How Kelis Cooks When She’s Not on the Road

“I've been on tour for what seems like a full 20 years.”

Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Kelis is a Renaissance woman; in addition to being a multiplatinum, Grammy-nominated singer, she’s also a chef, cookbook author, and the owner of her own sauce company, Bounty & Full. She’s also the host of the new Netflix show, Cooked With Cannabis. At home in California, Kelis cooked jerk chicken and chatted about the international inspirations behind her food. 

My mom was a chef with a catering business when I was growing up. I was always her main helper and sous-chef (a word I learned later in life). I eventually ended up going to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. I've been on tour for what seems like a full 20 years on and off. I've been traveling for almost my entire adult life, as my career. That travel, combined with how I grew up and then going to culinary school, are definitely the things that made me the chef I am today.

We live on a farm far from Los Angeles.

I cook a lot in general, quarantine or not. To be honest, I used to be a Postmates queen, with a busy, hectic life in LA. But now that we live on a farm far from Los Angeles, that is no longer an option. So we cook something every day. There's always something being made from nothing in our house. I think I've probably got more time to do leisure cooking now, which is a little bit different. I’m baking bread and things like that that I don't always have time or the thought to do. I even started experimenting with making cheese. I'm taking this time to be like, Oh, I can actually experiment.
We're a food-centered family. It's a party, and the whole family's involved. My husband very much prides himself on being the meat smoker. And then my older son definitely feels like the food critic, and he was born that way. He will let you know. He's also my go-to taster, and he helps me pick what we’ll cook. And then the little one always wants to help me cook.

Wherever I end up, food is always the epicenter.

After 20 years of touring, you make friends, so at this point I've got friends in all these different countries. If I'm coming to town, I'll just be like, "Hey, I'm coming over." I recently went to Penang, and I didn’t know anyone there, but then I remembered there was a restaurant I used to go to when I was in high school that was called Penang. When I finally went to the island of Penang, I was like, This is amazing. This is an actual place, and the food is incredible. I didn't know anyone there, but I immediately felt a sense of connection. Wherever I end up, food is always the epicenter.
Bounty & Full started with two things. The first thing was that there's a twinkle that I have always had with sauce. I found that it came naturally to me, that I was good at it, and I always had an affinity toward it. And then in culinary school I was thriving because that became my specialty. When I graduated I was living in LA, but, being from New York, I felt I was still getting accustomed to the cultural food differences. No one really thinks about it, but they are vastly different. I wanted to feel at home and missed certain things, like jerk sauce, that I couldn't find on the West Coast. 

The sauces came from a desire to home in on the flavors I tasted while traveling and make them accessible. And also wanting people to use something completely natural and local, from where we're at, so all of my sauces are sourced here.
I'm super excited about hosting Cooked With Cannabis. It's intriguing, for obvious reasons. For chefs, it’s another herb to cook with — one that has all of these added properties. And especially for me as a chef, I'd like to know what all of my ingredients are capable of, in every aspect. I've been cooking with cannabis for probably two decades now, and this was such a cool opportunity to remove the veil and take away the stigma behind it. And there really is such a stigma attached to it. It’s caused racial divide; it’s caused all kinds of turmoil. But it has also brought so much healing and joy and preservation. It's got this dark side, and then it's got this really beautiful side. I wanted to usher it into the light in the best way that I possibly could. 
For this shoot, I made chicken two ways: one with jerk sauce and one with a sauce Creole. They're both pretty easy once you understand the fundamentals. The reason I chose to make them is because they have very similar foundations. You can also use whatever meat you want. Add it in your pot with a little bit of oil. Brown it first, salt it, pepper it, and then you really just start building with your vegetables. They’re variations on a braising concept.
Photos by Mike Mora

In one pot, I made the jerk chicken, which was something I loved growing up in New York. It’s inspired by some of my favorite Caribbean spots that we used to go to in Harlem. As I got older, this dish is just something that always reminded me of my youth. It's a real comfort food to me. And then in the other pot I made a sauce Creole with tomatoes and the sofrito, or “holy trinity.” Every culture has something like it. It's a total mixture, which I think really represents me right now.