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Sound Bites: Deep-Dish Pizza and Punk Rock With Chef Luis Ulloa

Punk rock and pizza is the move at Los Angeles’ Blackbird Pizza Shop, helmed by owner and chef Luis Ulloa. And with a city that’s got an anemic deep-dish pizza selection, the spot is a welcome addition to the trendy Melrose Avenue corridor. But I’m not going to tell you to go to Blackbird just because they have a deep-dish pizza. No, I’m telling you to go because they have a delicious and craveable deep-dish pizza that has a San Francisco-inspired cornmeal crust. And homemade meatballs. And thin-crust pies. And a killer beer and natural wine selection.

Named after the perceptive and brilliant blackbird, Ulloa’s pizza joint offers a spirited atmosphere that’s as energized and charged as the tunes blasting through their speakers, whether it be The Clash or Operation Ivy. So when I asked him about his selection of music, Ulloa shared plenty of insight to help connect the common thread of defiant jams and equally rebellious food.

I grew up in the 80’s punk scene around LA and Melrose Ave., and I have always had an affinity for what I felt Melrose inspired in my youth and career. It always represented a sense of progressive creativity. There was art, fashion, music, and an edge of rebelliousness. This is what I wanted Blackbird to represent. They say that your taste in music reflects your experiences in life. The culture of the kitchen has served as a vehicle in broadening my musical taste because I’m constantly surrounded by young people and am continuously being exposed to new or obscure tastes.

Music has always influenced my approach to food and inspired my creativity. Therefore, the day’s soundtrack will often dictate the rhythm and pace of the kitchen. I tend to start off my days with something a little on the mellow side and end with something more driven and steady. Depending on my moods, the playlist can also be played in reverse, should you be looking for that extra little boost of energy in the opening hours. In terms of my customers, I try to expose them to our kitchen culture through eclectic playlists and music I’ve been introduced to via my time in the kitchen.

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Sound Bites: Chef Brian Fisher

Imagine you’re in Chicago enjoying a Michelin Star-quality meal at Entente. You’ve got the perfect wine pairing to go with your visually stunning and palate pleasing dishes while the perfect soundtrack wafts from the speakers throughout the dining room, heightening the whole experience.

What’s playing to complete such a scenario? An orchestral arrangement from Bach? Perhaps the soothing sounds of Coltrane fit the scene? Nope. Try the neck-snapping stylings of ASAP Ferg’s “New Level” instead.

See at Entente, Chef Brian Fisher infuses as much energy from his playlist into the place as much as he does flavor into his impeccably seared scallops. Fisher’s love of hip hop follows him everywhere, and that includes the kitchen. This edition of Sound Bites melds the unlikely duo of fine dining and bombastic beats in a marriage that works as surprisingly well as tamarind and foie gras.

Photo: Isabelli Media Relations

It’s all about keeping the energy up, and these songs get me in the place that I like to be when I’m cooking. I don’t talk a lot. I let the music speak for me for the most part. Sometimes literally. Its more about the vibe.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of these artists and cooking for some of them as well, so it creates a much more personal connection to these songs.

Ultimately, it comes down to keeping the energy level up, not only during the prep hours through the day, but dinner service as well, especially since the kitchen is open here, and the music is played throughout the restaurant. Granted, some of these songs are daytime only, but the artists still make it into heavy rotation in the evening playlists. Another aspect to the music here is to take people out of their comfort zone, somewhat. We could play Top 40 hits or whatever, but that doesn’t serve what we are trying to do, which in the end, is to get people to let their guard down and open up to new experiences. For the most part it works, and people kind of forget about the music, in a sense, and are immersed in not only what they’re eating but the experience that they’re sharing.

Getting hyped over some chawanmushi is an understandable moment, really. So who can blame Fisher for throwing on some Mobb Deep and feeling some type of way over being awarded a Michelin Star. It’s the perfect pairing.

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Sound Bites: Chef Michael Fiorelli

In the second edition of our series Sound Bites, we welcome the contribution of Chef Michael Fiorelli of Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach, California. This ongoing series is a unique lens into how music has influenced many chefs and kitchens throughout the culinary world, and Chef Fiorelli’s playlist is a great insight into how he grew an appreciation for food and cooking growing up.

This list is nostalgic for me because it features songs my family loves and introduced to me. Listening to this music brings back memories of cooking and eating together, and reinvigorates that sense of tradition and culture.
I remember listening to “Lazy Mary” for the first time. My mother played it during the Christmas holidays. At first I was just enjoying it a pleasant background noise, but then I listened to the lyrics. The picture of what’s going on in the song made my head turn. A woman who’s being urged to get out of bed so they can use the bed sheets to set the table. It’s the epitome of Italian humor — subtle and brilliant — just like Italian food. I kept asking my mother to play it over and over after that, and she couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t get enough of that song!
Music plays a vital role in my whole sense of being. It’s how I start my day, and it sets the tone for what’s to come. I think everyone needs a soundtrack for their life that’s motivating and inspiring. I also think music and cooking are so closely related. Both are a form of someone sharing something close to them. Something from the heart. The more genuine and the more heartfelt the art, the more inspiring the experience is going be.

So go ahead and fire up a boiling pot of pasta and pour your favorite red. Let Chef Fiorelli’s playlist of Italian-American standards set the mood for the perfect night in with Ol’ Blue Eyes.