Ep. 109: How can I enhance my next dinner party with music? With Chef Arlene Coco

Dinner party music playlist

Photo by Kelsey Chance on Unsplash

Music and food are two things that everyone loves, and that consistently bring people together! Thoughtful music playlists can enhance the dinner party experience for everyone involved, from prep to party to cleanup. Ambassador of Entertaining Arlene Coco discusses playlist selections, her go-to party musicians, and trends in the food world.

Chef Arlene Coco
Chef Arlene Coco


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.


We discuss:

  • Food world trends that factor in covid cautions and the holidays to come.
  • Arlene mentions exotica music, popularized by Martin Denny (Hawaiaan music, popular in the 50s when Hawaii became a state).
  • Arlene’s observations about how music affects dinner parties for everyone involved – the guests during the event, and the hosts before/during/after – from food prep to after-party cleanup.
  • Music’s effect on the energy of an event, the mood, and the overall level of enjoyment.
  • Arlene’s upbringing in Louisiana, surrounded by music. She describes the musical environment she grew up in, and how it influenced her as a chef.
  • Strategies for selecting a playlist for an event (including matching the music to a theme, holiday, season, and international cuisine inspired by a recent trip).
  • Some of Arlene’s thoughts about music for various party stages:
    • Prep play list: “I like to do all of my cooking except last minute duties ahead of time. I start a few days before with planning and think about who is coming and what types of foods they enjoy. My prep is a lot of washing, chopping and assembling. Not a lot of concentration needed for this part so my music choices are fun, upbeat and a fast tempo. It reminds me of when I used to work in professional kitchens, we used to prep to music all day long while we worked. Each song takes me to a place.”
    • “So, the party is about to begin…. Cocktail music can be fast and funky or slow and relaxing. I like to bring interesting music to the party. Not too loud though, folks need to be able to talk over it, but they come in hearing it thinking, ‘What is Arlene up to tonight? I better brace myself!’ For most cocktail hours, I try to find a mix of international music.”
    • “During dinner, the music comes down in volume and tone, mostly instrumental background music.”
    • After Dinner Dance Music: “These tunes are great for dancing, playing darts or cards, which is what we mostly do after dinner. We have a huge vinyl collection, so we take turns picking out songs. It’s so thrilling to see what the younger generations picks out.”
    • Dessert music: “I have recently discovered Lo-Fi Music, perfect for the end of a great evening when people are gathering to leave.”
    • And when it’s time to go: Happy Trails by Riders in the Sky
    • Clean up music: Played loud to keep you awake.

Connect/Other Resources

  • Website
  • Insta: @arlenecoco
  • Facebook: Arlene Coco
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter: @prairiekitchen
  • Email
  • Dinner Party Music with Chef Coco Sway presentation
  • Arlene’s cookbook Cajun Cooking, Making it Easy was voted one of the top 72 Cajun cooking books of all time by Book Authority.
  • Arlene Coco shares her favorite recipe and her Spotify playlist to get you started!
    • Arlene’s Spotify playlist
    • Arlene Coco's Double Blue Salad recipe
      Arlene Coco’s Double Blue Salad recipe

      Double Blue Salad: One of my favorite recipes of all time is this salad. I love it because it can be used all year round just by changing a few of the ingredients out. The base is a mix of bitter-style greens or baby greens. The dressing stays the same all year round as well as the spiced pecans. The fruit and cheese change with the season.The dressing is a classic vinaigrette of maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, canola, or grapeseed oil and mustard. It stays cohesive and does not separate once mixed because the mustard binds it. It is delicious and can be used for other salads that require a sweet and sour flavor.

      To print this recipe, click here.

  • Sample Class Menus: Classes are taught virtually and in person when available. Large groups are welcome as well as one-on-one instruction.
    • Cajun and Creole
      • Allons Manger! Let’s Eat!
      • Louisiana Chicken and Sausage Gumbo- Plant-based and Traditional recipe
      • Streetcar Muffuletta Salad
      • River Road Jambalaya
      • Torched Bananas
    • Flexitarian Italian
      • Tuscan Salsa Bruschetta
      • Wild Mushroom Farro Risotto
      • One Pot Wonder Pasta
      • Raspberry Tiramisu
    • Cajun Plant-Based Favorites
      • Red Beans and Dirty Rice
      • Mushroom and Sausage Etouffee
      • Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Coconut Carmel Sauce

In-Episode Promo

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Arlene shares the special meaning to her of the Louis Armstrong song, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” Arlene says, “I like this song because it reminds me of my roots and how special New Orleans is to me.”

Closing Words

And that is a little bit of the YouTube video of Louis Armstrong’s “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?” The link to the video is in the show notes. One thing I know for sure after this conversation is I would LOVE to attend one of Arlene’s parties!! Thanks so much to Arlene for sharing with us these tips on enhancing food and our social experience of dinner parties! Arlene has also generously shared with us her favorite recipe and her Spotify playlist to get us started on building our own dinner party playlist. A couple weeks ago in Ep. 107, we discussed how music can change our purchasing habits, often without us even being aware of it. A listener had a really intriguing observation that she mentioned on social media:Ashley commented: “I notice that when pop/rock is playing that I tend to be more impulsive when buying, a lot of things times clothing and random decor items, sometimes not even thinking purchases through. When classical is playing I tend to buy more enriching items (art supplies, books, things I actually need.)” Ahh, fascinating. That’s pretty impressive self-awareness to be able to observe that. Thanks for sharing! I always love connecting on social media – you can find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can also reach me via email (mindy@mpetersonmusic.com). Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

View Episode Transcription

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