Friday, January 18, 2013

Lessons from the 'Other' Gourmet Ghetto

In North Berkeley a restaurant collective called the Gourmet Ghetto offers walking tours where foodies can chum it up with chefs while tasting homemade salami, cupcakes and specialty chocolates. Sounds enticing, right? It's $75. In other words, a dollar a minute. As I contemplate the outlay, I draw inspiration from other more accessible ghettos, starting with rapper Coolio's kitchen, by way of his cookbook, 'Cookin' with Coolio,' 2009.

In its original incarnation, the word ghetto–a friend reminded me–wasn't necessarily synonymous with poor. Coolio's a lot better off than he used to be, but he does have six children. So, when he throws a dinner party, he's feeding at least seven. Eight including his woman. In his cookbook, which I grabbed today from the library, the rapper calls himself "The Ghetto Gourmet." But shouldn't he be lauded the Ghetto Gourmand? I guess it doesn't matter. He had me at his opener: " specialty is making something out of nothing. That's a direct result of growing up poor as a mothe$f*@!#er." In real life I try to correct people's foul mouths, but swear words in a cookbook put me in stitches.

Coolio's Table of Contents offers a glimpse into the tone of his oeuvre. How to Become a Kitchen Pimp; It's Hard Out There for a Shrimp; Vegetarians? Okay, Whatever!; Sweet Treats for that Sweet Ass. 

When I opened his cookbook, I'd already made tonight's delicious meal on the cheap. But his Hot Fruit Sandwich tempted me. He created it in a panic just minutes before TV executives–he was shopping out his cooking show–arrived at his house for dinner. Hot Fruit Sandwich was a kitchen sink dessert. And it looks good! Sometimes, the book is part memoir. It's as if the rapper's talking straight at us.

For the men out there, cooking Coolio's way almost ensures you'll snag that fine woman you're after. But he doesn't neglect his female readership in the slightest. "Nothing's sexier than a woman who can cook," he says.

Which brings me to the summer of 2008. I remember eating a lot of pasta with putanesca sauce–tomatoes, black olives, etc. My then-boyfriend who was making many of the dinners–or rather, heating them up–told me that putanesca is 'Whore's Sauce' or 'Streetwalker's Sauce' because Italian prostitutes used to leave it as an enticement in bordella windows. I'm quite sure my boyfriend had never visited Italy, so he probably learned this tidbit on The Daily Beast. Or perhaps he was trying to tell me something. Too late to find out now. God knows who he's eating pasta with these days.

Tonight's theme is culinary boldness amid austerity, and if Mookie's Blue Ribbon actually existed, there'd be a tie between self-supporting Italian putas and Coolio's get-down attitude in the kitchen. Try their recipes and decide. See you with a spatula in your hand. 

>>Rachel Ray's recipe for Putanesca Sauce 
>>Find Coolio's book on Amazon. You can buy it for me if you'd like. We'll share.


  1. I heard the same story. I make a version of the sauce that I get raves over. But once a waiter in an Italian restaurant in New York City, after I ordered the puttanesca, looked at me disgustedly and said he wouldn't say that word. When he served it to me, he sneered at me and said "enjoy your whore pasta."

  2. least he didn't say 'enjoy your pasta, whore!'


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