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Dialogue Chef Dave Beran on Music and Gastronomy

By David Jenison on December 13, 2017

Dave Beran, the acclaimed Next chef who rose up the ranks at Alinea, left Chicago for the sunny shores of Los Angeles to open his new seasonal restaurant, Dialogue. The chef's love for art informs the plating and the interior design, but Beran also cites music as a major influence in how he creates dishes and orders tasting menus. PRØHBTD spoke with the James Beard Award-winning chef to learn more, and this is what he had to say:

At one point, I was struggling with the flow of [the dinners at Next] because I want to challenge guests, but I also want to comfort them a bit. I started looking at albums that, basically, have a timeline to them. The Roots album ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin was the first album I heard from them that flows like a story. They went through this experience, and they wrote an album around that experience. I was talking to Ahmir Questlove and asked him what was going on with the album. He said a year before they wrote it, their manager [Richard Nichols] told them he had a year left to live. He was dying of Leukemia. 

Questlove basically said the album was his last will and testament. It was a eulogy for him. They wanted to come away with something great and wrote an album that played to all of their emotions. The first song ["Theme from the Middle of the Night"] features Nina Simone. It's very soft. I would imagine, and he didn't elaborate as much as I'm going to right now, but I would imagine that song represents how they felt, being very quiet, sitting in a room hearing the story. There's a very aggressive, angry, banging, noisy song that, if you hear it on its own, is terrible and annoying, but if you hear it in succession, you go through the emotions with them. 

The last song ["Tomorrow"] is very happy. I would imagine the last song is from their manager's perspective, speaking back to them. I made our whole staff listen to that album, once straight through, once on shuffle, and then once straight through again because it shows you can't just throw things together. You have to have this cohesive order to it. 

I think Radiohead albums do the same thing where a song like "Electioneering" is amazing, but it's song eight on OK Computer, and you need songs seven and nine to really establish it. I really just started looking at the flow of emotional albums—not in a sappy way but in a storytelling way. You could do the same thing watching fireworks. If everything was the grand finale, nothing would be the grand finale. If there wasn't a dramatic pause, it wouldn't make the next thing better. 

I think [elBulli chef] Ferran Adrià did the same thing where he intentionally put in these courses he referred to as "lightning bolts" because they would wake up the guests. For example, he had this course of smoke foam, and it was gross. We served it at Next. It's literally smoked water and gelatin. It's not good. He openly admitted it wasn't good. He said he served it because he wanted to wake up the guests. He realized guests were falling asleep, or getting distracted, or losing interest, so that was a wake-up call. 

We did the same thing [at Next] where we served courses you have to eat with your hands or a course that's intentionally challenging or one that's very, very cold followed by one that's very hot. This made the cold seem colder and the hot seem hotter. All of those things play into it. A lot of that just comes from listening to great albums when I was out running or cooking and hearing the sounds. How do I react to them? When am I most creative? That's where I draw inspiration from with music.

At Dialogue, we are doing a playlist, but the challenge at the restaurant right now is that there's so much going on. I was really, really stressed out about the music we were going to play—what was the playlist going to be, and how was it going to apply—because there's so much music inspiration drawn. I realized after the second night of Friends & Family [preview dinners] that we're telling so many stories and interacting with the guests so much with food that I didn't want to keep putting out more things that the guests had to focus on. I separated the playlist from the menu experience. Now we're just looking at music that creates an atmosphere.

There's this DJ I like, and last night [at Dialogue], he took Marvin Gaye and Mos Def and matched them up. He did two albums, one where he takes all the original Marvin Gaye recordings and treats them like Marvin Gaye's the producer for Mos Def. On the other one, he treats it like they're co-collaborators producing the music together. We played a bunch of his stuff in the first round [of dinner music], and then we played stuff that you just don't often hear. I wanted to create a fun atmosphere at that point because, if you start giving guests too many things to focus on, they don't have enough time and energy to focus on everything in equal amounts. We just created a fun atmosphere with the music at this point. It's a lot of hip-hop. It's a lot of high-energy music. It's like a fun little sushi bar. 

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