He creates dishes called "Cold Shrimpin'" with two cheerleaders in the kitchen for company. He is a natural comedian whose language is peppered with obscenity. Suddenly, and for no particular reason, he will shout "Shaka Zulu!" (his catchphrase). The careworn look around his eyes hints at a life lived to the limit. He makes the television chef Jamie Oliver look like a schoolboy. The cookery show of the Grammy-winning rapper Coolio is not like other cookery shows. Cookin' With Coolio goes out on YouTube and has proved successful enough for the 44-year-old hip-hop star to publish a new cookbook entitled: Cookin' With Coolio: Five Star Meals at a One Star Price.
It's quite a turnaround for the rapper. In March Coolio - real name, Artis Leon Ivey Jr - was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for alleged possession of drugs. As might be expected of a man who had hits in the 1990s with Gangsta's Paradise and Fantastic Voyage as well as six children by four women, his cooking show reflects his singular take on life. "I am the Ghetto Gourmet, and my style of cooking is ghetto fusion," he told The Boston Globe last week. "Instead of saying African-American and Asian, I say Blasian. Instead of saying urban and Italian, I say Ghettalian."
But there is a serious message behind Coolio's hip-hop posturing. In his new cookbook he writes: "I want people to know that just because you're poor, you don't have to eat fast food every day." Given the epidemic levels of obesity in America, this is a radical message. According to Gillian Carter, editor of the BBC's Good Food Magazine, Coolio is perfectly on trend elsewhere, too. "Budget cooking, thrifty cooking is a massive publishing trend," says Carter. "Shed-loads of cookery books to do with saving money have come out this year. The economy has been a really big driver of a new mood in cookery."
Coolio's is by no means the only celebrity cookbook to hit the shelves recently. In the UK, the model Sophie Dahl (granddaughter of author Roald Dahl) writes for Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine and will publish a cookery book this year. Meanwhile, the British actress Fay Ripley has already enjoyed success with Fay's Family Food. A quick click through Barnes and Noble's online store reveals hundreds more: Spain: A Culinary Road Trip with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow, The Sopranos Family Cookbook, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen by the country star Trisha Yearwood, Patti Labelle's Lite Cuisine - the list goes on.
The reason? Celebrity sells. "In a crowded marketplace with books marked down in price before they are even released, publishers need to shift a lot of books to make money," says Carter. "Celebrity makes you stand out. It's hard for cookbooks without a celebrity on the cover to get a look in." Jenna Helwig, a personal chef and culinary instructor from New York, says: "Cookbooks by celebrities make readers believe they are getting closer to the celebrity. 'This is what Coolio's really like.' It seems it's their authentic selves."
As well as focusing on the recipes their mothers cooked, many celebrity cookbooks seem to offer lots of recipes for comfort food. "Well, who doesn't like comfort food? It's an easily understandable promise," says Jenny McIvor, the deputy editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated. The psychological component of why people buy cookery books is important, says McIvor. Recent studies have shown that while cookery books generally contain about 40 recipes, most people only try five of them.
"The kind of cookery book we buy says a lot about the kind of person we are," says McIvor. If that's the case, one can only guess why so many fall short. The 1995 cookbook A Musical Feast, for example, is a typically hastily packaged offering. It features a host of absurd recipes offered by musicians who seem to have been less than committed to the project. The Beach Boys' Bruce Johnston recommends his "surf potato" and Madonna trumpets her cherry torte. Whitney Houston's recipe for candied yams and the Grateful Dead's smoked corn chowder both sound unappetising, while Randy Newman's cheese sandwich contains nothing but cheese and bread.
By Lou Reed's standards, however, that represents hours slaving over a hot stove. The ex-Velvet Underground singer's suggestion for making a hot pastrami on rye sandwich entails going into a deli and ordering a hot pastrami on rye sandwich. But the king of the silly celebrity cookbook is the King himself, Elvis Presley. For although he never penned one, he inspired scores of books from the grave, including Are You Hungry Tonight?, Fit for a King and All Cooked Up.
They cannot help but dwell on his peculiar eating habits in the last years of his life when, his appetite sent haywire by an addiction to pills, he managed to consume 100,000 calories a day, a figure the British Nutrition Foundation described as "impossibly appalling".