For Hong Kong-bound Kelis, food is never far from her mind - or her songs
With music and food being the twin passions of Harlem-raised singer who’s performing at ePrix after-party, she wants more than ever to open a restaurant, she tells us
Kelis – best known for bringing all the boys to the yard with her hit single Milkshake – is heading back to Asia for a performance at an ePrix after party at Play club on Sunday, October 9. “I’m really excited to be coming back to Hong Kong. It’s such an amazing city with incredible people and food,” she says.
It’s no surprise that the New York-born singer, who has sold more than six million records and was last in our region last year for a concert in Macau, mentions food – she is also a chef trained by Le Cordon Bleu and this summer teamed up with London restaurant Le Bun to open a pop-up venture, Kelis x Le Bun, offering South American-inspired street food.
“It was amazing. I’ve always dreamed of doing this and now more than ever I want to open a restaurant,” says the R&B singer.
For Kelis Rogers, who was born to a black jazz musician father and a Chinese-Puerto Rican mother who ran her own catering business, food and music have been twin passions since she was a child.
“Food and music are similar in a lot of ways. Creatively, both allow you to express yourself. In a lot of ways I fell in love with food and music as a child – my mother being a culinary chef and my father a musician,” says the 37-year-old artist.
And growing up in Harlem also shaped her, giving her the drive and ambition to make something of her talent.
“I think it taught me at a really young age a lot of what it is to hustle and work hard to create opportunities. Everyone in the city works hard whether they are a chef at a market or a city worker – it’s a large city that feels like a community,” she says.
At the age of 14 she entered New York’s LaGuardia High School of Music & Arts and Performing Arts – the school depicted in the movie Fame – where she learned to play saxophone and won a spot in the Girls Choir of Harlem.
“I knew I wanted to do something in the arts – specifically singing and performing. Music was a very natural path for me. And more so, my parents were really supportive of that and where it took me in the world,” she says.
By 17 she had signed her first record deal and spent the next 10 years in the music industry. It was an experience that forced her to grow up fast, but eventually left her feeling worn out. “You start touring at such a young age, seeing parts of the world that you’d never expected to visit, which I felt fortunate to experience,” she says.
The provocative and catchy 2003 hit Milkshake cemented her mainstream popularity, but for Kelis the four-year record deal that followed was stifling. In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, she described it as an “arranged marriage”.
Released from her contract in 2008, she was on the lookout for a new creative outlet and although she had long been passionate about cooking, the decision to sign up to a professional cooking programme was a sudden impulse.
“Le Cordon Bleu came to my mind, funnily enough, as I was watching a TV commercial which popped up on the screen. I applied that very day and was in school by Monday,” she says.
She graduated from Le Cordon Bleu a year later and was itching to start working in the kitchen full-time when life conspired to throw her back into the music industry. An unexpected pregnancy and divorce meant she needed to support herself and music was the best way she knew of doing that. But she did manage to combine her two great passions – music and food – in her 2014 album, Food.
“Food was an album that I had always dreamed of making. A really special album where I had signed to an indie label for the first time, Ninja Tune. In having such a supportive label and management, we really focused on the musical influences of what started in my childhood,” she says.
The food element is immediately obvious in the song titles – Breakfast, Friday Fish Fry, Biscuits n’ Gravy, and Jerk Ribs.
The recipe that inspired the Jerk Ribs track is included in her cookbook My Life on a Plate: Recipes From Around The World, released last year. The book – a collection of her favourite recipes – tells her personal story through the food she creates, a style shaped by her culture, travels and the people she met along the way.
You won’t find a milkshake recipe in there – apparently she’s never actually made a milkshake. It includes a pineapple beef recipe – from her teenage years when she worked briefly in a Malaysian restaurant – and another for spinach chickpea fritters, from late nights spent at the New York Middle Eastern restaurant Mamoun’s Falafel. In honour of her son, Knight (with ex-huband Nas), she includes his favourite tuna melts and a pomegranate-caramel donuts recipe.
A fiercely creative and productive artist, there’s no doubt she will release a new project soon, but it’s anyone’s guess whether it will be an album or a cookbook.
“Music and food is always at the forefront of my mind,” says the mother of two.
Kelis, Oct 9, 10pm, Play, 1/F, On Hing Building, 1 On Hing Terrace, Central, door charge TBC. Inquiries: www.playclub.asia