|My first encounters with our Kitchen Island Discs guest Lara
Pipia were through events like the Columbus Knife
Fights at the former The Commissary in Marble Cliff
Our guest this month for our Kitchen Island Discs segment is someone who has been behind and around many of the most promising and prominent names around the Columbus dining scene. My first encounter with Lara Pipia came at the former The Commissary in Marble Cliff, during a number of their dining events. I’ve also enjoyed sweet treats from the Northside Library location of Freedom A La Cart, an organization she co-founded dedicated to giving victims of sex trafficking and exploitation practical job skills to help with their community reintegration. Lastly but surely not least, I’ve been enjoying going through the delicious dishes at Emmett’s Cafe, whose menu Pipia had a big hand in developing.
But frankly, enough of me typing away – Lara was more than eager and gracious enough to send us a little bit of her story, and what follows in this blogpost was created by her own hand. She also gave us an amazing playlist, so be sure to take a listen to it.
“I was born in New Orleans in 1979, so I couldn’t help but grow up to be a food nerd, I guess. My family traveled a lot when I was a kid, and I was always excited to try new things.
In my early 20s, I bounced around a bit in the Columbus service industry, performing in various job titles: everything from line cook to bartender and catering coordinator. I’ve cooked at places where I needed to be consistent and repetitive, as I did in the first years of Northstar Cafe’s existence, and I also worked at places like North Market Poultry and Game, where I could be wildly creative. I learned from both. I was also in a touring band at the time, so working in the service industry also gave me the flexibility to travel and play music.
In 2011 I assumed the role of executive chef, and in so doing co-founded Freedom a la Cart, a non-profit that helps survivors of human trafficking. It was with Freedom a la Cart that I was named a Columbus Tastemaker by Columbus Crave Magazine.
I then set out on my own in 2013 to start Two-Top Consulting. Having my own food-based business gave me the opportunity to do what I love the most – develop menu items and explore my own food voice.
I did a lot of events, themed dinners and pop-ups, my most beloved being “Warmth”, a brunch pop-up I did for a year at Ace of Cups.
Most recently, I did menu development for Emmett’s Cafe, and right now I am super excited to be back at Freedom a la Cart as a consultant, also working on menu development. It’s really cool to come full circle.
Anyway, blah blah blah…let’s talk tunes!
For me, music and food are inextricably linked – they are both an expression of culture, and a way to mark the passing of important events. Across the world, food is omnipresent in celebrations, rites of passage, farewells and even during loss and mourning; so (for me anyway) is music. I can link different songs to different times and events in my life, in the same manner that I can remember certain flavors and aromas.
This year has been weird – for everyone. A time of uprising, a time of social change, a time to isolate and reflect (whether we wanted to or not). I leaned on both food and music heavily this year, as I always do, but in a completely different way.
This list is made up of 12 songs that have been in heavy rotation over the past year. Many I just discovered over the last couple of years and some have been with me a long while. It starts kind of low and slow for those quiet moments in the kitchen when you first get started – firing up the oven, folding towels, doing veg prep – then it picks up into more of a go-time vibe. Hope you dig it.” (Playlist embedded at the end of this post.)
1) “Morning, Morning” by Richie Havens – this is a record I inherited from my parents and this track might be my favorite on the album, even though it’s a cover. Originally written by poet Tuli Kupferberg, a founder of New York East Village beatnik band The Fugs, it’s really a song about loneliness. For me, though, it’s more about solace and serenity – finding space to create when no one is around and embracing it. Musically, it’s a gentle way to ease into the day, and Richie Havens’ deeply beautiful and gritty voice feels like a safe warm hug.
2) “Take a Message to Mary” by The Everly Brothers – OK, so a somber love ballad from the perspective of a man imprisoned after a stage coach robbery gone wrong might not be everyone’s thing, but….LOL, no but stay with me… The blood harmony of the Everlies combined with the minimal but beautifully produced arrangement gives me goosebumps every single time I listen to this song. The song gains more instrumentation as it progresses, slowly awakening the senses, which is another reason it makes a great choice for an early morning kitchen sesh. I dunno, it just gets me there.
3) “If Not for You” by Bob Dylan – This song is on New Morning, which is kind of a departure album for Bob Dylan. This is another easy-going ramble, and I had always heard it as a classic love song. Until this year. Working along to this song made me hear it differently; While it’s still a song about love, to me it became less about the love of a person, and more about the appreciation of a muse or creative outlet. This past year, that muse was almost always food. When things seemed hard, unsettling or confusing (which they did, almost every day) cooking was there as an escape, a place to lose myself, and a way to mark time passing. Whether it was a rack of lamb at Easter, a salad of summer bounty or a comforting soup for the longest winter, I knew where I was and I had a dish to escape to.
4) “Seabird” by The Alessi Brothers – Hmm, maybe I just have a thing for brothers? This song popped up for me in a Spotify playlist a little over a year ago and I immediately loved it. I wasn’t sure if it was actually a good song, and albeit some of the lyrics are downright GOOFY, like this gem : “Like an unwound clock, you just don’t seem to care”?
WHAT? WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? But still, the blood harmonies get me, and the Wurlitzer vibe combined with yacht rock sensibility and slightly synth undertones makes for some solid chill time in the kitchen. Great for baking, really.
5) “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by Ananda Shankar – The nephew of Ravi Shankar gifts us with the most psychedelic version of The Rolling Stones scorched-earth Rock n’ Roll classic, Jumpin’ Jack Flash ever, with sweltering sitar, crazy space sounds emanating from a Moog synthesizer, and a wild backing band composed of guys in well-known psychedelic band The Electric Prunes and a bass player for Elvis! This is a great transition song when you need to start picking up the pace in the kitchen, but want to keep it more than a little bit weird – it’ll definitely kick your ass right out of a midday slump.
6) “Greetings” by Joni Haastrup – I used to love listening to Afro-Pop Worldwide on NPR. There is almost always something undeniably contagious and joyful about African music in all of its genres, almost doubly so when reabsorbing international music and slinging it back through a filter of indigenous sound and rhythm. This is the case with this song – definitive disco beats backed with funk-inspired horns make it so that you can’t help but move, in the kitchen or anywhere, really.
When the song begins, you aren’t quite sure where it’s going to go, but with the long dramatic pauses thrown into the intro, you know it’s going to be stellar. If you are into this song, you can find it on a comp called “Nigeria 70 – Funky Lagos”, alongside other incredible artists of the period like Fela Kuti, William Onyeabor and The Funkees. Solid Hits and positive movement all the way.
7) “No Fun” by The Stooges – Iggy Pop in his prime, and one of my long-running favorite “get up and move your ass” songs of all time. Is it the handclaps? Is it the Detroit fuzz? The snarl? Doesn’t matter, it will always be a great song to carry a knife to. I’ll cut the shit out of some carrots to this song.
8) “I Ron Man” by Ondatropica – The familiar melody of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, comically reinterpreted as “I Ron Man” (or, Rum Man in Spanish) is rehashed in a drunken and almost careening cadence in the style of Cumbia – a music native to Colombia. It’s about as fun and motivating as music can get, and the album is definitely a high energy romp throughout. Ondatropica is a curated group of Colombia’s most accomplished musicians, released on a 3 LP set that showcases not only classical Cumbia songs, but modern interpretations and styles of Colombian music as well. Highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.
9) “Fever” by La Lupe – So, I’ve always been obsessed with this song; at first the Peggy Lee original, and then many subsequent covers that I was exposed to over the years. But when I heard this version for the first time, I was seriously shook. La Lupe’s full-on Latin FIRE is evident in the first seconds of this cover and the Cubanness of it all becomes more evident as the song progresses and diverges more from the original. If you can’t cook to this song, I’d dare to say that you just can’t cook. Maybe it’s my Spanish roots talking, but come on! This song could raise the dead.
10) “Fantastic Man” by William Onyeabor – This song came onto my radar a little over a year ago before everything changed. What hasn’t changed about this song is that it’s weird and wonderful, with a sunshine-y bop beat backed up by layered synth tracks that dually function as rhythm and melody drivers. Mostly, what I can say about this song is that it is 100% a good mood driver. This has probably been the most omnipresent song in my life this year – literally, I’ve heard it dozens of times and it always makes me feel good. I really believe that for food to turn out right, there has to be some love in it. This song feels like the musical equivalent to that sentiment.
11) “Gin House Blues (Mono, Single Edit)” by Nina Simone – I try to avoid cooking when I\’m in a bad mood, but sometimes culinary professionals don’t have the luxury of deciding when we want to cook. Sometimes we want to be left alone so that we can just do our thing. Sometimes we want to do it while having an adult beverage.
Nina Simone had a gift of turning that “fuck off” kind of sentiment into something that could be both empowering and somewhat amusing. When we\’re living through a stinker of a day, we need that introspection; we need to be able to laugh it off, say “ok, I’ve got this” and get back to work. This is that song for me.
12) “Road to Nowhere” by The Talking Heads – Experimentation is a must for me in the kitchen. I like playing with flavors and delivering them in a way that isn’t too TOO challenging. Sure, I want to be creative, but ultimately, what I do has to be marketable – thankfully my friends and family are more than happy to let me go whole hog with my ideas, but when working as a consultant, I definitely pull back from my initial impulses. Also, in my line of work I’m never quite sure what the next thing is going to be; this song, with it’s super-driving rhythm and reassuring lyrics, is a great mantra jam. It makes it feel OK to be unsure while reminding me that I am part of a great collective consciousness which also has no idea what’s going to happen next. There’s peace in that.
Are you someone in the local Columbus food & restaurant scene who has a thing for a good tune or two? Drop me an IM on my Instagram account and I just might include you on a future “Kitchen Island Discs.”