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.