From reggaeton to Swedish death metal, music fuels the glory (and drudgery) of the chef's day-to-day existence. Kitchen Radio explores this special relationship by asking culinary pros to talk less about stock and more about rock. Here, we chat with Seersucker's music-obsessed co-owner, Kerry Diamond (pictured right with chef Rob Newton).
So you are in charge of playlist, right?
I am in charge of the playlist, and it has turned into a full-time job. You can't put a music-obsessive in charge of the playlist.
You were once on your way to a career in music journalism...
I was a college radio DJ like everybody else and worked for Legs McNeil for a while when I was interning at Spin.
Ah, Legs McNeil. What was that like?
It was my first day in 1991, and Legs walked into the office while I was typing a transcript. He looked a total mess—he had leather pants held together by duct tape—and he comes over and he goes, "Who are you?" And I said, "Who am I? Who are you!?" And he replies, "I am Legs McNeil." And I was like, "Oh my god, I am so sorry. You are the whole reason I am here." And he said, "Who are you working for?" I said Stacey. And he goes "Now you work for me, but I only work out of my apartment. And I'll pay you."
So I agreed and he never paid me. But it was the most bizarre three months of my life. He had an apartment on St. Marks Place, and it was pre-Tompkins Square Riot, so it was a very different neighborhood. He was pals with Handsome Dick Manitoba. Sinead O'Connor was always calling I would cash checks for Richard Hell.
What were you looking to do with the restaurant's initial playlist?
We wanted a lot of Southern rock, but at the same time we love New Wave music. We also love everything that's going on in the Brooklyn music scene today. You start to work on playlists and you realize what sounds good together, and what doesn't. [Chef] Rob [Newton] thinks I have way too much National on the playlist, which probably would be the Brooklyn disease I got right now. Mary Wells is on there too. I am obsessed with her voice right now. I can't believe it took me this long to get to know her music. We've got some Mel Tormé. A friend of mine had recommended Janelle Monáe, and I couldn't believe how R&B and funk she was. It was amazing. I have a lot of Marvin Gaye. Marvin Gaye is just so mind-blowing. There is a lot Replacements like "Here Comes a Regular."
Anything not work?
It's funny, the stuff you love isn't necessarily the stuff that works that well in a restaurant. Like you can't go overboard with The Smiths and you can't go overboard with Cat Power, as much as I love Cat Power. Every now and then at night the manager will come over and ask if we can skip ahead.
Is that required, or a courtesy? I scold anybody who skips ahead songs on my party playlist…
No, he’ll ask because he knows how much work I put into the playlist. It’s nice. We’ve also met some really nice people in the neighborhood that honestly has been the best part of having a restaurant, the people we’ve met. There are some really cool singer/songwriters in the neighborhood like Rebecca Pronsky. We have some of her tunes on there. Her music is kinda folksy and goes really beautifully with Wilco .
The bathroom at Seersucker is decorated with music in mind, no?
The album cover barely exists as an art form anymore. So when you go in bathroom, you will see that we decorated the walls with Southern New Wave albums, which is a very very small subset. We’ve got covers in there from Let’s Active, The B-52s, Love Tractor, DBs.
What restaurants get their soundtrack right?
I am careful not to compete too much with the music at Frankies. They play a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Folk and all that. And even though I think that would work well here, I leave that to those guys. They blow me away.
Your first concert?
Early early early R.E.M is a huge influence on us. Just in terms of how the restaurant feels and maybe even the food and just what we’d like to be eventually. They were first concert I saw in Manhattan by myself as a kid. It was at Radio City Music Hall and The Three O’Clock. I felt like such a grown-up.
What's a dish inspired by R.E.M.?
Fried peach pie
Chef Rob Newton explains the dish: "Fried pie is a big thing in the south. You will find it in any gas station down there because gas stations sort of become the de facto place to grab a bite. A fried pie is sort of like an empanada—it’s something that you can apply to all the seasons. You can put apples in it. You can put chocolate in it. We did blackberries. The peaches we use are like saccharin they’re so sweet. We put a little lard in there just to make it kinda even better. And you just fry it and you eat warm from the deep fryer—with ice cream."
Photo by Kelly Neal