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Coolio interview: the extended version

Posted by Devra First  November 18, 2009 01:29 PM

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Today, we ran an interview with the rapper Coolio, who has a new cookbook out. It was condensed for space. Here is the extended version, for those who did not get enough of the self-titled Ghetto Gourmet.

You know him as Coolio, the artist behind such mid-'90s hits as "Fantastic Voyage" and "Gangsta's Paradise." But recently he's reinvented himself as the Ghetto Gourmet, with an online cooking show and now a new cookbook, "Cookin' With Coolio," full of recipes with names such as Chicken Lettuce Blunts and Cold Shrimpin'. We spoke with him about romance in the kitchen, cooking on a budget, and why he is like Emeril Lagasse. The conversation has been edited for a family newspaper.

Q. How did you get into cooking?

A. I started cooking from watching my mom. My mother was a really, really great cook. Had my mother lived to see me be successful, she would have her own restaurant right now. What actually happened was this. My mother worked days, my stepfather worked graveyard. My mother said, "You can't [mess] with the stove, you might set something on fire," but I made me a grilled tuna sandwich. My mother got home and noticed the pan and said, "Who was in here cooking?" I got a double-time [butt] whupping. After that, my mother said, "Oh, you want to cook, huh? You want to be in the kitchen and [mess] with the stove, get in there and chop that [stuff] up." That began the start of my culinary education. Shaka-Zulu!

Q. You say "Shaka-Zulu" a lot. What does it mean to you?

A. "Shaka" is my catchphrase. Emeril got bam, I got Shaka. How I came up with that, I was talking to my daughter and she came out and said, "Dang, Daddy, you cuss too much." I said, "Do I?" "Yeah, every other word you say is [jerk]." "Really? I've got to stop that." And it came out of the blue. I stubbed my toe and I just said, "Shaka." I'm like, "'Shaka laka, man.' Oh, I kind of like that." You put that "laka," that's like that bam, this is what that is. It makes it more exciting.

Q. Describe your style of cooking.

A. I do fusion. Ghetto fusion. I don't use the proper names for things when I talk about cooking. It's not that I can't speak properly, it's because I want to do that. So there we go. I am the Ghetto Gourmet, and my style of cooking is ghetto fusion. Instead of saying African-American and Asian, I say Blasian. Instead of saying urban and Italian, I say Ghettalian.

Q. Where did you learn your appreciation of food?

A. When my mother passed away, for maybe the first five years, a little longer, I just for some reason didn't enjoy eating. My mother had certain way of doing things, and it seemed like anything I ate didn't taste good. I was eating to live. I just wolfed it down. I eat really fast to this day. Good thing for me I have a high metabolism. I have a great set of bowels. I'm pretty regular. I don't have to take Metamucil or any of that [stuff]. My kids say I eat like I'm in prison. And I've never been to prison. All of that translated into me eating food and then sitting there getting bored. I got into the habit of bringing a book with me when we went out to dinner. My ex-wife [really] hated that. She wanted to sit there and, to be honest with you, talk about some [stuff] I wasn't interested in anyway. I started making money and having money to be able to eat pretty much whatever I wanted to eat, so I got a little upset. I was like, [darn], I got all this money, a refrigerator full of food, I'm going to dinner at this place and that place and eating some of the finest food in the world and not enjoying it. I've got to do something about that. I set out on a course to find out what my mother's style of cooking was, what she did to make her food taste the way it tasted. In the process, I developed a really, really extensive palate. I realized that if I took my time and actually tasted something instead of wolfing it down like a dog, I could tell you exactly what was in it. There were flavors and spices I didn't recognize because I didn't know what they were. I went and bought an expensive and detailed spice rack and started tasting everything and writing it down. Back then I didn't know what saffron was, what coriander tasted like, what lemongrass tasted like.

Q. How did your online cooking show come about?

A. The online cooking show developed from me and my cousin [messing] around. We was flipping channels, across the hall, and I happened to stop on the Food Network. He in his room happened to stop on the Food Network. There was this older white guy cooking -- I can't remember his name to save my life. He had something in a metal pot, and for some strange reason he was talking and describing the dish he was making, and he forgot to get his oven mitt or potholder. He grabbed the pot and said "Owwwwww!" I started cracking up and ran out of the room to tell my cousin at the same time he was running out of the room to come tell me. We cracked the hell up. So from that, we was in the kitchen a couple days later. I was making my short ribs. We kind of shared the kitchen. I'd cook for everybody and he'd come help me. The kitchen is where a lot of things happen in a black household. Probably in a lot of households. We happened to reference what we saw with the guy burning his hand on TV. Out of the blue, he said, "What if we had a cooking show?" I said, "If we had a cooking show, it'd be like this." I started acting the fool. He was playing off of me, and I was playing off of him. When people would come over or the kids were in the kitchen, we'd say, "Hey, y'all, this is our cooking show." We were just playing around in kitchen. A friend of ours came over, and he said, "Man, that [stuff] is so [darn] funny. You guys ought to really do that." I said, "We're cussing. No one is going to let us." He said, "Do it online." He knew some people who had just started an online TV channel, My Damn Channel. They were into it and into us. We had a meeting and took it from there.

Q. You compare yourself to Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray. How are you like them?

A. First, I need to do a retraction of a statement where I dissed Gordon Ramsay. I wasn't dissing him, but even if I did, I take it back. He's one of the best chefs walking the earth right now. I don't know if his food is the best but he's a [real] genius. He knows how to put [things] together. He can make you a great business model in a restaurant. I've got a lot of respect for him. I compare myself more to Emeril because of his flair and showmanship. And I compare myself to a Gordon Ramsay because if the kids are [messing] around, I will [mess] you up. It will turn into "Hell's Kitchen." And I compare myself to Rachael Ray because I make 10-minute meals, [never mind] 30 minutes. I like Martha Stewart because she got good taste. She knows how to make [stuff] look good. Honestly and truly, I don't think she's that good of a cook. You know what's going on, right? If it look good, it smell good, and it taste good, what is it?

Q. Good?

A. It is good! Shaka-Zulu. And now you've been educated in that Ghetto Gourmet lingo.

Q. Shaka-Zulu! If I say that while I'm cooking, will it make me a better cook?

A. You know Gusteau, the chef from "Ratatouille"? What does Gusteau say? His saying is "Anybody can cook." That's right. I do believe that. I think anybody can cook if they take the time.

Q. You didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and you write, "I want people to know that just because you’re poor, you don’t have to eat fast food every day." How much does that inform the Ghetto Gourmet?

A. I have seven children. Even if you got a lot of money, feeding 5, 6, 7, 8 mouths, it will do some damage to your pocket. I have this unhealthy fear, and I'm about to get some [darn] therapy for this, of being broke. Necessity is the mother of invention. That translates to my style of cooking. You can cook some Kobe beef and I can cook some beef straight out of Compton, and you'd be hard pressed to make your [stuff] taste better than mine. My [stuff] is going to fall off the bone. It's going to taste good going down, and when it comes out the other end, it's going to be right. I don't do rare or medium rare. You want that, take your [self] somewhere else. It's not good for you. I do well done.

Q. From your book, it sounds as if your cooking is a hit with the ladies.

A. If I can get them to eat my food, I can [seduce them]. Probably. Most likely. Most of the time. Seventy percent of the time. People like to say nine times out of 10, but most of the time you know they be lying.

Q. What do you suggest gentlemen wear to look good in the kitchen?

A. I would say a chef's jacket, preferably black because if you spill, it won't show so much. If you don't have that, get you a nice little apron. If you don't have that, get you a nice little smoking jacket. Make sure your sleeves are rolled up. If you don't have that, get you a nice little T-shirt. Not white. I have all of the above. I would say go get you a nice apron at Wal-Mart for [a measly] $3.

Q. I'm a little worried about the longevity of these recipes. Some call for a nickel bag or dime bag of, say, oregano. But a nickel bag today isn't going to be a nickel bag in a few years. Does the cook have to adjust for inflation?

A. Nah, don't worry about it. The price of salt went up some, but not much. You can still get a box of salt for a dollar something. Salt was more expensive back in the day. We used to use salt to trade. You could trade for [darn] gold, for silk, you could trade spices for women.

Q. You mention some rules of cooking in your book, which you call cool-mandments. Which do you think are most key for our readers?

A. Wash your Shaka-Zulu hands. That is the most important thing. After you touch chicken, you wash your [darn] hands.

Q. Let's say I make your Coolio Caprese Salad, which promises to help the cook achieve romantic success. I follow your recipe to the letter. But at the end of the meal, nothing. What could have gone wrong?

A. That was your appetizer, first of all. I would say you better make you some steak, some Finger-Lickin' Chicken, or if you want to go far, make you some Raspberry Chicken. Is this a man's man or a metrosexual?

Q. Somewhere in between.

A. I would say make him some Fork Steak, and you excuse my French, but you might get some [romance]. You might be dessert.

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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If you want to contribute a recipe to The Recipe Box Project, please write it below. Also tell us where you got it (package box, cookbook, mom, friend -- include the name). We're looking for the kinds of dishes that people grew up on, that were served at family suppers, that tell a story, that are typically New England, or that you brought with you from a far away place to New England. We will print one of the recipes in the Food section once a month. To ask any questions, write to Debra Samuels, who is overseeing this project, at To discuss your recipes, click here.