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How to pair music and food for your next dinner party

“Fine dining can get a bit boring after an hour. The music is usually shit. Why am I paying THB 10,000 for this? I have so many questions in my head. I knew I had to use the opportunity to escalate the experience with music.”

Everyone: meet Jay Plodpai.

Between 27-29 June, the artist, creative visionary, and MYBEER extraordinaire hosted a series of exclusive dinners conceptualised around the pairing of music and food. Held at Surface and curated by the amazing Chef Chalee, the event saw about 25 guests each day, for a dinner that lasted a little over an hour for six courses, and a track list of about six songs.

It’s a curious concept, given that we often pair our dinners with wines or even whiskies, and yet never steer the focus back on something as simple (and entirely mood-changing) as sound. Recently, the Park Hyatt launched a virtual reality dinner experience, using visuals to quite literally bring a little more to the dining table. Yet Jay’s event cranks things up a different notch. Here, we chat to the man of the hour to highlight the key pointers to consider when not only choosing, but effectively pairing your grooves with your grub. Cue the music.

All images courtesy ‘Dinner by Chalee’ by MYBEER

Surface Restaurant

Start with the food

“Music is something that can really escalate or change a mood, yet it is also really subjective,” explains Jay. “You need to start with the food. It’s not about a theme or an audience. I told my DJ, Ben, to try the dishes and take it from there.”

This kind of perspective is important, given that it’s important to minimise anything that could too heavily impact the taste. “I love lights, but they can change the taste of a certain dish so easily, so we have to be mindful of that.” At Surface, this translated to the ‘Sacred Heart (Original Mix) by Mateis e. Aqir, alongside fresh tomatoes with truffle burrata and kumquat vinegar on pizza bread. And candles. Lot’s of candles.

There should be a different soundtrack for each course, and whilst many of us can wolf our food down within a single song, be prepared to have tracks on a similar vibe for the slower (or more indulgent) diners. “Your song list has to be broad.”

Pair music and food

Consider association

“Ben played the same music on all three evenings, and it was still good on all three evenings. By the third day, when I heard the song, I could remember the taste of the food.” What Jay describes here is an interesting phenomenon, and draws on the link between our senses and our memory. It’s a useful tool in many ways: long after the dinner, should your guests catch a tune or a taste of something from that evening, they will draw a happy connection. Nevertheless, be mindful of the reverse. It is advisable not to play a tragic aria alongside a piece of meat served rare.

Beyond memory, Jay urges to think about association even in more literal terms. “There was a seafood dish that was served to the soundtrack of ocean waves, with European influences. It went really well.” Naturally, the pairing here is an easy one. Don’t overcomplicate it. (And for those who are curious: it was a ceviche of seabass with pickled Marian plum, served to the tunes of ‘Vuelvo al Sur (Koop Remix)’ by Astor Piazzolla.)

Surface Restaurant

Volume is important

“We’re trying to get a mood going with each dish. It’s not really about the food. It’s not really about the music. I wanted to be the creator of an experience, and to escalate that experience by manipulating the senses.” Yet as is paramount to just about any dinner experience, people should still be able to have conversations. “That’s the most important thing, and that’s why we didn’t use headphones. Think about it: music and food brings people together. Don’t mess with it.”

Jay’s point is a good one. Think about how many couples smile at each other when they hear ‘their song’ that played on their first dinner date. Think about how many moments of our lives are perfectly backdrop-ed by a particular melody; landing in London to a sweet lyric, or crying in the car in the rain to a dramatic one. But then also think about the volume of said melody: it is never too loud.

“Music is a bonding experience. I want people to look at each other, make conversation, and meet new people.” Perhaps your guests will bond over how much they love the current track by Polo & Pan (‘Bakara’ for those in the know, to a Surf & Turf dish). Perhaps they’ll bob heads to the same beat and become friends. Nobody wants to shout across a dinner table, but everybody loves a good tune to set the mood to potentially bond.

Pair music and food

Last but not least: the big ‘A’

“We wanted people to come and eat together with a sense of taste and sound. But the best sense is the sense of people. I cried on the first night of the event. Tears of joy. I made myself proud.” Jay continues, “We’re looking to build a collaborative community space in Bangkok, but these things start small. These things start within friend groups or families, or at the dinner table.”

Essentially, it all comes down to what music – both at the dinner table or just in general – really is all about. It’s about interaction and experience, both of which are overarched and assembled so under the big ‘A’: ambience. Asked what he would improve when hosting this kind of dinner next time, Jay responds: “We should have sharing plates, so we can create more of an interaction between people,” and going back to his opening statement and slight dislike for regular fine dining, it becomes clear where the worth of a THB 10,000 fine dining event stems from: experience. Aim to foster an experience, play it by ear from there.

Surface Restaurant

Sample set list

For all those now bugging to know and looking to find that inspiration for their next music and food pairing, here are a few tracks and courses from the past dinner:


Note: Similar tracks have been linked for those for which an exact version could not be found online.

Jay assures us there’ll be another music, beer, and food pairing dinner in Bangkok soon. Stay – for lack of a better word here – tuned.

Lisa Gries
Creative Content Director, Bangkok
Lisa loves to travel, and is always on the lookout for the world’s best nap spots. She’s a serious Asian art history nerd, and has a knack for languages and coffee table books. She hopes to publish her own novels one day, one of which will likely be called ‘All The Great Conversations I Had In A Bangkok Speakeasy.’ It’s a work in progress.