This post should be titled “In Defense of Fried Chicken…and Mary J. Blige”. I’ve been saving this for awhile to see how a few fried chicken developments would pan out. It’s been almost 2 months since MJB’s fans threw a chicken fit over a YouTube posting of an unfinished commercial with the queen of Hip Hop soul crooning sweet nothings to Burger King’s new crispy chicken wrap sandwich.
Meanwhile there was little to no clucking by the fried chicken police about Questlove going wing-to-wing with badass chef and Momofuku owner David Chang in a nationally televised and promoted fried chicken match on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” If you recall, it was just two years ago, Questlove, a member of the Roots and Jimmy’s house band, twitter snitched on the NBC cafeteria for serving fried chicken as a Black History month special. This blog commented on the story – early in the IDFC series. Never one to hold a grudge, Questlove came around to NBC’s fried chicken. He learned the menu was prepared by the cafeteria’s chef Leslie Calhoun, who defended her menu featuring foods she enjoyed. Chef Leslie is black.
Questlove has also had a reversal of fortune in the past several months in defense of fried chicken. Last December he announced he was getting into the fried chicken food truck business. Each fried chicken piece is served with an origami heart.
“Food trucks are the new black. And I’m trying to prove that fried chicken is the new cupcakes”
And it doesn’t stop there. He’s also opened a catering company: ?uest Loves Food
But Questlove didn’t best David Chang at least with the celebrity judges that were assembled for the showdown on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. I’ve included their names and place of origin (to make a point): Tiny Fey (Pennsylvania), Late Night announcer Steve Higgins (Des Moines, IA), and John Slattery (Boston, MA). What? No southerners? I’ve served on a fried chicken panel myself and I can at least claim culinary roots in Virginia. Tina Fey’s mention of Shake n Bake blew her credibility for me. I may cut Steve Higgins some slack – has he had chicken fried steak? He also seemed to be totally enthralled with the fried chicken.
Questlove and David Chang are two men of color teaming up over fried chicken. But it doesn’t stop there. The bet included a truce. Chang featured Questlove’s fried chicken in his Momofuku restaurant with sales going to the Food Bank of New York City Food Bank. A special dinner took place May 20th featuring Questlove’s fried chicken with monies going to the charity. They’re meeting bottom lines and promoting their food for a cause.
In March Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav opened a take-out restaurant in Las Vegas featuring …you guessed it… fried chicken. Anybody got a problem with that?! Apparently not. After a rough go at it in Iowa (maybe he should’ve made chicken fried steak), House of Flavor is trying to get some play on the Vegas strip. Flavor Flav actually has a degree in culinary arts. His parents also owned a diner on Long Island where he grew up. Guess it’s in the genes. Oops. Maybe I shouldn’t say that.
Race and fried chicken seems to be a touchy subject especially up north where most of the complaints seem to originate. Regardless of what derogatory and racist assumptions and associations are made over fried chicken, no one should be ashamed to eat or care what people think about the food they enjoy. And no one should be expected to eat it for the same reason. Or as Zora Neale Hurston wrote,
“There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, sees it from its own angle. So every man’s spice-box seasons his own food.”
[And even Zora’s mentor/fan and creator of “the New Negro,” Alain Locke had a bone to pick with her over Their Eyes Were Watching God. “Progressive southern fiction has already banished the legend of these entertaining pseudo-primitives whom the reading public still loves to laugh with, weap over and envy. Having gotten rid of condescension, let us now get over oversimplication!”]
Apparently, it was hard for fans to defend Mary J. Blige even when it came to the bottom line. She was paid $2 million. Jay Leno, David Beckham, and Salma Hayek also got some cash incentives to praise Burger King’s new menu offerings with a hold on the backlash. And their commercials went on the air as scheduled. Mary J’s never got out the gate. She also had to put her fans at ease with an explanation that she hadn’t signed off on the YouTube video. Burger King also chimed in with an explanation.
Is fan love a prison? Can Mary J. call the shots in her own life and music without ruffling any feathers among the people who say “we love you”? Why does love have to hurt?
To be honest all those Burger King commercials just weren’t good. And the only legitimate beef for me was the chicken itself –a batter fried pale boneless strip. It’s not honest-for-true fried chicken without the bone. Plus, we don’t see her eat the food.
Perhaps the blow wouldn’t have come down so hard on Mary J. if we’d seen the hands that prepare the chicken. Perhaps that’s what made Questlove and David Chang’s fried chicken throw down not so offensive to their fans. Maybe Flavor Flav’s secret recipe will be so good, all will be forgiven for those VH1 reality shows. The laying on of hands has that kind of healing quality.
Right now Mary J. Blige appears to be laying her hands more directly on her non-profit organization FFAWN (The Mary J. Blige and Steven Stoute Foundation For Advancement of Women Now, Inc.) founded in 2007. News has been circulating that FFAWN is being sued by TD Bank for reneging on a $250K loan that was due to be paid in full by December 2011. Only $368.33 has been paid so far according to TMZ. FFAWN is very special to Mary J. The organization supports women in the form of professional development, scholarships, career development, and self esteem in Yonkers, Westchester County and the greater New York area giving them the opportunity for the second chance she had. FFAWN hasn’t shut down, but is restructuring after being mismanaged according to Mary J who’s paid the scholarships out of pocket to make sure the girls would not skip a beat. Mary J. said to Hot 97’s Angie Martinez…(check out the interview)
“Mary J. Blige always bears the brunt of everyone’s horrible mistakes. Mary J. Blige always bears the brunt of people’s incompetence. So it is my responsibility and it’s ok. I’m a soldier, I’m strong. I can take anything, especially stuff like this.”