When you sing and it’s your job, if you get a cold, it’s kind of the end of the world. I’ve never had to cancel a gig because I’ve been ill – so far, I’m touching wood now – and if I’m on tour, I have garlic for everything. Raw garlic, I’ll chop it up, put it in hot water and drink it. Maybe stir in some manuka honey, apple cider vinegar, ginger, in one disgusting concoction.
Oh, it has to be manuka. If someone just tried to put one of those plastic bears in front of us … I don’t know what they measure it in – it’s like the Scoville scale for chilli – but 20 is a good manuka. And if you get a 40 or 60, you know that’s really good. I’ll just have a teaspoon before the show and maybe another before the encore. I’m sure my dentist isn’t really happy about it, but it gives you a little boost.
Growing up, we didn’t run out of money, but we had no spare money. My mum was cleaning houses and then she started working at a primary school. Packed lunches towards the end of the month would have slightly different foods in. You might have a sandwich and then one day just crackers and cheese. Then the last week of the month our packed lunches got really posh because we always got stuff from Marks & Spencer. I remember saying to my mum, “Why did we always have Marks & Spencer packed lunches for the last four days of the month?” And she said: “Oh, that’s when my paycheck would be running out … but I had a Marks & Spencer credit card.” So suddenly we would have these fancy iced buns.
My biggest food coming of age happened with music. Suddenly there were these people who were older than me and had, in those days, a record company budget to just burn through. I remember going to the top of the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the starter was half a jacket potato with I couldn’t see any prices on the menu, because none of the numbers on the menu related to what I could imagine people spending on food. caviar. And I remember our guitarist saying, “I’d like to have that as well,” and the record company woman was like, “No!” But at the end I saw the bill and I was like: “Oh no, that was €180!”
Both times after I’d just had my babies, I had them at home and being in a bed for days/weeks, a really good friend of ours who used to be a chef made pistou [a cross between a soup and a stew, packed with vegetables and beans]. When I was at a low ebb, [my husband] Steve would just give me three massive ladles of it. I was so tired after I’d had those babies and I’d just eat it. You know they say food sticks to your bones? It was just iron-rich gorgeousness.
I went to Stevie Wonder’s church in Los Angeles and we went for lunch [with him] to an Ethiopian restaurant. It was so fascinating watching a person eat who doesn’t see, because Ethiopian food you eat with your hands, dipping that thin, spongy bread into these different piles. And it’s actually so sophisticated to eat with your hands because before you put the food in your mouth you’ve got a sense of the texture, the temperature, the resistance, the size and so on. It was a way of “seeing” the food, not just having something on a metal fork and not knowing what it is until it goes to your tongue.
Our band is really into cooking: we have an actual Crockpot on the tour bus. People make dal and that lasts a few days and one of the band used to be a chef. So we always eat well and we’re all not 25, right, so we can’t survive on beer and crisps.
My favourite things
I probably eat way too much pasta, but a garlicky, fishy pasta is just a dream thing to me.
When you’re breastfeeding, it’s the deepest thirst that you can imagine. Maybe if you walk in a desert it’s worse. Being really honest, water tastes like water has never tasted before. It’s the most amazing drink: silky, a bit sweet.
Place to eat
I love being in Tokyo, because I just feel you can’t go wrong there. The way the fish has been sliced, it’s like it’s giving you superpowers and everything.
Dish to make
The style of cooking I like to do is quite hands-off, really. You know, the casserole world. I’m not very good with the timing of stuff. I’m like, “Well, that’s done, this thing’s cold, this won’t be ready for half an hour …” I can’t pull it all together. I really admire people who do that.
Corinne Bailey Rae is currently on tour in the UK, see livenation.co.uk for more information