Pairing Music With Your Favorite Meal

“Musical pairing helps make a good dish great and a great dish perfect.” Those are Barbara Werner’s words of wisdom and the basis for her business, Musical Pairing. It started at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in 2013 when she was dining alone listening to music with headphones, determined to find out why the epic “Nessun Dorma”—Luciano Pavarotti’s epic song from the opera Turandot—paired so well with her petite filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes.

Werner dedicated the past few years to launching Musical Pairing, a business concept that includes an app, books, and dining out-group meals based on the scientific correlation between music and food. She harmonizes music to specific meals, essentially. Her mathematical calculations have concluded that a simple change to food—even as simple as adding salt and pepper—can instantly change a musical pairing. For example, a light and sweet slice of apple pie becomes stronger, weightier and sharper when adding rhubarb and a bourbon pecan topping. The Discovery Channel thought her concept interesting enough that they aired a segment about it this past spring.

How does it all work? For starters, your food must equate numerically to that of your music. The Music Pairing app (a free download for iPhone or iPad) assigns a numerical value (an FPN or Food Pairing Number) based on the primary ingredient (protein), richness of the sauce, weight (cooking method), and heat index—with the music then assigned a numerical value (a MPN or Musical Pairing Number) based on primary instruments (musical family), beat, tempo, and genre category. The user selects what they are eating first and then song choices with equivalent pairing numbers (from 1 to 7) in varying musical genres from jazz, to pop, to rock, and more, are suggested.

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I was lucky enough to join members of the Westchester Magazine staff to sample a six-course meal at Ruth’s Chris in Tarrytown, with each course paired with a song that Werner selected to accompany the dishes.

Here is a brief overview of the night’s events:

First Course: Seared Ahi Tuna with Mustard Glaze

Song Pairing: “Call Me Maybe” (Carly Rae Jepsen)

Second Course: Fried Calamari

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Song Pairing: “Let the River Run” (Carly Simon)

Third Course: Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Breast and Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Crust

Song Pairing: “White Room” (Cream)

Fourth Course: Petite Filet Mignon and Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Song Pairing: “Nessun Dorma” (Luciano Pavarotti)

Fifth Course: Crème Brûlée
Song Pairing: “It Had to Be You” (Harry Connick Jr.)

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Sixth Course: Ruth’s Mini Chocolate Duo – Dark Chocolate Lava Cake & Chocolate Mousse

Song Pairing: Gangsta’s Paradise (Coolio)

Looking to check out a Musical Pairing meal for yourself? Visit for more details. Pop-up Musical Pairing dinners range between $85 and $125 a plate, with a Gilt City special currently running at $65. 

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