If only we knew how quickly Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies would fly off the shelves at Walmart last fall.
Cooking is second nature for the fiery singer with a multi-octave vocal range. Growing up, she was inspired to make music in the kitchen while watching her parents in their Philadelphia home. “I would go to our little garage and come up with my own sauce recipes and [tell them to] my cat and my dog,” she says. “The dog would give me the bark of approval, and the cat would meow.”
Now many enjoy the tasty treats made from LaBelle’s recipes, including a vanilla pound cake and a caramel cake, sold at Walmart. With her brand of sauciness, she also gave tips on the art of cuisine and more on her Cooking Channel specials, Patti LaBelle’s Place and Patti LaBelle’s Holiday Pies. She prepared meals on the show for Whoopi Goldberg, Michelle Williams and James Wright, whose video review of LaBelle’s sweet potato pie went viral.
Wright went to LaBelle’s home for Thanksgiving last year and sang with the soul legend in her kitchen; this was captured on video by fellow Philly native Questlove. “We had church in there,” she says. “James is so sweet.” The next day director and Empire cocreator Lee Daniels stopped by LaBelle’s house with his mom. “Lee told me Lenny Kravitz told him to come over and get some pie,” she says. “I said, ‘Did Lenny send a pie?’ He said, ‘No. I know you have a pie up in here.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t, Lee.’ I lied, of course. I had one slice left. My better heart said, Let Lee taste the pie. He and his mother tested the pie and loved it. I love to see people’s faces once they taste my [food]. When they hear one of my songs, I hope they get the same look.” With more than 50 million albums sold, it’s safe to say the acclaimed singer has reached her goal.
Crooning “Lady Marmalade” still remains a big part of LaBelle’s life, as she continues to perform around the country and has a new album slated for release later this year. Along with wardrobe, Ms. Patti brings her two electric pans, special forks and fresh garlic cloves while on tour. “I turn it up in my room,” she says. “I hate room service, and I don’t like going to restaurants all the time because you don’t know what’s in the food. I am a diabetic, and I have to check myself before I wreck myself.” Last fall she made kale and branzino with heirloom tomatoes and Vidalia onions in her suite and invited her band for dinner: “Everybody got a little plate of Patti’s food on the road.”
Over the years, LaBelle has adjusted her diet to be healthier. “Instead of frying chicken all the time, I sauté, bake or broil it,” she says. “I do my kale and greens by themselves or with smoked turkey legs instead of ham hocks. I make my apple pie with agave, sugar substitute or no sugar at all.” Her love for hot sauce and spice remains, and she enjoys regular bites of one of the world’s hottest kinds of produce, ghost peppers.
At 71, the little girl who shared recipes with her pets now broils chicken for her dog, Mr. Cuddles. Her family cooking legacy is also being passed on to a new generation. “My son Zuri is my protégé,” she says. “He actually learned from my cookbook. He fried three turkeys and 40 turkey legs and wings for Thanksgiving. It was so good.” LaBelle encourages fellow food lovers to personalize family recipes, like she has done. “Improvise—don’t always measure,” she says. If you are too strict on teaspoons and tablespoons, “you can lose some of the soul. When I do my food, I never measure. I freestyle and pray it’s going to taste good.”
Well, Patti’s prayers are answered with empty plates, smiles and sometimes even a song after her food is served.