Mickael Viljanen: ‘When the restaurant shut I ordered myself a Marshall amp and guitar’

Soundtrack of My Life: The chef listens to music constantly – and now creates it himself too

Rory Gallagher: the most underappreciated guitar player of the Clapton-Hendrix era? Photograph: Andrew Putler/Redferns via Getty

Rory Gallagher: the most underappreciated guitar player of the Clapton-Hendrix era? Photograph: Andrew Putler/Redferns via Getty

 

For over 20 years, I’ve worked intense hours in kitchens from morning to night, and when the pandemic struck, and the Greenhouse in Dublin, where I’m head chef, had to close its doors temporarily as a result, I suddenly found myself at home. It took some adjusting at the start. But it’s meant I’ve spent more time with my kids than I have since the eldest was born, 19 years ago. And I ordered myself a Marshall amp and guitar, so I’ve picked the guitar up again.

I listen to music constantly. It’s on in the background when I’m cooking, working, going to the shops, exercising or relaxing – I get my money’s worth with Spotify. It helps to focus me, and it does a great job of setting a mood. Like on Sundays, which is always a day off, making lunch with John Coltrane playing makes it feel like a proper Sunday.

Boney M’s I Feel Good has been a big hit with the boys in the kitchen in the last couple of years. It’s a tune that energises us just before dinner service

In the Greenhouse, we’d have music playing in the kitchen at all times except service. Sometimes we go into work in the mornings when it’s still dark outside, but when the speaker goes on and the music kicks in, it brings everybody back to life. There’s a crew of six or seven, and we’re normally like-minded when it comes to music luckily. We tend to play a wide selection during the week, and on Saturdays, which is the end of the week for us, it might be light jazz or a dance tune from the 1990s.

Boney M’s I Feel Good has been a big hit with the boys in the kitchen in the last couple of years. It’s a tune that energises us just before dinner service. The lads are younger than me and a few hadn’t heard of Boney M, so it’s a nice way to pass on songs to a new generation.

As you’ll see from the playlist, I like all sorts of genres but I’m especially drawn towards the 1970s and 1980s. I was born in 1981 and I have strong memories of sitting in the back of my parents’ car, listening to what they were playing on the radio – acts like Kim Wilde, Blondie, and Dire Straits. 

‘Making lunch with John Coltrane playing makes it feel like a proper Sunday’: John Coltrane performs on stage at the Half Note club, New York in 1965. Photograph: Adam Ritchie/Redferns
Making lunch with John Coltrane playing makes it feel like a proper Sunday. Photograph: Adam Ritchie/Redferns

Music often invokes memories for me; certain songs tend to take me back to a time and a place. Jazz bands like Duke Ellington or John Coltrane take me back to rooftop terraces in New York. 

Rory Gallagher takes me back to my teenage years. I was, and still am, a huge fan. It feels like Rory Gallagher is probably the most underappreciated guitar player from that era of the Claptons and Hendrixes. He’s so unique – you could recognise his style anywhere.

Listening to Yann Tiersen’s Amelie song while cooking with a few glasses of wine is the closest I’ll get to Paris at the moment

I’ve picked Comptine d’un autre été, l’après midi because I have all of Yann Tiersen’s albums and I love Amelie, the movie it’s taken from. Paris is one of my favourite places in the world. I tend to go to France four or five times a year. We eat in Paris’s restaurants, and I like to spend my summer holidays often in the south of France. Listening to this while cooking with a few glasses of wine is the closest I’ll get to Paris at the moment.

It might be a little controversial that I’ve picked Miley Cyrus’ version of Zombie. I do like The Cranberries and I hate covers in general, but she delivers this exceptionally well. Her voice is well suited to it, and it gives a raw, fresh take to the song. I find it astonishing how Miley can go from one genre to another. To me, that’s a tell-tale sign that she’s a really talented singer. 

Mickael Viljanen: ‘Back home in Finland, metal was one of the most popular genres’
Mickael Viljanen

Mother by Danzig is an iconic tune. I played it a lot when I was younger, and I still play it now. Even my older kid asks what it is, and then you tell stories that you’ll have to cut short before they get too far. 

Back home in Finland, metal was one of the most popular genres. I saw most of the bands live when I was younger, even Black Sabbath. I don’t think that style of music is as popular these days. I can see it fading away, as it doesn’t seem to be filling many radio playlists anymore. 

I miss gigs but I missed them while I was working too. When things weren’t quite as serious, I could get out to see bands on occasion. In recent years, I occasionally checked gig listings to see if any good bands are playing on a Sunday or Monday, but they rarely do. 

I suppose nobody knows when and how we’ll come out of lockdown, but I’m very much looking forward to getting back to work. Because my work has been my life, really, since I was 14, and everyone needs a routine.

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