It’s not every day you get an invite to have dinner with Erykah Badu. So when I got the opportunity to have a sit-down feast with Miss Sara Bellum herself, I was beyond excited and deeply humbled.
Of course, it being Erykah Badu and all, it wasn’t your average dinner. It was a seven-course vegan soul dinner prepared by renowned chef Bryant Terry, and the mandatory attire: kimonos!
The first thought that went through my mind was, “Holy crap, I’m about to have dinner with Erykah Badu.” The second was, “Where in the world am I going to find a kimono?!”
Thankfully, I have friends in stylish places and was loaned a dope, camouflage kimono. And as a vegan for nearly two years, the dinner party was right up my alley.
You’re probably asking yourself: Exactly how does one get invited to a dinner with Erykah Badu? Thanks to the wonderful folks at BET, 25 invited guests would get the experience of a lifetime — a brilliant pre-celebration ahead of this Sunday’s airing of the Soul Train Awards, which is hosted by Badu for a second year in a row.
I’ve met and interviewed dozens of celebrities, so I don’t often get star-struck in their presence. But Erykah Badu is Erykah Badu. Her music, style and wisdom puts her in the lane of legend, and the thought of being in the same space as her was admittedly intimidating.
As soon as I walked into The Kitchen Table, a private event space in the lower east side of New York City, the first person I saw was Miss Badu, who was seated on a couch chatting with a friend. She was dressed in a black kimono and, of course, rocked her signature top hat. Badu immediately put my angst at ease and welcomed me into the space with a smile and salutation. From then on, the night was truly magical.
After cocktail hour, we were all seated at the dinner table and formally welcomed by our hostess, who explained that she wanted us to wear kimonos and sit in a dimly purple lit room because, “it’s sexy.”
“I just want to thank you all for coming. Please eat with me, drink with me and talk with me,” Badu said during her greeting. “Whatever we do next, we do it together. And that is what’s most important.”
The evening’s menu included masterfully crafted concoctions, each with its own moniker, like “Come Into Knowledge,” a green tea tonic with lemon juice and spearmint. Other favorites were “Sack Full Of Dreams” (purple potato soup with cornbread croutons, herbs and coconut yogurt), “When There Is No Sun” (glazed carrots with pomegranates, peanuts, cilantro and mint) and the dessert, “Lord Help Me” (apple and sweet potato pie with vanilla coconut ice cream).
But it was the fellowship and sense of communal gathering that truly made the evening special. With all that’s going on around the world — and particularly in this country — it felt good to block out all the noise and share in this unique experience with fellow writers and creatives all in the name of love, peace and soul. We ate, we drank wine (catered by black-owned Mouton Noir Wines) and, as I’m sure we all needed, we laughed.
We also played a couple of games, one of which involved us going around the table to share three things: what makes us happy, what we can do without, and something we love about ourselves. While I wasn’t exactly prepared to share such intimate thoughts with a table of mostly strangers, there was an air of acceptance and freeness that made me feel comfortable enough to do so. When it was my turn, I shared that I had once been told that my sensitivity was something to be ashamed of, but I’ve learned to embrace it, because there’s nothing greater in life than to feel. Erykah quickly chimed in, “Ain’t nothing wrong with you, baby.”
And when Erykah Badu affirms you, you receive it.
In that short, yet meaningful moment, I felt supported and held up by my family. No, we weren’t connected by blood (many of us had met for the first time that evening), but we were all connected if only for those few short hours, where Erykah created a space where celebrity, titles and ego were left at the front door, and a deep care and consideration for what was transpiring in the room took precedence.
During another game, each of us picked a celebrity’s name out of a hat and guessed what we thought he or she would be thankful for this year. From Kanye West and Drake to Donald Trump and Michelle Obama, the answers were sometimes as hilarious as they were thoughtful. I happened to pick Beyoncé (what wouldn’t she be thankful for? She’s Beyoncé!). Erykah coincidentally pulled her own name out of the hat. It was fitting, considering she was the evening’s hostess with the mostest.
“I’m so grateful for this moment right now,” Badu said. “I’m thankful for this.”
Little did she know, we were all grateful for it. There wasn’t a person in the room who didn’t leave that dinner table feeling just a little more alive… just a little bit more soulful.
In a nutshell, my vegan soul dinner with Erykah Badu was an experience I’ll never forget.
Catch Erykah Badu showing off her hosting skills Sunday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. on Centric and BET.
Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Homepage and Opinion Editor at theGrio.com. Follow him at @MrGerrenalist.