In the middle of her successful music career, Kelis Rogers decided to go to culinary school. "It seemed like the right thing to do," she says. "I’m definitely an all-or-nothing person, so I enrolled." She is author of the cookbook My Life on a Plate.

Noelle Carter: You were born and grew up in New York. In the book you write, “We are what we breathe and eat. At least I am. I didn’t care much then, but I’d eaten my way around the world by the age of 11 on the tiny island of Manhattan.” What sparked your passion for food?

Kelis Rogers: It started off with accessibility. It started off with my parents, being in New York and growing up in the city. We were always surrounded by so many different things, so that nothing really seemed that foreign to me. From the beginning, I started off so open and just so excited. I felt a connection to everything around me.

NC: You write about taking gigs in cities that may not have made sense professionally for your music career, but fed your love of food. Even your Instagram account frequently focuses on various international dishes you’ve had. How have your travels influenced your love of food?

KR: It was definitely the catalyst for everything else. I started traveling really early on, at about 17, 18 years old with my first album. I was able to go so many different places. I’ve never been the kind of person to stay cooped up in the hotel. I just would wander around and walk around. From that I started to learn how to travel and how to find my way around the people through food.

As bookings would come up for shows, sometimes they were not that great, the fee wasn’t great or the place really didn’t make any sense. It was just like, “Sure, I’ll go. I’ve never been there before. Let’s see what they have.”

NC: In the middle of an incredible music career, you decide to go to culinary school. You said you were nervous before starting. But you’ve called it one of the best things you’ve done. Why up and go to culinary school?

Veggie Buckle
Kelis' recipe: Veggie Buckle

KR: Culinary school was something that you’ll be in conversation like, “I want to take photography classes one day, or I’d love to pick up pottery.” It’s one of those things that you really want to do, but it just seems so far off. Culinary school is one of those things for me.

I always said, “I’d love to go to culinary school. That would be awesome.” I wasn’t making any real plans to go; it didn’t seem feasible at the time. It felt like, "One day when my life slows down, I’ll go to culinary school."

One day in 2007, everything slowed down. It was the first time in my adult life where I was actually not obligated to anyone or to anything. It seemed like the right thing to do. I’m definitely an all-or-nothing person, so I enrolled.

NC: When you graduated, you knew without a doubt that you were a saucier. You have your own line of organic sauces. What is it about sauces that you love so much?

KR: I love sauces because I think they’re the defining factor. Sauces are the accessory to every great meal. The sauce can tell you whether it’s Italian, whether it’s Indian, whether it’s Malaysian or whether it’s classically American. The sauce is the defining factor. It tells you the history of people, the culture and who the chef is. To me, it’s just the most interesting part.

NC: One of the recipes in your book, Jerk Ribs with Brown Sugar Rub, was the inspiration for the title of a song on your last album. How did you come up with the recipe and why?

KR: The “why” comes from being an East Coaster. There are a lot of Caribbean people and there is a lot of different Caribbean food. I used to go to Miami all the time. Miami has tons of Latin food, lots of Haitian food, lots of Jamaican food, things like that. In New York as well. Then coming out to Los Angeles, being in California there’s just a whole different ethnic group of people here. Although it was brilliant and super exciting to explore, it was not Jamaican.

I started craving certain things that I was accustomed to eating. It came out of necessity really, just having to think up what it was and how to get it right.

NC: I love that you apply the jerk seasoning to ribs. You don’t normally think of jerk with ribs, but it works so well.

KR: I love ribs. There’s not one thing I don’t like about a rib. So it was kind of like let’s just put two of my favorite things together.

Noelle Carter

Noelle Carter is a chef and test kitchen manager at the Los Angeles Times.