There’s a lot of process involved in both music and food, says award-winning chef Danny Bowien -- no wonder they go together so well.
Long before he was an award-winning chef, Danny Bowien wanted to be a rock star. “As a kid, I thought it’d be amazing to play music and tour,” the James Beard Award winner tells Billboard. Although the Oklahoma native has since broken through in the culinary world with his Mission restaurants, Bowien still feels a kinship with music -- not just as someone in a band with Thursday’s Geoff Rickley and Saves the Day’s Chris Conley, but as a fan and enthusiast.
“There’s a lot of process involved in both [music and food],” says Bowien, who adds that cooking an elaborate meal is “basically recording an album -- you prep something to present to the public. It’s an industry, it’s a business, and it’s the same with food -- they’re both creative outlets.”
To that end, Bowien has one of several high-profile chefs to participate in Sonos’ Playlist Potluck, an initiative that pairs an artist with a star in the food world for a night of communal eating and music-sharing. The idea is simple enough: instead of contributing a dish to a dinner party, attendees bring a few (or more) songs to add to a shared Spotify playlist and get to guess, discuss and comment on who chose which track throughout the evening.
Sonos quietly launched the Playlist Potluck platform in 2016 and has held private events across multiple continents, with a chef and fashion/literary/music/cultural luminary of some kind serving as influencers to champion this initiative. Along with chefs like April Bloomfield, Sean Brock and Inaki Oizpitarte, Bowien has taken part in multiple Playlist Potluck gatherings; earlier this month, he presented a feast at Jack Antonoff’s Brooklyn apartment, where the Bleachers leader and the rest of his group enjoyed an expansive dinner prior to their Shadow of the City festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey, the following day.
“Most dinner parties are very reactive,” Bowien explains. "People show up with a dish, they say, ‘Hey what is this?,’ and they spend a lot of time making small talk. I absolutely hate small talk!”
By allowing attendees to feed their songs into one playlist, dinner parties can be as alerted to, or as unconcerned with, dinner music as they care to be. At Antonoff’s apartment, a steady mix of Tom Waits, New Order, Dusty Springfield and Blur blasted out of the speaker system and the guests grooved along to the mix without lingering on the selections. However, Bowien has attended Playlist Potluck sessions where there were lively exchanges over the various Britney Spears songs being played.
“It's curated in a very smart way,” he says. "It could be like a big karaoke playlist, but there’s something very low-key and smooth and stylized about the whole experience…. We aren’t put into a box. On a creative level, we’re allowed to have freedom with the playlist and food choices.”
Bowien hopes that the idea of Playlist Potluck spreads as Sonos expands the platform and pulls more artists and chefs into its orbit. The private events will remain private, for the most part -- but even without a celebrity chef and artist at the helm, the initiative has the potential to grow organically and embody different themes.
“Music doesn’t have to be the focal point of any meal,” he points out, “but it enhances everything."