When Patti LaBelle’s LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About was first released, she was one of the first major stars in entertainment to seriously delve into the cooking lane. All these years later, as a 20th anniversary edition of the book is released today (July 6), her recipes have turned into four cookbooks, and her favorite recipes, from sweet potato pie to macaroni and cheese, are being sold in physical form in stores. There is also no shortage of celebrity cookbooks now. Everyone from models and reality stars to influencers and rappers are all sharing what they’ve come up with and the original star chef is excited to see it.
“I know everybody who’s putting out a cookbook probably feels as great about their food as I do about mine,” she tells ESSENCE. “Theirs is going to be totally different than mine, and that’s going to be great for them. Because we shouldn’t be following what Patti did. Let me do that. Just do you, boo.”
The legend, now 77, wasn’t looking to start any trends when she put together LaBelle Cuisine. Instead, she was simply aiming to share her love of food. LaBelle was raised in a family full of people who had mastered Southern dishes and has always found cooking, a daunting task for some, “relaxing.” And while singing was always the focus, she believed that her skills in the kitchen were formidable as well and worth sharing with others. Boy, was she right. From a Geechee Geechee Ya Ya Gumbo to a So-o-o Good Salmon Casserole, the star found a way to make recipes that sounded intimidating easy for novice and expert cooks alike.
“When the first cookbook came out 20 years ago, I would go to the airport and people come to me and [say], ‘You saved my Thanksgiving’ or my Christmas, ‘because I did your macaroni and cheese with the eight cheeses. And I did a lot of your dishes, and they were so easy to make. And people thought that I got them from a store or something, they were so right on time and perfect.’ I said, ‘See? If you follow that stuff in my book, you’ll learn to cook,'” she says. “If you can’t learn from my book, you can’t learn. And that’s a fact.”
And LaBelle can really cook. She’s known for throwing down over a hot stove on any given day. During the pandemic, she had a recipe ready for every single day, and it’s a common occurrence for high-profile celebrities to come to her home at any time of the week to eat good and right.
“When celebrities come, like Jill Scott, back in the day, she hated spinach,” she recalls. “‘She saw my stove, and she saw the spinach. And she said, ‘I’ll eat everything that you cook, but I won’t eat that spinach.’ I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Because I hate spinach.’ I said, ‘Have a taste…’ I swear to God, she tasted that spinach and said, ‘I need this recipe. And I have to say, I love spinach now.'”
She adds, “I have cooked for Whoopi Goldberg, who said she doesn’t like anything green but money. So I made kale on my TV show. She tasted that kale and lost her mind. I said, ‘See? I told you.’ So now she eats kale.”
Cooking certainly brings the music legend, and those who eat her food, a lot of joy. When asked what else make her joyful, LaBelle mentioned her grandchildren. She has two young granddaughters and a grandson due in November from her son Zuri. She told us her grandkids bring great happiness to her life with their unfiltered honesty.
“I wear wigs. Right? And so when I take the wigs off, my little Leyla, she said, ‘Grandma, you look so cute without your wig. I like your natural hair.’ It look like I got three pieces of hair, but she loves it,” she jokes. “But they make me smile, and waking up every morning makes me smile because I lost all of my sisters to cancer before they turned 50. For my being blessed at 77, to say that I’m still standing, I’m happy. I am blessed.”
She also has a lot of joy because she has a lot of love in her life. Love from others and love of herself. She’s also open to romantic love, but tells us she’s had a change of heart about getting married again.
“Child, uh-uh. I ain’t walking down no aisle or going to no justice of no peace. I’m going to just be who I am and when love comes, it comes. But it doesn’t have to hook up in a marriage now,” she says. “I’ve just been blessed to be in love a lot with myself. Not really looking for anyone else to make me happy.”
What will always make LaBelle happy is cooking, and sharing her favorite recipes with the world in one form or another. It’s a genuine love of food that isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“I love to cook anything and everything,” LaBelle says. “I love to cook brisket. I love to cook short ribs. I love to cook, oh, God, pasta with shrimp and crab meat with red sauce or white sauce. Or clams. I just love to cook everything I cook. I do.”