Questlove on His New Cookbook, the Foreword by Martha, and the Unlikely Way the Two Struck Up a Friendship
The author of the brand-new Mixtape Potluck also opens up about his famed "Food Salons" and how his grandmother and her three sisters inspire him daily.
Martha Stewart has been a household name since the 1980s, so it's no surprise that her work and teachings have influenced people across the world. As part of our latest series, professional chefs, lifestyle experts, and even a few celebrities take part in What Martha Taught Me to reveal what they've learned from our founder, plus what they did to take their careers to the next level.
You might recognize Questlove (whose real name is Ahmir Thompson) as the drummer and joint frontman for the band The Roots, which is currently the in-house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Aside from being a Grammy award-winning musician, Questlove has also made a name for himself within the culinary industry thanks to his first food-centric book, something to food about, which explored the concept of creativity through the lens of several legendary chefs. The Philadelphia native is also known for hosting "Food Salons," which he describes as "high-end potlucks" catered by famous culinary pros with guests that include boldface names in entertainment, music, art, design, and more.
We chatted with Questlove about his second book, Mixtape Potluck, available now, which includes recipes from his array of famous friends; all in, he compiled more than 50 recipes for everything from mac n' cheese to chocolate chili. As it turns out, trying each dish featured in the book multiple times was something of a personal challenge. "I gained a lot of weight in the name of research for this book," he explains. "Or let's just say I used this book as an excuse to eat a lot!" We also learned that Martha, whom he calls "the best example of party planning," was always his first choice to write the book's foreword. Read on for more details about his new book, one of his first meetings with our founder, and his biggest culinary inspirations.
One of his earliest interactions with Martha didn't exactly go as planned.
Though Martha and Questlove are now friends, an early interaction on The Tonight Show didn't bode well for the pair. Questlove affectionately remembers when Martha appeared as a guest on the late-night talkshow in 2014. One segment featured her and Fallon facing off to see who could make the tastier Cubano sandwich. Questlove, who served as the sole judge in the blind taste test, ultimately sided with his boss. "I think this is a sign that she's since forgiven me for choosing Jimmy's sandwich," he jokes. "I told her I had to keep my job!" For the record, he says Martha's Cubano was "awesome."
Martha was his only choice to write the foreword.
Questlove's previous food-focused book, the aforementioned something to food about, featured a foreword written by the late Anthony Bourdain. When he was debating who to ask to pen the foreword for Mixtape Potluck, which pairs each chef with a song that he feels best captures their unique creative energy, he wanted someone of a similar caliber. Only one name came to mind: Martha. "I knew that once you get someone of [Anthony's] stature to write a foreword and co-sign you, you have to keep that same energy level for your next venture," he says. "I put the energy out there and Martha was more than willing."
He and Martha bonded over Ghetto Gastro.
When Questlove and Martha were first getting to know one another, they grew closer thanks to their mutual appreciation for Ghetto Gastro, a Bronx-based creative collective that focuses on the intersection of food, design, and culture. "I didn't know she was so damn down-to-earth and approachable. We really bonded over our love for the guys from Ghetto Gastro," he recalls. "Martha is extremely, extremely relatable. There's not anything posh and uptight about her. She is extremely cool and I'm very fortunate to know and have worked with her."
Mixtape Potluck was inspired by his legendary "Food Salons."
In the late '90s, Questlove and The Roots used food as a means to gather the Philadelphia music community at their jam sessions, and from that, the concept of the "Food Salon" was born. Today, Quest's salons, which have drawn guests from Bjork to famed investigative journalist Bob Woodward, feature eats from the likes of Dominique Ansel and Daniel Humm. "It's not about food, it's not about the music and it's not about the guest, but it's really about the synergy of what brings them all together," he explains of the dinners. Not surprisingly, these star-studded meals provided plenty of inspiration for Mixtape Potluck. "It's about the honor of party planning," he says of the tome. "The art of planning, good food, good music, and good company, this can be a guide for that."
He's always viewed food as more than just sustenance.
Questlove cites his grandmother and her three sisters as his biggest culinary inspirations, recalling how the quartet made weekly Sunday dinners throughout his childhood that required days of preparation. It was this, he says, that taught him to view food as an art form and chefs as artists. This is a belief he still holds true today. "I saw them as artists who made priceless pieces that were temporary for the next two to three hours," he explains of culinary experts. "I never just saw it as a person who made something of sustenance that feeds your belly. I saw food as edible art. Martha Stewart making something, to me, is your own Mona Lisa experience for 90 minutes."