Famous musicians rarely offer to cook me food, much less serenade me while it’s being served (what’s the hold-up, Paul McCartney?). But Questlove, the significantly Afro-ed drummer for The Roots (real name Amir Thompson), wasn’t just taking pity on me because I looked hungry. On Monday night, he took over the kitchen at New York City’s Blue Note jazz club, serving up fried chicken, mac and cheese, raw kale and other delectable items to hungry patrons for one simple reason: he wants to start his own catering business.
“Actually, I really want a food truck,” he corrected me when I talked to him after the dinner, “but for now it’s catering. I’m working up to the truck.” Questlove is a huge supporter of the food truck scene, which he discovered several years ago while on a west cost tour with the Roots. In 2009, the Roots became the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. As a result Questlove now spends most of his time in New York City, where he’s become obsessed with Wafles & Dinges, a Belgian waffle truck. Once he was 45 minutes late to a show because he’d stopped at the truck and was so taken with its “Speculoos” topping — a creamy, peanut butter-like spread mixed with honey, vanilla, gingerbread, cinnamon and other spices — that he tried to buy up the truck’s entire supply.
“I was like, ‘I will pay you as much money as you want for your tub of Speculoos,’ but the waffle guy wouldn’t give it to me. He told me the name of his supplier, so I had my driver take me across town and I bought my own. I show up to the gig and everyone’s staring at me with arms folded, scowling eyebrows, like ‘Why you late?’” Then Questlove let them try the Speculoos and all was forgiven. “You can’t eat that stuff and stay mad.”
For now, Questlove has no plans to encroach on the waffle truck’s territory; his new company, Quest Loves Food, is focusing mostly on fried chicken. But Quest is an eater, not a cooker — his special “Love’s Drumstick” recipe is the creation of several professional chefs who perfected their recipe with the help of focus groups and blind taste tests. “We were damn near scientific about it,” Questlove says. The result is a crunchy buttermilk fried concoction with a creole kick. It’s served alongside fried mac and cheese balls and black eyed peas, which Questlove cheekily renamed “will.i.ams.”
The chicken was absolutely delicious, but who can afford to hire a member of the Roots to cook for their party? I suspect Questlove won’t be working the wedding circuit any time soon. As it turns out, I’m correct: his managers referred to his project as “high end catering,” designed for special events such as those annual Halloween bashes thrown by Heidi Klum and Seal, at which Questlove always DJs. (Somehow, I don’t think Heidi Klum eats a lot of fried chicken, but whatever). When you hire Quest Loves Food, he’ll also provide the musical accompaniment. At Blue Note, he brought along a New Orleans-inspired brass band, Bobby McFerrin, and Roots’ members Black Thought and Rahzel, the latter of which provided the best beat-boxing performance I’ve ever witnessed. At one point, he sang Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” while also providing the beat and the bass for both. Why do artists even bother with digital effects in songs? They could probably just hire Rahzel and call it a day.
But as far as the food goes, it’s definitely got potential — as long as Questlove doesn’t name any of his dishes after Fergie.
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