Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] I’m Mindy Peterson, and this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. I am excited that today I get to talk about two subjects that I love, music and food. My guest today is Chef Arlene Coco. Arlene is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and has over 30 years of experience as a professional chef and caterer. Arlene is an accomplished cookbook author who promotes her message of creative flexitarian cooking through television appearances, food writing, recipe development and cooking classes. Welcome to enhance life with music, Arlene.
Arlene Coco: [00:00:40] Well, thank you. Thank you for having me.
Mindy Peterson: [00:00:43] Arlene, when I was preparing for this conversation, it occurred to me that it’s divisive as our culture seems right now. Music and food are two things that everyone loves and or two things that consistently bring people together. What are your thoughts on this as someone who’s been a professional chef and caterer and cooking teacher for decades?
Arlene Coco: [00:01:05] Well, I think they both bring pleasure. They give people a chance to share their creativity. We crave connection and soul. Food and music are two things that most people can always find something to talk about and they can always find a subject. You know, they always have a favorite dish. A question I like to ask folks that I just meet is what’s your favorite dish to cook? And everybody has one dish that they do well, regardless of how much they cook. So that’s always a great starting point. And then kind of music when you listen to any good music lately. And because I’m always curious about what people are listening to and what they’re eating. So music and food play a big role in my life, too.
Mindy Peterson: [00:01:57] Those are actually really good conversation starters, whether you’re involved in music and food or not. I like that. Well, as all of us know, 20-20, it was full of restrictions because of COVID 19. And as those restrictions eased yet this year in 2021 and moving forward, some people have predicted a 21st century version of the roaring 20s, where we see this release of pent up demand for things that had been off limits, like dinner parties. Tell us what your perspective is on this. Do you have any predictions and what may be happening in the near future with entertaining and dinner party activity?
Arlene Coco: [00:02:34] Well, yes, I do have I have comments on it for sure. You know, I consider myself an ambassador of entertaining. I love to entertain. And during the pandemic, it was really difficult for me not to have people over. But I you know, we crave connection, basically. And that was the thing that we noticed in the pandemic, that we didn’t have access to our friends. We crave connection and we all have a circle of friends. And during the pandemic, I think we kept that bubble of friends. But there’s a whole country of friends that we see once a month at a dinner meeting or, you know, part of the garden club or something that always got together. And there was typically food involved that we miss. So that casual connection.
Mindy Peterson: [00:03:23] Boy, yeah, you’re right. That reminds me of some articles that I saw about kind of the water cooler people in our lives that we see just in the halls, at school or at work. They’re not necessarily that inner circle part of your life, but they really enrich your life and you don’t really realize how much they enrich your life until they’re not there. And you don’t have that anymore,
Arlene Coco: [00:03:44] Because those were pretty common, you know, potlucks, for instance. I take that as an example. My prediction is I think we’re going to maybe see for a while less potlucks because of Covid with restrictions. Now, people are kind of not sure about other people preparing the food. So I think what we’ll see is more of the hosts being a little bit more educated, maybe by taking some classes or doing online research to learn how to cook flexitarian and make dishes that both plant based and meat eaters can eat. And so they have more control over the flow of the food and makes people feel more comfortable when they come to eat. That’s kind of what I’m seeing. OK.
Mindy Peterson: [00:04:36] Well, as someone who has been a professional chef and caterer and cooking teacher for decades, what are your observations about how music affects dinner parties for everyone involved, the guests during the event and the hosts before, during and after, starting with food prep to the after dinner cleanup? How important of a role do you see music playing in terms of the energy of an event, the mood? And just that overall level of enjoyment.
Arlene Coco: [00:05:03] Well, I definitely feel like music can add to the festive vibe of a party, especially if you’re known for it. You know, my music starts before the party. It starts with the prep because I usually put on some typical kind of fast beat music just to keep me in time, keep me moving with my prep. And it’s usually a lot of chopping. And so it’s not like a lot of concentration. So I can listen to a song and say, oh, I remember when I was when that song. So it kind of gets me in the game of just relaxing. Right. While I’m doing my preparation, because I when I do dinner parties, I do all my prep like in the morning or the early afternoon of the event and some things I do the day before if I can. So then, you know, when your guests come, you want to have some inviting music to kind of give them a little idea of what’s to come. You don’t want to, like, scare them when they come with really loud blaring music, but you want to have some funky beat kind of music. And especially, you know, my friends come and go, whoa, what’s Harlene up to tonight? I wonder what we’re going to be. Man, I’ve been a brace myself. And so I like this at this time. I like to introduce new music, new people, you know, new artist. I like I love international music from faraway lands. I spend a lot of time in Australia and I’ve traveled Southeast Asia and all parts, lots parts of Europe. So I have a good background of exposure for lots of different international music. So if I’ve been traveling somewhere, I come back and I bring the music from that country and we just do a whole theme of that sometimes.
Mindy Peterson: [00:06:52] So the food and the music. Yes. Sort of that international theme geared toward a certain country. Right.
Arlene Coco: [00:06:58] Yeah. That’s really fun to match, to match the music with the with the food, basically.
Mindy Peterson: [00:07:06] Yeah. Is that where your strategy starts in terms of selecting the music in the playlist for a dinner party? Does it start with what’s my theme or is there any other part of your strategy that goes into that process?
Arlene Coco: [00:07:19] That’s a good question. I think if it’s a particular theme, I love theme dinners and I do quite a bit of them. Like I just recently did a dinner party and Mediterranean’s in a party, and I featured the Putumayo music from the Wine Lands CENI, which was a compilation of all different musics from different areas, that there are wine regions. And we had wine usually, you know, and we could talk about the music and and that that’s kind of fun. So that would drive the theme. But typically, yes, in a short answer is I do keep in mind the music that I want to play with the food that I serve.
Mindy Peterson: [00:08:04] Ok. So when you plan a dinner party, your process may start with, OK, what kind of food is being served? Is there any kind of a theme? I’m guessing with your flexitarian style cooking, it’s also a matter of what season is it? Is this summertime? Is that winter maybe? Who’s going to be at the party? What are some of the other factors that you consider when you’re putting together that playlist?
Arlene Coco: [00:08:31] Well, you’re definitely right. I do cook with the seasons as a flexitarian chef. And right now, it’s all about the produce and it’s all about the ingredients that come into season in the summer and what I can get locally. So with that, I usually just take my favorites and play those with my playlist. I mean, because I have my standards of the kind of music I like to play. But in the winter, you know, and when entertaining season comes and we call that gumbo season in Louisiana, then I cook a lot. I’ve just realized this about myself recently, that I cook a lot of Cajun food in the winter, in the summer. I don’t cook so much of Cajun food, but I guess because the dishes are one politician’s their stews, their long simmer.
Mindy Peterson: [00:09:22] Yeah, well, that sounds like it would be perfect for the cool to other, which is sort of ironic since Louisiana is not cold. And I should point out that you’re a native of Louisiana. You now call home the upper peninsula of Michigan, which was fun for me to hear since I am from Michigan and we my family drives through the yuppy every year when we go back and visit family who live in the Traverse City area. So that was kind of fun to hear. So when it’s winter in the upper, yeah, it’s definitely nice to have those warm, nourishing soups and stews. And I could see why that Cajun food would really be perfect for that. Season.
Arlene Coco: [00:10:00] And so with those parties, I for sure start out with Cajun music and play that for in the cocktail hour. You know, the pre dinner and then for dinner. I always just like to slow things down and get people to relax, because if you have a loud and jumpy music, I think people eat faster.
Mindy Peterson: [00:10:22] Sure.
Arlene Coco: [00:10:23] And I like for my dinner guests just relax and enjoy the meal. So I pick music that it’s just kind of more on the instrumental side. I have a favorite now called the genre of exotica music. I don’t know if you’re
Mindy Peterson: [00:10:40] Familiar with that. No. Tell us about
Arlene Coco: [00:10:43] That, Exotica. A friend of mine turned me on to. It is kind of Martin Denny is the artist who kind of made it famous. And it’s almost Hawaiian music, but it’s a lot of instrumental, a lot of birds in the background, a lot of tropical. And it was very popular in the 50s, the late 50s, when Hawaii became a state. And so, you know, that was the golden age in my mind. Have dinner parties. There were very formal back then. People dressed up. They had a bartender. You know, the children made them and parents. And I laughed and it was very, very formal. So this was kind of more of a formal music for that. And it’s it’s really nice music because people observe, wow, what’s that music? Thank you. Notice it because it’s so different.
Mindy Peterson: [00:11:32] Sure. Well, you grew up in Louisiana. You were surrounded by music. Tell us a little bit about the musical environment you grew up and how it influenced you as a chef.
Arlene Coco: [00:11:42] Well, Mardi Gras, of course, was a big time for music. And you start going to Mardi Gras when you’re in your mama’s belly. So you hear it all your life. And of course, the marching bands are always really, really spectacular because it’s all and there’s so many of them, because every high school has a marching band or college in the area and they all make the circuit so that you start off by hearing that. And then in the home, we play Dixieland jazz, you know, the all style jazz. Pete Fountain, Al Heard, Louis Armstrong, those greats that started down on Basin Street. And that is what I was hearing growing up in the home. And, of course, Cajun music. My parents spoke French at home. So we had French music, Cajun music as well that we listened to. And then when I got older and moved to New Orleans from Baton Rouge, then I got dumped into the rhythm and blues, the funk music, the famous New Orleans music. I was friends with some musicians, so it was a big part of our life there to listen to live music because it was so abundant. I mean, everybody every bar and almost every restaurant had some sort of music component to their dining experience.
Mindy Peterson: [00:13:09] I visited New Orleans with my sister a couple of years ago and just loved it. And, you know, as a music lover, you can’t help. I love visiting because of the live music that is everywhere. Kind of like a musician going to Nashville. I mean, completely different cities. But music is just in the blood of those cities. And they each have their own really unique personalities. But that’s one thing I remember about New Orleans is like, wow, this city has so much personality and the music is a huge part of it. I am a huge Aaron Neville fan, and you’ve probably heard tons of Aaron Neville music. Another Neville Brothers play quite a bit from your Aaron.
Arlene Coco: [00:13:50] Yes, I was in that. And I was in New Orleans during that era of the Neville Brothers playing at Tipitina’s, which was the big roadhouse down in New Orleans. And oh, yes, it was fantastic. That was there how they started as a house band there, and they drew crowds for many years.
Mindy Peterson: [00:14:09] Well, if I had to pick one musician that I could have their music with me on a desert island, he would definitely be at the top of my list. Oh, I think one reason I mean, he has incredible voice, of course, but on top of that, and he covers so many different genres that you would never get bored. I mean, he does everything from gospel, reggae, rap, blues, soul, pop, you know, like the classics, jazz, you know, I mean, he pretty much covers that all. And so,
Arlene Coco: [00:14:39] Yeah, he’s from a very, very talented family. They’re great musicians. You know, Harry Connick Jr. Jr. is another New Orleans native. That has a broad range, too, I think.
Mindy Peterson: [00:14:49] Yes. Well, you mentioned in some of our conversation something about fish head music, which I’ve never heard that term. Can you tell us what a fish.
Arlene Coco: [00:14:59] Each had music, well, that’s the radiators that that’s their style of music, it’s kind of funky, it’s got, you know, good down Meint. And it’s just it’s very localized in New Orleans and it’s just really good dance music or paani music. And you play it loud and it’s just got a life of its own, I suppose. But we coined it fish head music back then, and I’m not sure if they still use it, but the right ears were a good example of that. Oh, OK.
Mindy Peterson: [00:15:31] And do you know where the Farshad music term came from? Is it related to some of the cooking and using fish head for broth or gumbo or something?
Arlene Coco: [00:15:41] Oh, no, I don’t think it was related to that. But I think somehow fish had music. I guess people eat a lot of fish and Louisiana. And I think maybe that might be the connection. Oh, OK. Oh, we do. We’re a seafood loving country down there. Yeah. So abundant.
Mindy Peterson: [00:16:08] Right. OK, well, let’s talk some more about the strategy that you use for selecting music for these different stages of hosting a party. You talked a little bit about pop music and how you pick that. You talked a little bit about the cocktail music. And then for the actual dinner part of the perdi, the music gets a little more relaxed. So people are just feeling relaxed, not rushing with their eating. Anything else that you want to talk about with either Propp or cocktail or country music before we talk about what comes after dinner?
Arlene Coco: [00:16:43] Well, I think, you know, just to keep it relaxing during entrees, just people will linger longer if the conversation is good and the music is good and the music’s not overpowering. I mean, I like soft jazz, new age jazz. I like new age music as well. You know, George Winston, those types of of genres of music just really kind of soft to complement the event. And I find tune when I do, you know, like Spotify song lists that if you don’t have a lot of music queued up for dinner, you need to have your phone handy to keep going, because what will happen is they’ll play music that matches what you previously played. So it’s good to have 15 or so songs if you want to get it through the entire dinner hour.
Mindy Peterson: [00:17:40] Well, that brings up a good point. I was going to ask you, how do you change out all these different playlists? I mean, is this a manual thing or do you just sort of guess how long cocktail music should play and have it programmed accordingly? And then if the party’s over, music starts playing, people are like, oh, I guess everything’s ready to get rid of.
Arlene Coco: [00:18:01] Now, I tend to do all of my playlist separately. That way I can just change it right when I need to. Very easily. Like I have a playlist for dinner music. I have a playlist for after dinner music. And, you know, I just do a miles separate because in that way, you’re right, they don’t run into each other. And seeing what will happen is if you play that dinner party, pay less and you’re playing INEOS, one of the songs for when your music stops. You know, another in your song Will Come On or a similar song. So that’s OK. You know, if you don’t have enough, but it’s nice if you want to have specific tunes and to put them all in earlier. But doing it separately, I think it’s probably best because you’re right, you will go into a different vibe. You may not be ready.
Mindy Peterson: [00:18:51] Yeah. OK. So you’ll have different playlists either on Spotify or something else, and you’ll just manually be like, OK, people are going to show up soon. So I’m going to get that cocktail music playlist going. We’re switching from prep to cocktail music. And then once you’re kind of ready to get that main entree started, you’ll manually switch to a dinner music playlist.
Arlene Coco: [00:19:13] Yeah, I do. And, you know, sometimes I do. I go old school because we have a ton of CDs. I mean, we’re from the CD generation. Yeah. And I have five CD players around my house in different areas. OK. So if we’re out on the porch and we’re having cocktails there, if I want to, I may put on a scene and put like my husband or somebody in charge of, OK, here’s the music we want to play, just switch it out kind of thing. And then when we moved to a different area, then I have another CD player and I have the music there. So it just really kind of depends. But I’m I’m pretty mobile with my music, even with my kids and my, you know, my Bluetooth.
Mindy Peterson: [00:19:58] Oh, OK. Well, once the main entry is over, any playlist that you switch to after that for like after dinner, music, dessert, music. Time to go. The music,
Arlene Coco: [00:20:11] Of course, I do all of those. Typically my parnis, it depends when I have friends over for an entire weekend, they’re usually friends from out of town, and I don’t see them very often. And we stay up late. We just do, because we’re out in the on the beach at the beach house, and we don’t have to get up early. So we stay. And we love to stay up late and dance when the children were all little. We dance like crazy because the kids love to dance and we play the music really loud because we never disturbed anybody because there was nobody around.
Mindy Peterson: [00:20:45] Yeah. And I and hey, you are on the up and you’re right on Lake Superior. Yes. Oh, my goodness. What a gorgeous setting for parties. My husband and I are honeymoons in the Purkey Mountains. Oh, yes, you’re here. So I definitely have a very special place in my heart for.
Arlene Coco: [00:21:01] Oh, wonderful. So, yeah, we have dance music and that I mean, we let people pick out music like we’ll let people different people pick out songs and we do the same if we play darts where big dart players inside, you know, we do a lot of these inside things in the winter. Sure. So we have a vinyl collection to a large vinyl collection, and that’s downstairs in our game room. And so the teenagers love the vinyl collection because ours is from the 70s and 80s. And so they just pick stuff out. And so you get to pick out
Mindy Peterson: [00:21:35] With teenagers now again.
Arlene Coco: [00:21:37] Yes.
Mindy Peterson: [00:21:38] Yeah. Not just teenagers, but I have a teenage daughter who’s just barely stolen her teens. And I know she and her friends love that. I have a son who’s 16. He has friends who are into vinyl.
Arlene Coco: [00:21:49] Yeah. So it’s come back around again. And of course, we kept it. So we do that. And if we’re playing cards, we switch it around. A lot of our friends, if they come for the week and they bring their own music and they say, we want to play this, I’m this is my prep music and this is my dinner music when it’s my turn to cook. Oh, interesting. It’s really fun because you you hear music had never heard that.
Mindy Peterson: [00:22:12] Yeah. Yes, absolutely. Well, that’s that’s something I noticed as a parent, too, or my daughter. You know, she’s now in college, but when she was in her teens in high school, she would play music when we were like cleaning the house together once a week. We’d have to clean, you know, would clean. Yeah. Heather, yeah. I should get to pick the music. And there are certain songs that I’m like, oh, who’s this? I like the song. Right. Yeah. So I like that idea. Yeah.
Arlene Coco: [00:22:38] But typically when we have, you know, just like dinner guests and they go home, then we kick in our clean up music. OK, which is similar to your house cleaning, is it?
Mindy Peterson: [00:22:49] Ok, tell us about your clean up style.
Arlene Coco: [00:22:53] Well, that’s like Louis Prima and just some really funky fun things for a while. And then if you have gas that you you know, it’s time to sing for everybody. Go home. Usually play like happy trails, OK? Or you may play it when they’re leaving, you know, just as a send off, because I find what happens with dinner parties. One person, oh, we got to go everybody else out. We better go to it’s like a flock of birds leaving.
Mindy Peterson: [00:23:21] You are always researching something new and exciting in the world of food and cooking. What’s your most recent new and exciting project or area of research?
Arlene Coco: [00:23:29] Well, I’m really into Sakuna reports now, and I think they’re just they’re making a wave in the pick up market, you know, the deli and pick up market. And I’m working on a a freebie that I that I hand out to customers if they sign up on my website on creating a flexitarian charcuterie board, because I think that it’s a really fun way to entertain. And you can do it individually. You know, Jaakonsaari put things in jars or you can do individual plates. There’s just a lot of different ways you could go with charcuterie, which is just a French term for call kitchen. So it’s typically called fance. Oh, OK. It can go anywhere from a breakfast board to a dessert charcuterie board to anything. So I’ve been working on collecting some really fun boards for the photography and just some really fun things, recipes and just being inspired by that.
Mindy Peterson: [00:24:30] And what instigated your fascination with the charcuterie boards? Is that something that’s really a trend right now in the.
Arlene Coco: [00:24:36] It is a trend and it’s becoming more of a trend. I did a class last December and charcuterie boards for the holiday season because that’s when they’re really when you really see a lot of them. So I’m kind of gearing up for that to teach a few classes on different kinds of charcuterie entertaining. And I think it could be a thing because it’s. Easily transportable, and they’re really fun and there’s different ways you can do it to make people feel comfortable eating it.
Mindy Peterson: [00:25:07] Well, I like those because you can be as low, you know, minimalistic or extravagant and creative as you want with them. And the other thing that’s kind of nice about them, especially around the holidays, is people can get a little food it out like, oh, my goodness, I’ve been eating non-stop since Thanksgiving. It’s kind of nice to just have this board where you can pick and choose as little or as much as you want and not feel like you’re going home stuffed yet again from another party or you’re feeling rude if you’re not eating very much. So that’s something that’s really nice. And so many people have different food preferences or allergies, things like that. It can be kind of nice to just let people pick and choose what they want and don’t want to eat.
Arlene Coco: [00:25:54] Exactly. So if you let’s say you’re a vegan and you want to do a charcuterie board for your family, well, you have the opportunity to buy meat. And it goes very well on those types of boards. And you don’t have to handle it. Or if you’re an omni and you want to serve something vegan, you can buy stuffed grape leaves, you can buy hummus and things just to put on if you’re not familiar with it. So it’s a really easy way because you can purchase so many beautiful things down in the specialty stores and just have little bits and pieces of things and you don’t have to make a thing. So it’s easy to execute, as we say, in the industry.
Mindy Peterson: [00:26:37] Well, I imagine there’s lots of inspiring photos of circular rewards on Pinterest or Instagram. Tell us about your classes, because, well, different definitely linked to your website in the show notes and your classes. I know I have some examples of classes that you offer that all include in the show notes, but just tell us a little bit about the classes you offer. You mentioned a freebie on charcuterie boards of people sign up. I think you offer in-person and virtual classes.
Arlene Coco: [00:27:04] Yeah, I do a lot of online classes with the Duluth Co-op up here and in Minnesota and Duluth. And those are actually free to the customer. And I’ll be starting those again in the fall. I do those pretty regularly. I do a lot of private classes and private culinary classes for folks like I’ll have a group. They’ll want a group to get together virtually. And I kind of lead the class and I do lunch and learn health for companies that want to offer a half hour, an hour, kind of. What’s the Mediterranean diet about our quick night. Easy, quick night things or healthy shopping in a grocery store, just kind of things that folks can incorporate into their daily life just to be a little bit more healthy. Because I’ve been on a real health journey myself, and I’m very proud to say that I’ve managed to lower my cholesterol thirty nine points in six months because of my dietary changes. So I have all a lot to say about that.
Mindy Peterson: [00:28:09] Sure. Wonderful. Well, we will include those links in the show notes. I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Is there a song or story you can share with us in closing today?
Arlene Coco: [00:28:27] Well, I always when I hear the song by Louis Armstrong, do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? And I love that song because it takes me back to a simpler time when I did live in New Orleans. It’s just got a special vibe in that city. And the people, the food, the music. It’s like no other city in the world. And I was so grateful to being a part of that scene for as many years and to grow up nearby and really enjoy that city. So it’s a nice song for me to hear because it reminds me of all the great times I had there and all the stories and all the experiences I had there.
Transcribed by Sonix.ai