I really didn’t think anything could ever top my Bat-Mitzvah as the best night of my life, but that was before I was seated at a table, across from Coolio, with only a plate of barbecued meats between us. The Grammy award-wining rapper, cookbook author and former Celebrity Big Brother housemate, popped into downtown Brooklyn barbecue joint Hill Country Brooklyn on Wednesday night to take fans on a fantastic voyage (sorry) of cooking, learning, laughs and later on an impromptu performance that was bomb as all hell — he performed a new track that sampled the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” plus his own “C U When U Get There” and, thankfully, “Gangster’s Paradise.”
He was there for a Q&A and to promote his 2009 book Cookin’ with Coolio, (some chapters of which include: How to Become a Kitchen Pimp, Appetizers for That Ass, Salad-Eatin’ Bitches, It’s Hard Out Here for a Shrimp, and Vegetarians? Okay Whatever). It makes the bold claim that he can create 5-star meals at a 1-star price, which is something we are also always aspiring to, so we grabbed the multi-hyphenate star to get some budget cooking tips (hint: he loves canned vegetables), plus some career advice to aspiring rappers and/or cookbook authors, and why he still loves Paula Deen.
Throughout the night, attendees were able to order up some of Coolio’s “Damn Hot Veggie Chili,” which he handed out himself from behind the meat counter, ask him a few questions during a Q&A with food writer and author Stephanie Smith and purchase his cookbook (proceeds from the sale of the book went toward the Jarez Music Foundation – an organization started by his cousin, saxophone player and smooth jazz recording artist Jarez Posey – that supplies musical equipment to inner-city kids. We almost didn’t get to chat — in a moment that wheezy indoor kids everywhere can sympathize with, Coolio had an asthma flair up. But he borrowed an audience member’s inhaler while performing, got his breath back and sat down to give us some advice (and yeah, he still has the braids).
You’re obviously mostly known as a rapper and reality star, but how did you get started with cooking?
My mother made me do all the stuff in the kitchen that she didn’t want to do, like mop the floors, sweep the floors, clean under the oven, clean inside the oven, peel the potatoes, chop the onions. She would give me a spoon and say, “Stir this chili every five minutes, and if you let it burn, I’ma beat your ass.”
I started cooking seriously [when] my mother passed away. I gave myself therapy, I did self-therapy. Black people and therapy don’t mix that much – I don’t know if it’s because it’s kind of weird, or because it’s too expensive. So, I sat down and I thought about the reasons I didn’t enjoy meal times [anymore] and I came up with the answer; and that was, that I missed my mother’s cooking. So, I set out to re-create my mother’s cooking.
You write in your cookbook that the recipes are “ghetto gourmet” meals that will make you get skinnier while “your wallet will just keep growing fatter as you eat more meals at home.” These are goals we can appreciate, so what’s your favorite low-cost recipe to share with Brokelyn readers?
I like chicken, like I can make a chicken come back to life on this table and do all kinds of amazing things…my finger-lickin’, rib-stickin’, fall-off-the-bone-and-into-your-mouth chicken. [Also], I had been experimenting with tempura – do you know how to make tempura batter? It’s simple: it’s cornstarch, flour, a little salt and seltzer water, cold seltzer water. I used to buy the batter. Pshh – waste of my money, charging you $4 for something that you can make with $1.50.
Let’s talk about the kitchen: what do you need to stock up on for budget cooking?
Go into the store and only buy things that are on sale. If it’s on sale this week, I buy three of them and I might freeze two or I put two away and over a period of time, you find that when you buy things that are on sale, you end up having a mass amount of ingredients for things that you need. And also, canned vegetables. Fresh vegetables are not that much more expensive but, sometimes, you can’t afford fresh vegetables if they’re really expensive. The inspection process that a vegetable goes through before it’s canned is probably more extensive than when it’s fresh.
If you want to do certain things in the kitchen, [you need to] have the right tools. You’re only as good as the tools that you have. And your tools don’t have to be expensive, but, they have to be quality. Imagine flipping a pancake and the end of your spatula breaks off. If you’re a writer, and you have that first-generation writing program, then you know you gonna be misspelling words, your phrases gonna come out sloppy and you know your paragraphs are going to be uneven. You gonna be looking tacky and you probably gonna get fired.
Lots of people are probably envious of your career. Any tips to pass on to aspiring cooks/rappers?
I think cooking is like making music – you have a recipe. With music, you have a melody. You take that recipe, and you follow it. With music, you take a melody and take a pattern, especially with someone like me, and you follow it. I have a recipe for making music so I have a recipe for making food – it’s the same thing. With food, as you’re cooking it, you taste it. When you’re making music, you stop and you listen to it.
Your book talks about becoming a “kitchen pimp.” Who are some other kitchen pimps you look up to?
Guy Fieri is a kitchen pimp, Bobby Flay is a kitchen pimp, Rachael Ray is a kitchen pimp, Paula Deen is kitchen pimp. [Yes, Paula Deen, whom Coolio said he forgives for her racist comments] People are people, people make mistakes, people say the wrong things sometimes, I know I do, so I don’t hold nothing against nobody.
Which is more fun for you, cooking or music?
I think they are equally the same. I get the same kind of enjoyment out of cooking that I do out of making music.
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