'Mixtape Potluck' Is Inspired By Questlove's 'Food Salon' Dinner Parties NPR's David Greene talks to musician Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, the co-founder of the iconic hip-hop band The Roots, about his cookbook Mixtape Potluck.
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'Mixtape Potluck' Is Inspired By Questlove's 'Food Salon' Dinner Parties

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'Mixtape Potluck' Is Inspired By Questlove's 'Food Salon' Dinner Parties

'Mixtape Potluck' Is Inspired By Questlove's 'Food Salon' Dinner Parties

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THE ROOTS: (Singing) Hey, hey, hey, hey...


So you might know him from "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Questlove is the co-frontman and drummer of the show's house band, The Roots. But he is also a music journalist, a producer, a DJ and an author. The guy straddles a lot of different worlds. And there's nothing he likes better than to bring people from all of those worlds together. He throws these big dinner parties at his house. He calls them food salons.

QUESTLOVE: I think one food salon, I might have went overboard on the invites. And we were, like, almost kissing, like, 75 people. My place can really hold a good 45 people.

GREENE: Yeah. It can get pretty packed. But Questlove actually has a tip for how to deal with that.

QUESTLOVE: I've mastered an exercise where I can have a meaningful conversation with someone for 45 seconds. And then I know how to ghost them without them being offended. Like, no...

GREENE: You've got to teach me how to do that.

QUESTLOVE: You engage for 30 seconds on something. You say something profound. And then you either touch their shoulder or their hand. You squeeze it to let them know that you're there, present. And then you look to the nearest 10 people. Hey, do you know da-da-da? Meep meep, (vocalizing).

GREENE: And then you're out.

QUESTLOVE: And then I'm off to the next...

GREENE: I feel like I should be taking notes.

You could take notes, or you could check out his new book. It is a guide for how to throw a very specific kind of party, the potluck. The book is called "Mixtape Potluck" because there's also a musical component here. Questlove asked celebrity chefs and entertainers to submit recipes for an imaginary potluck. And to inspire them to come up with a dish, he sent each person a song. So this conversation, like the book, is as much about music as it is about food.

You have a personal chef, named Ardenia Brown.

QUESTLOVE: Ardenia. Yes.

GREENE: Ardenia. So I want to play the song that you gave to her to sort of inspire a recipe.


GOODIE MOB: (Rapping) Didn't come for no beef 'cause I don't eat steak. I got a plate of soul food chicken, rice and gravy. Not covered in too much...

GREENE: That's Goodie Mob.

QUESTLOVE: "Soul Food."

GREENE: Which is appropriate because that's kind of where she went with her dish.

QUESTLOVE: I chose her because we all, in the hip-hop game, really need to watch our health. A lot of our greats have died as a result of poor health choices.

GREENE: And so Ardenia Brown, Questlove's chef, made roasted kale chips. You take the kale. You toss it with a spice mixture. You roast it in the oven until it's crispy, like a chip. It's kind of like collard greens, but healthier.


GOODIE MOB: (Rapping) Food for my soul. Come and get your soul food, well, well. Good old-fashioned soul food. All right...

QUESTLOVE: For me, eating soul food is like looking at a Polaroid. When I'm eating soul food, I'm thinking about Sundays at my grandmom's house. That's my DeLorean, going back 88 miles per hour in a time machine. It's also - I mean, we can't ignore the history of what soul food was. It was, like, a very unhealthy slave cuisine. A lot of that food could cause heart attacks or sickness. I think with Ardenia, the challenge for her is to figure out how to still give me that time-traveling, immersive experience without putting me in the grave too early.

GREENE: I want to go over to another section of the book, the soups and stews...


GREENE: ...Section. This is the great Muddy Waters and a song called "Herbert Harper's Free Press News."


MUDDY WATERS: (Singing) In our news, there's a war going on. Trouble in the east and the (unintelligible).

GREENE: So who did he pick this music for?

QUESTLOVE: For Maya, right?

GREENE: Yeah. Maya Rudolph, who we all know from "Saturday Night Live" and lots of other stuff.


GREENE: Why did you choose this song as the inspiration for her to make something?

QUESTLOVE: Maya did a chocolate chili recipe.

GREENE: Which doesn't sound intuitive.

QUESTLOVE: Which no one in Cincinnati or Texas would be too keen on.


GREENE: The lands of chili. Yeah.

QUESTLOVE: Yeah. Exactly.

GREENE: So this is your basic chili with kidney beans, diced tomatoes. Only, for this one, you top it with chocolate chips and Fritos. Quest says anyone who combines chocolate chips and Fritos is a hero.

QUESTLOVE: It was probably one of the most radical dishes that we had. That was the connection, the fact that both Muddy Waters and Maya Rudolph's mother, Minnie Riperton, were produced by the great Charles Stepney, a very radical chef of music, if you will. So that's kind of the connection.

GREENE: Sounds like Maya's a radical chef.

QUESTLOVE: Yeah. Trying something new.


WATERS: (Singing) Hey.

GREENE: All right. I'm just going to play the song and have you tell me who did it because, like, this is one of my favorites in the book.



BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack. I went out for a ride, and I never went back.

GREENE: So this was to inspire someone who was also - who's very close to you.

QUESTLOVE: Yes. This is for Jimmy Fallon's air chicken burger.

GREENE: So he made air-fried chicken burgers, as inspired by "Hungry Heart" by Bruce Springsteen. Can I just ask you first, what is an air fryer?

QUESTLOVE: OK. So either he was gifted or purchased an air fryer, which - you're supposed to do it for vegetables. I guess, in his mind, because he knew the caliber of chefs that we had here, he's like, OK, I got to do something radical. So he did something kind of innovative. His vegetable was the potato bread that he used. He puts the potato in the air fryer and grinds it up so that it's in crumbs. And then he adds that to the chicken, sort of making an adhesive. And then that's how he prepares it.

GREENE: Is it a good burger?

QUESTLOVE: It's an excellent burger.


SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Everybody's got a hungry heart.

GREENE: Why "Hungry Heart" by Bruce Springsteen?

QUESTLOVE: Well, because no matter how much he proclaims, like, upstate New York and Brooklyn, Jimmy is Jersey to the bone still. And his love for Bruce Springsteen, I couldn't go anywhere else. His Bruce Springsteen imitations are probably the best in the world.

GREENE: Now, there is a downside to potlucks, right? You can't control the quality of the dishes, or the variety, or even their arrival time. But Questlove says, for him, it's really not about the food, anyway. It is about bringing people together. That is the real point of his food salons.

You seem happy in these events. Like, the way you write about them, it sounds like it's just really, like, a happy place for you.

QUESTLOVE: It's my favorite thing in the world. This has taught me how to kind of speed date socially, where...

GREENE: So you're socially awkward sometimes, when - or socially uncomfortable?

QUESTLOVE: I used to be.


QUESTLOVE: I'm trying to - I'm in a new state of mind now where I'm, like, facing my fears of not being Rapunzel with an afro hiding in my tower. (Laughter). Food is the adhesive that really brings people together.

GREENE: Well, we should go out on the song that you picked for yourself, which is, "Everybody Eats When They Come To My House."

QUESTLOVE: Yes. Yes. Exactly.


CAB CALLOWAY: (Singer) Have a banana, Hannah. Try the salami, Tommy. Get with the gravy, Davy. Everybody eats when they come to my house.

GREENE: Well, everybody eats when they come to your house.


GREENE: This was a lot of fun.

QUESTLOVE: Thank you. I appreciate it.

GREENE: Thanks for doing it.

QUESTLOVE: Thank you for having me.


CALLOWAY: (Singing) Taste of bologna, Tony.

GREENE: That's the drummer and author Questlove. His new book is called "Mixtape Potluck."

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