Eat to the Beat: Corey Lee

Chef Corey Lee talks fried chicken, blood sausage and sea cucumbers.

Corey Lee is the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Benu in San Francisco. Here he serves up his thoughts on snacks, grub, and rock & roll.

What do chefs and rock stars have in common?

Well, we’re both emotional people, and that leads to a certain amount of creativity, which we employ in nontraditional settings. Also, the hours we work. We’re both sort of nocturnal.

First times: what’s the first record you bought? First meal you cooked?

The first record was Michael Jackson’s Thriller, when my family moved to the U.S. from Korea. I was five, just learning to speak English. The first meal was a few years later when my dad wanted to do a big traditional Thanksgiving, and everyone cooked a different dish. I made stuffed pasta shells…which really isn’t very traditional at all.

Let’s talk seduction: what’s your go-to soundtrack for getting it on, and what’s your go-to meal for getting a lady in the mood?

I think it’s a good idea to let the woman choose the music. For food, I think it’s important to keep it light, and not get too full, so I like to go with sushi and sashimi

On the road: what’s your ultimate road food and what are the best driving songs?

I tend to listen to story-driven music when I’m driving, stuff like the Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, the Pretenders. There are stories behind their music, and it can draw you in for hours. And when I’m in the car I like to eat mandarins, but if I’m stopping, it’s definitely fried chicken.

Food and music pairings – can you pair a dish with:

Michael Jackson

He seems like the kind of guy who would have a lot of dietary restrictions, so it would probably be something vegan and gluten-free, like a plate of raw vegetables and a blended vinaigrette.

Jerry Garcia

I’d say pizza with a ton of toppings that you normally wouldn’t get. And not gourmet-style pizza, either.


I think Bono’s a pretty sophisticated eater, so I’d do an elaborate tasting menu for them.

Lady Gaga

For some reason blood comes to mind, so something bloody, like blood sausage.


I’d want to give him a tour of all sorts of esoteric Asian ingredients, whether it’s sea cucumber, or fried shellfish. Stuff that someone who lives in the U.S. might not have experienced.

If you could invite all of your favorite artists to a dinner party, who would you invite?

Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Stevie Wonder.

What would you cook?

I’d want to do all the cooking in advance so I could hang out. I’d probably do either a hot pot or a Korean barbecue at the table. The great thing about that is that you don’t have to be in the kitchen while your guests are at the table waiting for you. And we’d probably be drinking whisky.

What kind of music is good for cooking?

We don’t play music in our kitchen, but I sometimes listen to my iPod so I can just zone out and not be disturbed.

What about for eating?

The soundtrack in our dining room is pretty eclectic. We have everything from Led Zeppelin to the Byrds to Beethoven to Miles Davis. It’s really more about tempo than about genre.

Who is the one artist out there now that you want to see live?

Bob Dylan. I think he’s playing in Santa Barbara soon, but with my hours there’s no way I can make it.