific singer/songwriter, event producer, and seasoned “eatertainment” pro, Chef Gordon is a food adventurer in every sense. It was an honor to chat with the award-winning artist about her cabaret-style stage shows on themes that range from fried chicken to chocolate pairing, as well as hearing her thoughts on culinary tradition versus culinary innovation, the healing quality of food, and the most important questions she asks herself when starting a new project.
Flavorful World: Combining singing and cabaret-style performances with cooking is a unique niche. How did you get started as “The Singing Chef”? What was your process for taking the concept from idea to implementation?
Jackie Gordon: I made up the idea of being a singing chef when I was living in Australia in 1999. I created a sold out show, “Black Pearls and Strange Fruit, the history of black American women singers and their struggle for racial dignity”, that beat out 500 other shows and won Best Show in the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 1998. My prize was being put into the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts the following year alongside some of the top performers in the world — amazing. I needed to do something in between shows, so I decided to become a singing chef and reinvent the dinner show.
I created an “eatertainment” show where the dinner was the center of the show called “The Fried Chicken Theory According to Jackie Gordon; an evening of soul food and soul music”. At its most glorious, it was in the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. I served up a three-course soul food feast to the tune of a twenty-two voice gospel choir, a jazz band and me with an eight-piece soul band performing vintage soul music from the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s. Get a quick taste of what I do on my sizzle reel.
My process is to start any project with two questions. One is “What do I want people to experience?” as in, how do I want them to feel when they taste a dish, or see a show, or hear me speak, and the other is “How can I delight them?” With the eatertainment shows, it’s the combination of feeding them delicious food, singing touching or humorous tunes, and making them laugh that does the trick.
Once I have the idea for the show, I figure out how we’re going to fund it. The money gets handled through sponsorship or crowdfunding, and then I put the show together. There’s always a lot of details, and I’ve worked with big and small teams depending on the size. Once the show is completed and tweaked, it’s much easier to reshape it for festivals and private events.
Watch My Reel: https://youtu.be/kV78SE7KiDE
FW: You’ve written about the significance of “old food” as it relates to food as tradition. Tell us your thoughts on tradition versus innovation: how important is it for food to continue moving forward? How have your recipes managed to observe tradition, yet still put your unique touch on the dishes you create?
JG: I think tradition is important because we learn cooking technique and food ways from family, friends, and people who know and love food. They are passed down from our ancestors. Passing down food ways is essential for preserving food history, customs, and recipes. You get your bones in tradition and training when you learn classic cooking techniques.
Once you know the basics, it’s fun to play with tradition and make up new dishes or spins on old favorites. I love to play with food and make my own versions of classics like my Deviled Egg Egg. It’s a large-scale version of the smaller traditional egg. I plate my traditional Chopped Liver, but garnish it with lots of chicken cracklings (a.k.a. gribenes), hardboiled egg, and dill on top, which is not traditional garnish at all. I make a very traditional Salmon Gravlax, but I add beets to the cure which gives it a brilliant color. I love a classic shrimp cocktail, but make it into a Shrimp Tree.
FW: On your blog, you speak of food’s ability to heal and strengthen us during trying times. Do you find that healing quality to lie more in the cooking/preparation or in the eating? Share an example of an instance in which a recipe of yours has helped to get you or someone close to you through a stressful time, and how the food helped.
JG: Food certainly has healing properties since we can eat foods that ease and help cure ailments. Ginger is a great example of a food that has healing properties. I just used it to make a fresh ginger tea to help soothe a gluttony-induced stomach ache. I think that cooking can go either way. It’s a great stress reducer for some and a stress creator for others. LOL! I find it very relaxing.
I had friends who were practically held hostage in Siberia for three months when they adopted a Kazakh baby. When they finally got back to NYC with the child, I threw them an over-the-top tea party baby shower with lots of good friends and made all sorts of incredible food to let them know they were loved and safe. That was large-scale food healing.
I often cook “special request” food for friends when I’m having them over. I think that cooking specific dishes that bear in mind food considerations and food allergies brings delight and relieves stress that they often experience when dining out. I recently created a completely sugar-free dessert (no sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners) for a dinner party because I was on the Whole 30 food plan for 30 days. I would have found the experience to be much more trying if I wasn’t able to eat with friends for 30 days.
FW: Your company Divalicious Chocolate Events holds music-themed chocolate tastings that match each chocolate to a particular song. Please tell us about your most recent such event, and your process for determining what song best suits each chocolate.
JG: I created and successfully crowdfunded a show called “Chocabaret: a tasting of NY artisan chocolates matched to songs with Singing Chef Jackie Gordon“ on Kickstarter.
The audience tasted assorted chocolate bon-bons and bars made by New York’s finest chocolate makers (including me!) and I pair each chocolate with a song. They learned how to taste chocolate like a professional, the history of chocolate, and how chocolate goes from bean to bar.
I match the songs to characteristics of the chocolate or to something in the story of the chocolate or the chocolate maker. For example, I paired the song “Black Coffee” with the espresso bon-bon from Bond St. Chocolate. Another example was pairing an Elvis-inspired gold skull peanut butter and banana bon-bon with the tune “Viva Las Vegas”.
FW: “How to Make Your Own Profiterole Bar” and “How to Organize A Food Crawl” are two of several “how-to” entries on your site. Tell us about what new instructional posts you’re currently working on.
I love telling people what to do! LOL! I like being helpful and write instructional posts as they come to me. I love that they are evergreen content. “How To Host A BBQ In Brooklyn Bridge Park“ is set for a dusting off as the weather becomes warmer. I recently wrote “How to Make a Shrimp Tree” for She Knows.com. I’m working on How to Survive the Whole 30 food plan post.
FW: Your website’s “About” page mentions that you’re a “Nudie Foodie.” Tell us what this means, and what first inspired you to be one.
JG: The Nudie Foodies was a book that several food bloggers contributes a nude photo and a recipe to that raised money for Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
FW: Of all the shows you’ve created and performed, which one(s) stand out the most in your memory, and why?
JG: They all stand out in my memories. My favorite would have to be “The Fried Chicken Theory According to Jackie Gordon: an evening of sultry soul food and sweet soul music.” because I’ve done several incarnations of the show and it’s the biggest and most fun to perform.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
JG: “No Singing At the Dinner Table” (I’m actually working on this).
FW: When you aren’t cooking/eating delicious things, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
JG: I don’t understand the question. (LOL!)
*Note to readers: Catch Chef Gordon’s ever-expanding repertiore of songs, culinary demonstrations, and other projects that speak volumes to her love of cooking and eating at JackieGordon.com. You can keep up-to-date on everything she’s doing by liking her on Facebook and Instagram, and following her on Twitter as well as Google+ and YouTube. Her website and recipes are definitely worth singing about.