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'Food Is Social Adhesive,' So Questlove Is Hosting A Virtual Potluck

May 28, 2020
Originally published on May 29, 2020 9:15 am

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson is not letting the pandemic slow him down. The Roots drummer, DJ, author and entrepreneur is still performing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, DJ'ing live on Instagram, and he and his Roots' bandmate Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter recently signed a production deal with NBC. As if that weren't enough, tonight he's hosting Questlove's Potluck, a virtual dinner party on the Food Network.

Even though Questlove is a cookbook author who, pre-pandemic, frequently hosted in-person potluck dinners and "Food Salons" with chefs, he says he wasn't sure hosting a TV special was a good idea.

"I first thought 'Questlove's Potluck?' Like, who wants to talk about a hoity-toity dinner party in these times, especially when you can't do those things," he says. But then he noticed that with everyone at home all the time, people have "ramped up" their "creativity" around food.

"There's a bunch of my friends from work who have these creative challenges with food." But he says, these days, they'll tell him "'Today I'm going to tackle this recipe,' and that sort of thing." Plus, Questlove wanted to raise money for a good cause, America's Food Fund. "So it was almost kind of like a no-brainer."

A no-brainer because Questlove's friends include acclaimed artists and comedians like Tiffany Haddish, who made oil-less fried chicken which she calls "She Ready Chicken," singer Patti LaBelle, who made branzino, actress Eva Longoria, who made arroz con pollo, and actress and comedian Maya Rudolph, who made a cocktail in which she shamelessly substituted Gatorade for grapefruit juice. Questlove says he told them to keep the budget for whatever they cooked to $25 or under.

That didn't seem too difficult for comedian Roy Wood, Jr., who showed Questlove his pantry with a warning that there were "a lot of things in this pantry that don't match, like almond milk and Oreos but they're both vegan, so I need you to relax."

Questlove believes "Food is social adhesive." He says for years, as a touring musician, he rarely had family-style meals. Now, under quarantine with several other people, they have group meals together all the time, and it's not just about the food.

"You have to bring an interesting topic to the table. You have to debate topics. And it's not just like you eat your meal and you leave," he says. "The rule that we have is that when we get up from this table, we have to learn something better about ourselves that we never learned before. So I love that."

This is divine intervention, Mother Nature's way, or whoever, whatever divine force is watching us right now as a wake-up call for all of us to really look inside of us and be about that change. - Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson

Questlove believes the pandemic is forcing people to think about who they are and what they stand for. During his most recent Tuesday night live DJ session on Instagram, he talked about how this week's high profile cases of racism and brutality against African-Americans left him feeling "raw." He says he's still processing how, as an artist and an activist, he should respond.

"We've seen tragedy after tragedy after tragedy, a tragedy and often times, we just see the same. The same formula of ...'Oh this will soon be forgotten, like all those times we heard of school shootings. Three days later, we're just back to normal," he says. "I feel like [the pandemic] ... This is divine intervention, Mother Nature's way, or whoever, whatever divine force is watching us right now as a wake-up call for all of us to really look inside of us and be about that change. ... And so that's what I'm doing right now."

This story was edited for radio by Rose Friedman and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson is working harder than ever despite the pandemic. The Roots drummer, DJ and author is still performing on "The Tonight Show," he's got a new production deal with NBC, and this evening he's hosting "Questlove's Potluck," a virtual dinner party on the Food Network, as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Questlove is a foodie. He's written two cookbooks. Pre-pandemic, he hosted in-person potluck dinners all the time, but he didn't really think about hosting a TV show around it.

QUESTLOVE: I first thought about, oh, "Questlove's Potluck" - like, who wants to talk about a hoity-toity dinner party in these times, especially when you can't do those things?

BLAIR: But then he noticed with everyone at home all the time, people have ramped up their creativity around food. So he asked his friends, many of them celebrities, if they would film themselves in their kitchens making one of their favorite dishes, like comedian and actress Tiffany Haddish.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIFFANY HADDISH: I call it She Ready Chicken.

QUESTLOVE: She Ready Chicken - OK.

HADDISH: Yeah, she ready to eat this chicken.

BLAIR: Questlove asked comedian Roy Wood Jr. if he could look in his pantry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROY WOOD JR: It's going to be a lot of stuff in this pantry that don't go together. You going to see almond milk, and then you also going to see Oreos. And I know you going to have questions, but they both vegan, so I need you to relax.

BLAIR: Singer Patti LaBelle made branzino, and comedian Maya Rudolph made a cocktail.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAYA RUDOLPH: I was using grapefruit juice for a while, which I ran out of. So I thought, well, we've got some Gatorade - might as well.

BLAIR: Gatorade, chicken, Oreos and, of course, this being hosted by Questlove, music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

QUESTLOVE: So if your dish had a jingle or a theme song, what would it be?

HADDISH: Give me a beat. I'll make it up right now.

QUESTLOVE: (Beatboxing).

HADDISH: (Rapping) Got that She Ready Chicken all day. It's nutritious and delicious the way you put it down.

QUESTLOVE: I see food as adhesive. Food is social adhesive.

BLAIR: On a more serious note, Questlove believes the pandemic is forcing people to think about who they are and what they stand for. He's thinking a lot about this week's high-profile cases of racism and brutality against African Americans and what he should do as an artist and an activist.

QUESTLOVE: This is a wake-up call for all of us to really look inside of us and be about that change. And so that's what I'm doing right now.

BLAIR: "Questlove's Potluck" is a fundraiser for America's Food Fund. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.