Kelis Rogers, better known as just Kelis, has been New York music royalty ever since her 1999 single “Caught Out There” (we’ll never forget her blonde and magenta curls as she screamed into our TV screens in the music video). But fast-forward two decades, and the alt-R&B queen, who has six albums under her belt and has collaborated with icons like Busta Rhymes and Björk, is now making major moves in the culinary world. The truth is, the marriage of food and music was always present in her artistry, like in 2003’s Tasty, which featured the monster hit “Milkshake,” and 2014’s Food, including the singles “Jerk Ribs,” “Breakfast,” “Cobbler,” and “Friday Fish Fry.” On the latter, Kelis sounds mature and sultry: it’s a grown woman’s tale of love and her gastronomic desires.
Kelis is a native Harlemite born to an African-American jazz-musician father and a Chinese-Puerto Rican mother who owned a catering business — so food and music are in her DNA. Thinking back on her early food memories, Kelis recalls neighborhood spots like a Jamaican hole-in-the-wall that made the “most ridiculous coco bread every morning”; Georgie’s Donuts (“Hands down the best freaking doughnuts of all time”); and Better Krust for its “ridiculous” pies.
As for her own cooking, Kelis’s Afro-Latinx roots have come to define her understanding of food. “My mom used to make us pernil, which is a Puerto Rican roast pork, and mofongo — you know, all the good stuff.” But Kelis is also influenced by the abundance of fresh ingredients she has access to at her new home in Los Angeles. “California cuisine is a whole other thing that doesn’t exist in New York,” she says. “I love that we’re so close to farms and we have access to good-quality produce. And we’re on the coast, so there is tons of seafood. You kind of have a little bit of everything.” These advantages to the Los Angeles food scene are vital to her culinary ethos and help her instill healthy eating habits for her two young boys.
Kelis’s cooking approach is loud and vibrant, just like her music. A maximalist in both food and personal style, she loves seeing colors and textures balanced out on a plate. She’s traveled the world for the past 20 years — so Asian, Latin American, and Caribbean flavors pop up in her recipes, like pork belly with ají and tostones, habañero turkey burgers, duck fried quinoa, and Vietnamese bánh mì meatballs.
Kelis’s professional foray into food began in 2009. After a decade in the music business, free from her record label and with no team to answer to, she enrolled in the famed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. She studied sauces and graduated as a trained saucier. In the past few years, she’s taken bold steps in her blossoming career, first with her show Saucy and Sweet on the Cooking Channel, which coincided with her 2014 album Food, then with her cookbook My Life on a Plate in 2015. In 2016, she created a lot of buzz when she partnered with Andy Taylor, of the duo Le Bun, the London-based French-American burger purveyors, for a pop-up restaurant at Soho’s Leicester House hotel. For the two-week-long collaboration, Kelis and Taylor melded their palates with such dishes as a truffle-ají cheeseburger, sea-bass ceviche, and a variety of Venezuelan arepas.
Now Kelis is focusing on her sauce line Bounty & Full, which launched in 2015. Her blends use natural ingredients to create “an accoutrement to the dish,” she says. During her Le Cordon Bleu days, sauces were what most excited her. She strongly connected them to people and their cultures, ethnicities, and characters. And with creations like her signature jerk sauce, pineapple-saffron and ginger-sesame glazes, wild-cherry BBQ sauce, and a cranberry-mandarin jam, it’s clear that sauces are her smartest asset in her burgeoning food empire.
Kelis continues to make her mark in the food space, partnering with brands like Airbnb, Puma, Ford, and Spotify for curated food experiences. For a recent Spotify dinner, Kelis served up dynamic pairings like coconut-crab soup, beef curry with roti tisu, and beet-infused corn cakes. And she has even more on her plate for 2018: Bounty & Full is now in supermarkets across the nation, including Key Foods, Safeway, and Target; her cooking line will debut early this year on HSN; and she’s working on opening a farm-to-table restaurant in Malibu. She’s more ready than ever to invite people in, sharing photos on Instagram of musical peers like Kelly Rowland, Sean Paul, and R&B singer Mario joining together at her table. “I think music is really selfish, and food is the total opposite,” she says. “When I create music, I’m creating it for myself. With food, you want to break bread with people, you want to nourish people, you want to love people. It’s a different thing; it’s not about me.”
Now, check out an exclusive recipe from Kelis:
Coconut Jerk Purple Potato
Serves 2 to 4
–32 ounces water
–1 teaspoon salt
–A pound and a half of purple finger potatoes
–2 tablespoons coconut oil
–Half a jar of Bounty & Full Jerk Sauce
–1 can Thai coconut milk
Step 1: Boil water, and add 1 teaspoon salt.
Step 2: Cut the purple potatoes horizontally, and boil them until they are easily pierced with a fork.
Step 3: Strain your potatoes, disposing of all the water.
Step 4: Add coconut oil to a skillet and heat.
Step 5: Put your boiled, sliced potatoes in the skillet face down. Let them cook until crispy.
Step 6: Add Bounty & Full Jerk Sauce, and thoroughly mix it in.
Step 7: Add coconut milk. Mix everything together until blended.
Step 8: You are now ready to serve.
Jasmin Hernandez is a Latinx arts and culture writer born and bred in New York City. She is the founder of the intersectional platform Gallery Gurls, which celebrates women, POC, and QTPOC in the art world. Her writing about contemporary female artists has been published in Elle, Vice, Cultured, and Konbini, among others.