LaBelle's still singing as her saucy product line comes out

Patti LaBelle confidently (with those clothes, you wouldn't want to splash) makes a branzino and sugar snap peas dish (top and right) in her Wynnewood kitchen. A line of her special sauces (above) - and, soon, other products - are on Walmart grocery shelves now.
Patti LaBelle confidently (with those clothes, you wouldn't want to splash) makes a branzino and sugar snap peas dish (top and right) in her Wynnewood kitchen. A line of her special sauces (above) - and, soon, other products - are on Walmart grocery shelves now.
Posted: June 06, 2014

IN THE shadows of a Southwest Philadelphia shed, 6-year-old Patricia Holte laid the foundation for a deliciously successful enterprise.

Much too shy to interact with the other neighborhood children on 84th Street, the quiet first-grader sought refuge behind her family home with just cats, dogs and butterflies for company. Armed only with ketchup, salt, and a handful of jalapeno peppers, little Patsy would lose herself in those moments, fantasizing that she was cooking for her adoring fans.

Spicy foods and sauces excited her just as much as singing at the top of her lungs.

Over the next 64 years, that introverted caterpillar would blossom into soul-music icon Patti LaBelle, who has gained acclaim for skillfully navigating between stages and stoves.

"I've been singing for about 52 years," said the Grammy-winning singer and author of LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About. She's been cooking "for people on the road" for most of those years, too.

LaBelle's longtime love for all things culinary recently brought her to the grocery shelves of Walmart, which in April began selling her signature line of sauces and marinades at 600 stores, mostly on the East Coast. Distribution could spread nationwide, depending on demand.

Much like her music, the product offerings are soulful and full of spice. Lemon Herb Marinade, Sweet Agave Bourbon BBQ Sauce, Miss Patti's Sweet BBQ Sauce, Hot Flash! Hot Sauce and Asian Chicken Marinade are part of the " Patti's Good Life" line. A Spicy Agave Apricot BBQ Sauce will join the collection soon.

The sauces are a rebranding of a line she did some years ago. Patti also sells other sauces online at her website.

The high-octane vocalist often speaks of setting off smoke detectors in five-star hotel suites while trying to whip up a quick meal of liver and onions for celebrity friends, such as Arsenio Hall. Once, when Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger rolled into Philly for a concert, he called and pleaded with her to hook him and his crew up.

"I cooked so much food for Mick Jagger and his band that they had to send a van to come and pick it up," LaBelle recalled recently, as she chopped fresh garlic in the kitchen of her Montgomery County home, preparing yet another meal for someone.

"I made them cabbage, beef brisket, ribs and fresh-cut corn right off the cob. My only request was that they write my name on top of all of the aluminum foil pans so that everyone knew it was my food and not some caterer."

This is not her first foray into the food business. But LaBelle is practically levitating with excitement just the same.

"For years, I've carried everyone else's stuff with me as I traveled and cooked," she said. "Now it's all about Patti having her own, and that feels good."

For the last decade, while LaBelle has continued to cook her signature soul-food meals for friends and family (folks still request that she cook for weddings and funerals), she hasn't partaken much of the resulting goodies because of diabetes.

"I never was too much of a dessert girl, so that was not so hard to give up," she said. "I love making them for everybody else, though."

On a recent afternoon in her spacious kitchen, LaBelle prepared a simple lunch of branzino and sugar snap peas. As she seasoned and flipped the succulent fish atop her stainless steel Viking stove, LaBelle reminisced about another famous Philly singer's food experience in her kitchen.

"I turned out Jill Scott on spinach," she recalled. "I invited her over here for dinner about seven or eight years ago, and she told me she hated spinach. I told Ms. Thing, 'You're going to eat this spinach I made for you!' And now, every time I see her, she asks me when I'm going to make some spinach for her. I've turned some people out, honey. I've turned vegetarians into meat eaters over the years."

While plating the fish and adding some Hot Flash hot sauce to it, LaBelle shared her vision for the food products.

"I want to become a household name when it comes to food," she said. "And that would be something else for little ol' me, who started in that garage with jalapenos and ketchup, making sauce."

Also in the works for LaBelle's brand are macaroni-and-cheese and crab cakes, perfectly dubbed Patti Cakes, which would be found in the frozen food section.

"I'm not telling anyone what I put in my crab cakes, but they are fantastic, honey," she said. "People are going to love them."

Though she recently turned 70, LaBelle is showing no signs of slowing down, in or out of the kitchen. In addition to traveling to promote the food line, she has signed on for a summer concert tour and will hit the stage in Broadway's Cotton Club musical, "After Midnight," from June 10-29. She also has a jazz-standards album in the works, slated for a fall release.

"This is my life, and I don't think I will ever get tired of doing all of these things," LaBelle said. "I'll be 100 years old and still in pumps, singing and cooking."

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