Kelis Rogers’ laugh can be heard all over her two-story home in Glendale. And when she enters any room, the astoundingly tall singer/chef’s beautiful presence takes over the space.
A professional musician since the age of 17, Kelis made her mark with hits including “Milkshake” and “Bossy” before she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in 2008. She had helped her mother with a catering business since childhood, and collected recipes from around the world while on tour, so the career change wasn’t as random as it might appear. And her desire to formalize her innate culinary skills coincided with a need to separate her identity from her musician self.
“It opened up my life, made me feel like I can do something else,” says the 36-year-old, who looks like a 26-year-old.
“In the music industry, everyone lives like we’re saving the world. Music is healing, but the reality is it’s very self-centered,” she says. “To be good at it, you have to be egotistical, and it doesn’t equip you for much else.
“This was the first time no one cared that I sold this many records or that I am sort of famous, and it was a relief,” she adds. “When I graduated, the chef said, ‘We thought you were going to be a total bitch, but you worked really hard and we’re proud to say you went here.’ It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Kelis, who as a chef still goes by her first name, launched Feast, a line of sauces, in 2013; she renamed it Bounty & Full this year. She has had specials on the Cooking Channel: Saucy & Sweet and Holiday Feast With Kelis, not to mention her low-key, homey cooking web series, In the Pot, hosted on Bounty & Full’s YouTube channel.
Many a global fusion recipe — her specialty — is featured on Bounty & Full’s website and in Kelis’ first cookbook, My Life on a Plate: Recipes From Around the World, due out Sept. 28.
The book captures Kelis’ essence: colorful, straightforward and brimming with personal stories. Her page of kitchen essentials, both equipment and food, is simple and manageable. It takes the intimidation out of the cooking process for any novice, and returns the experienced culinarian back to basics.
“I wanted to make a book for living,” she says. “People don’t know what’s healthy. They expect me to be grilling chicken breast and steaming. That sucks. Why eat?
“I don’t want that — but I will have a really great piece of chicken with herbs and seasonings,” she adds. “We sacrifice with everything else in life, why suffer with our food?
“Knowing your surroundings, knowing the quality of your products, knowing the integrity of your ingredients — that, to me, is healthy. I believe in balanced plates. If you have colors — green, red, yellow — and if you have the soft, the creamy, the crunchy, you’ll feel full quicker.
“I don’t believe in gluttony. Portion control is more important than dieting,” Kelis declares. “If people would eat a normal-sized meal in-stead of gorging, they could eat a hell of a lot more of what they like.”
My Life on a Plate was pulled together in less than two months — an unheard-of time frame for a musician used to spending a year or more on an album. In this crunched time, she had to choose which recipes to include — from dishes reflecting her New York upbringing and Puerto Rican heritage, to her distinctive takes on international favorites — and cook everything again and again, both for consistency and so it could be photographed.
“The book was super-stressful,” Kelis says. “I was in boot camp and in sheer panic doing 10 recipes a day. I didn’t let anyone in the kitchen or let them eat the food or touch ingredients in the fridge. It was really, really intense. It’s way harder than making an album.”
Kelis will discuss and sign copies of My Life on a Plate on Monday, Oct. 5 at Barnes & Noble at the Grove. More info.