Eat Pray Questlove

Read an excerpt from the music star's new chef-focused book

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Ahmir Thompson is used to being on the receiving end of interviews. For good reason: Thompson, better known as Questlove, is a Grammy-winning drummer for The Roots, performs on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, has opened restaurants and even wrote a memoir in his spare time.

But the tables have turned in his new book, Somethingtofoodabout ($30), out today. In it, Questlove profiles some of the country's best-known chefs, diving into their sources of inspiration and showing how food and art might be more intertwined than you think. You'll read about Michael Solomonov's fear of mayonnaise, how Miles Davis inspires Daniel Humm in the kitchen and how French chef Ludo Lefebvre feels about Paris.

Courtesy of Clarkson Potter | Cover Art: Reed Barrow | Photography: Kyoko Hamada

We snagged an excerpt of his talk with Dominique Crenn (one of our favorites) to learn about how the SF chef comes up with her bordering-on-art dishes.

When you invent something for your restaurant, when you add something to the menu, where do your ideas come from? Some chefs have told me that they get their ideas from experimenting in the kitchen. Other people tell me that they have to go far away from the kitchen and clear their heads so that they can allow themselves moments of inspiration and innovation.
My process is different than many restaurants'. My menu is a poem, literally a poem, and every line is a reflection on memories and moods that I have experienced. As a result, I never get inspiration in my kitchen or the market. I always get it through traveling, visiting a museum, going to the theater. I listen to lots of music. I love classical music, and maybe a classical piece that I'm learning gives me ideas for structure. Or it could be a conversation with someone that I meet on the street or at the café. Each part of the menu embraces a time in my life, a moment that I feel. With that you kind of create dishes, and with that you use things that connect.

That seems abstract. It's probably not, but it seems like it. Can you give me a specific example of how one menu came about?
I can give you one from a time two years ago. It was during spring. At the time I was taking care of a little girl called Hannah. She had leukemia and she passed away. My menu, which was the spring menu, was very much reflective of the emotion that I felt being with her and hanging out with her. She was also a poet. It was one of the most emotional menus I wrote in my life. That's how I get ideas. It's not that I look at a mushroom and think it's beautiful, though that can happen, too.

Dominique Crenn | Photo: Kyoko Hamada

This is a very artist-centric way of looking at food. Which makes sense, you've got that artistic sensibility. I just wonder about the other half of the process, which is how people eat the food you've cooked. Do you think about the ideas and emotions that they are bringing to the dishes?
There's a dish that I created called Grain and Seeds. It's a dish with grain and seed, basically. That dish reminded me of growing up on the farm, looking at my uncle and my grandmother, and also when I was a baby and my mom used to make cereals for me. In that way, this dish came from my own emotions. But then I had diners who came from other places, from Russia, from China. They made their own connections to the dish, not from the way I had defined it in my mind but because it reminded them of some other experience. Presenting emotions through food gives other people an opportunity to find their own emotions there.

Reprinted from somethingtofoodabout: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs. Copyright © 2016 by Ahmir Khalib Thompson and Ben Greenman. Photographs copyright © 2016 by Kyoko Hamada. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.