Making the Perfect Cooking Playlist Is Part Art, Part Algorithm
Siri, play music for a barbecue.
Alexa, I'm cooking. play some music.
"Here is some music you might like," the robot replies, before rocking my smart speaker with an algorithmically inspired cross-section of my music. While chopping, sautéing, or stirring, I might hear Coldplay's back-it-up bop "Hymn for the Weekend," but never the sleepier "Fix You."
Although Alexa may not know exactly what I'm cooking, the music always captures my kitchen mood. That's because staffers at the major music streaming services curate playlists to match recipes, restaurant patios, and home kitchens, providing some of the most popular smart-speaker content out there.
"Not having the music become intrusive is crucial; guests should feel welcomed and relaxed. The mood is more important than popularity," says Apple Music spokesperson Jessica Bass. She says midtempo, breezy tunes mix well with conversation, so Apple Music curators featured artists like Norah Jones, Ray LaMontagne, and Seu Jorge on its "Chef's Kiss" playlist.
Siri, play music for a barbecue.
Among the most popular playlists for all smart speakers is Amazon Music's "Classic Jazz Dinner Party," which includes Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington, and "Pop Dinner Party," where you'll hear Adele and John Legend. On Spotify, you can stream playlists by Questlove as well as country singer Martina McBride, who also has two cookbooks that build on her music.
But finding the right soundtrack for a meal can require subtlety. Asking Siri for a barbecue playlist, for example, might lead to contemporary R&B tracks like "Leave the Door Open" by Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, and Silk Sonic. But the playlist for grilling on Amazon Music gets you Bruce Springsteen and other pop rock classics. To hear Maze and Frankie Beverly's "Before I Let Go," you have to ask for "Soul Cookout." "Everyone recognizes the big hit, but being surprised by a forgotten favorite can be a conversation starter," Bass says.
Hey Google, I like this song.
As vaccinated people return to entertaining, these playlists will provide soundtracks to picnics, pool parties, and other communal experiences. "When you ask a smart speaker something more broad, like, 'Alexa, play music for a dinner party,' we may surprise you with one of our laid-back global playlists, such as 'The High End,'" says Amazon Music spokesperson Liz Villafan. Amazon also designs playlists that demonstrate the ways music, like cooking, transcends genres and generations; for example, "Cocina Latina" features Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, and Elvis Crespo, who serve up decades of salsa and bachata. "Cooking with R&B" includes the distinctive falsettos on Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and Childish Gambino's "Redbone."
And if you're the kind of cook who wants to make your own playlist, as you encounter new artists, just ask the smart speaker who's singing, and add them to the playlist for your next dinner party.
Like to listen and cook along? Tune in to these podcasts.
Join chef Cal Peternell and writer Ijeoma Oluo to make pasta puttanesca or to make muhammara with Reem Assil.
Hosts Rachael Martel and Lauren Auerbach give fans of The Great British Bake Off recaps of the latest episode of the TV show and the challenges. Each episode features a GBBO bake-along.
The BBC food team shares its recipes and tips with weekly cook-alongs with hosts Miriam Nice and Nadiya Ziafat. Their podcasts appear in a playlist on Spotify.