Cookbook, DVD, album: LaBelle's as hot as her sauces

Posted: September 25, 2008

SURE, SHE can croon, but can she cook?

You'd better believe it, or her name isn't Miss Patti LaBelle.

Cornbread, brisket, fried chicken, blackened fish. There isn't a comfort food this legendary singer hasn't mastered.

But don't call her culinary prowess some spare-time hobby. Cooking is a second career for this R&B diva.

In November, Philly's own LaBelle will unveil her third cookbook, "Patti LaBelle: Recipes for the Good Life" (Simon & Schuster, $25), a roundup of all of her favorite dishes - meals she makes in her own home kitchen.

The pages are filled with recipes for sassy savories like Fierce Fried Corn; Over the Top, Top, Top Macaroni and Cheese; and Ooh-La-LaBelle Turkey Chili.

But she's not stopping there.

LaBelle's also releasing a 90-minute DVD called "In the Kitchen with Miss Patti," which includes a cooking lesson and a tour of the kitchen in her Main Line home.

As if that isn't enough for one busy lady, LaBelle is adding to her retail food line of hot sauces, which have been sold in stores for a few years now. Coming out in November is a new selection of dried spice blends under the Good Life brand (more at www.pattilabellefoods.com).

Somehow, with all this cooking going on, she's also had time to record a new album, "Back to Now," produced by stellar talents like Lenny Kravitz, Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble, and Wyclef Jean. The disc, which reunites her with original LaBelle members Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, is due in stores Oct. 21.

"There are so many things God has blessed me with," Labelle said one recent day when we chatted with her about her very busy life. One thing's for sure: There are many sides to Miss Patti - and all of them are all about having fun.

Q: So what was the inspiration for your latest cookbook?

A: The inspiration was because I can cook, and people are always looking for information on cooking from Patti. And also, I did the DVD for the first time in my life to show everybody how easy it is to cook and how quickly they can cook. It is just something to help a brother or sister out. And the men love to cook. The men love it.

Q: How was it taping something other than a song for a DVD?

A: It was a new experience. You have to look a certain way at the camera. You gotta do this and that - and you can't stop talking. You have to constantly talk. I said to them [the producers], "I don't even do that at home." But you have to continue to run your mouth. It worked out fine. I would do it again.

Q: Where did you get your love of cooking?

A: From my mother and father, and a lady who lived with us. Her name was Nami, and she died some time ago.

I would stay in the kitchen with them, and I got recipes from them when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old. I was a homebody, and I stayed in the house and watched them and then went in the [garage] and made my own hot sauces. I didn't have any electricity or gas in the garage, but I could blend everything [for the sauces] out there. It's true.

And I would watch my mother fry corn. You take all the silk off and cut it halfway down and scrape it with a knife and . . . it is so easy you can make it in 10 minutes, and when it's done everyone fights for it. My friends lick the pan. [See recipe.]

Q: What do you like about cooking?

A: I am aiming to please people. People love Patti's cooking as much as my singing. If I feed you and you smile and ask for seconds, it's like a standing ovation. That's like the biggest compliment to me. I get more joy out of that than anything.

When I first met [Philly-born R&B singer] Jill Scott . . . I had made brisket, rice, apple pie and spinach. She had this big body guard with her [at LaBelle's house], and I said, "You can eat, too."

She said "No spinach, no ma'am." She said, "I hate spinach." I said, "You haven't had mine." I said, "Jill, just take a forkful." She took a fork and said, "Can I have some more please?" Since then she tells me I turned her on to spinach.

Q: Where did you come up with the recipes for your latest cookbook? [Her last book, published in 2003, was about cooking light to combat diabetes.]

A: When I am here [at home] long enough to cook, these are some of the things I like to cook. Like today, I am going to cook this fried salmon and grits. I found a way to fry the salmon with cayenne pepper and olive oil, and I'll have a salad with that. [The book's recipes] are things I make a lot.

Q: And how about your new line of spices and your sauces? It's like you've come full circle since your childhood making sauces in your garage!

A: That really happened! And I used to travel around with hot sauces to every city I'd go to [on tour]. Now I carry my own [brand]. *

E-mail April Lisante at

lisanta@phillynews.com.

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