Kelis, 34, is the Brit Award-winning singer behind such hits as ‘Milkshake’ and ‘Trick Me’. She grew up in Harlem where her mother, a catering chef, fostered her passion for food. Since training as a professional chef in 2006, Kelis has developed a cookery and lifestyle TV show, a cookbook and even her own food truck
In 2003 it was her ‘milkshake’ but these days, it’s Kelis’ béarnaise bringing the boys to the yard. The R’n’B singer retrained as a saucier (yes, it’s a profession) in 2006 at America’s prestigious Le Cordon Bleu school, and has unleashed her culinary expertise on Saucy & Sweet, a food show on the Cooking Channel, as well as a new album, Food.
‘They’re both creative outlets but music is more analytical than cooking,’ she says. ‘Writing songs is very introspective and you have to think about who you are when doing it. A song lasts for ever; cooking is all about the present. Food is instant gratification.’
Her eponymous food truck made its debut at the SWSX festival in Austin this year. Kelis served up jerk ribs and shredded beef with wild cherry sauce sliders to promote her album. Food takes the idea that particular dishes conjure certain memories or feelings. ‘Cobbler’ is all sunny and sweet like the pudding, while ‘Biscuits ’n’ Gravy’ is rich and comforting.
‘I learned early on to respect food,’ she says. ‘My mum would make me Puerto Rican and Chinese dishes so I grew up with exotic tastes. I try to do the same with my son.’ Kelis had Knight, four, with the rapper Nas before they divorced in 2010.
Kelis went to a private school, encouraged by her father, a university professor. ‘When I was seven I used to complain about the school lunch,’ she recalls. ‘My mum said, “If you don’t like something, you change it.” So I made a petition and all the kids signed it. I got in big trouble with the principal but Mum totally backed me up.’
In London, Kelis loves steaks at Hawksmoor on Commercial Road and fine dining at Shoreditch’s Les Trois Garçons. ‘I’m definitely a carnivore,’ she says, but she describes her own cooking style as ‘harvesty’. ‘I like the juxtaposition of different flavours you wouldn’t normally put together.’ So what would she cook to impress us? ‘It would have to be my lasagne. I use chorizo and minced meat seasoned with onions, pepper and garlic and mixed with fresh tomatoes. Then I layer it with plaintain instead of lasagne sheets and before baking pour a heavy cream, egg and smoked cheese mixture over it. On the side I’d serve sweetcorn with a corn béchamel. Making it is kind of a process.’
Next up she’d like a lifestyle brand, something like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop: ‘I’d like to expand [on the idea] and make it a bit younger and more quirky and fun.’ LJ
Kelis’ single ‘Friday Fish Fry’ is out on 14 July
Kelis for the Evening Standard Magazine