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Richard Nichols on His and ?uestlove's New Catering Company : The "Immersive Experience," Large Drumsticks And Their Plans to Maybe Take Over the Google Cafeteria.

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Screen shot 2011-12-09 at 3.54.49 PM.pngThe Roots released their ambitious concept album undun this week to much acclaim. And as it so happens, drummer ?uestlove's buttermilk fried chicken has been getting great reviews, too. A tough audience at a recent Bon Appétit party ate it up (guests included Tom Colicchio, Wyatt Cenac, Solange Knowles, Ryan Phillippe and Sasha Grey), where ?uestlove also DJ'd. The event marked the debut of his catering company, Quest Loves Food, a venture with his manager, Richard Nichols, and Alexis Rosenzweig of Coolhunter LLC. We talked with Nichols about what's happening.
 
How did this catering company get started?
We had the idea for about a year and tried to figure out what made the most sense. We were thinking about doing a food truck but you have to be so specific about which corner you're selling on. Even though the truck idea was cool we saw it was problematic in terms of getting permits, and so many locations are taken up. We needed $600,000 to invest, a fairly expensive proposition. We might do it at a later point. We saw that at a number of high profile events there's usually a food component attached and we thought we could connect the dots. We present a more immersive experience -- music and food curated by one person. It puts you more into ?uestlove's state of mind than some random catering company.
 
What is ?uestlove's state of mind?
I won't say there's one ?uestlove state of mind. It'll broaden out as time goes on. If you walk around somebody's house they have certain kinds of decorations on the wall and a certain kind of couch and serve a certain kind of food that helps you wrap your mind around it, all contributing to the understanding of you. It's a nonverbal form of speech. It's not important that it matches, per se, but those things come together in your head. Entertainment is largely about empathy. The person on stage is someone you want to be able to relate to one-on-one; it's part of the natural human condition. If you're a supporter of someone and want to connect in a certain way, these are the bridges.
 
I loved the drumsticks at the Bon Appétit party. They were so fat I wondered if they were full of hormones.
No! We're using local chickens from a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a half hour from Philly. They're large drumsticks because the chickens are allowed to live longer and they get fat. They don't get any hormones.
 
How did you come up with the recipe for them?
Elita Bradley, who has some Southern roots in her background, and Clara Park, who's Korean-American, cooked up about ten variations of fried chicken for us to try. There's a Korean crunch to the recipe we liked the best, but with Creole seasoning.
 
Do you think you'll end up opening a restaurant?
We want to hit our stride before we go onto future projects. We want to do condiments -- hot sauces, gourmet ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, salad dressing -- or maybe fryers or grills. The whole thing is tricky. The bottom line is we make a decent amount of money out of music. It's important to understand what's involved as you work your way into the food game so we're informed before we license the name and likeness. We want to make sure it has a certain level of quality. The end game is not to sell fried chicken. It's to do something larger that will involve a number of products and make sense for how people perceive your brand.
 
So what's next?
We want to be associated with all different kinds of events, things you wouldn't expect. We've been in discussions about taking over the Google cafeteria. We'd like to do the Facebook and Twitter lunchrooms and have Ahmir [?uestlove's real name] DJ. We just did an event at the Blue Note, music and food, and we want to do more things like that -- the Grammys and Sundance, for instance.
 
?uestlove got in a lot of trouble when the band played an instrumental of "Lyin' Ass Bitch" by Fishbone during Michele Bachmann's entrance on Jimmy Fallon. Do you have to get every song approved now before a guest comes out?
Yeah, it's different now.
 
So you've been grounded?
You could say that.
 
Photo of Richard Nichols by Patrick McMullan

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