Family Dinner

An interview with Leslie Odom Jr. about his wife, kids, and family dinner traditions.

Leslie Odom Jr. Is The Cook In The Family

When he’s not singing, acting, or dodging rabid Hamilton fans, Odom is making dinner for his wife and two kids.

Family Dinner

Leslie Odom Jr. has more talents (and professional hyphens) than any celebrity I’ve ever interviewed. He’s a Broadway star (currently in Purlie Victorious, Ossie Davis’s satirical 1961 comedy about a Georgia preacher; you may also remember him as the most lethal vice president to ever stalk the hills of Weekhawken). He’s also a TV and movie star of the non-singing variety; an author (2018’s Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher and Never Stop Learning) and a recording artist (of three albums, including, wouldn’t you know it, a Christmas one). But I didn’t ask him about any of that. What I wanted to know about was dinner.

When I met Odom recently at an event for Kinder Chocolate (he is spokesperson for the brand), he had just finished shepherding his two children, a daughter, Lucille, 6, and a son, Able, 2 and a half, through Kinderland, an event in New York City that could best be described as heaven for anyone who loves chocolate and an overstimulation marathon for parents of young children. He somehow still had the energy to talk about who is the cook in the family, parenting with his wife Nicolette Robinson (no Broadway slouch herself), and our shared obsession with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

Elizabeth Angell: My first question for this series is always: Are you the cook in the family?

Leslie Odom Jr.: I’m the cook in our family, yes.

What is your go-to family crowd pleaser?

I make a vegan pasta dish that’s pretty good. Squash and breadcrumbs are the sort of main ingredients, it’s a little spicy. That, everyone will get down with. And a lot of times what I’ll do is I’ll make something sophisticated and cool for Nicolette and I. And the kids, we let them have their simple palette thing. We like to eat more sophisticated stuff than they do, which is fine.

We field a lot of picky eating questions at Romper, but I’m actually so bored of talking about that. I understand that it’s a thing people are worried about, because feeding people every day, day after day, is a pain in ass. But kids eat what they want to eat, and then they change when they get older. And I feel like we spend too much time worrying about whether or not they’re eating things when they’re young.

We worry about everything. Our generation of parents, that’s what we do.

It’s true. Do you and your wife worry about the same things or do you have complimentary worries?

No. We have complimentary worries. Her worries are not my worries. But we are able to help each other. I was kind of proud of myself. Yesterday she called me, she had been away for a week, and when you go away for four or five days, you can get out of rhythm with the kids a little bit. You’re like, who are these little people? She called me because Able woke up from a nap, just screaming, and she was like, “I think I’m going to take him urgent care.” I was like, “Baby, I don’t think you need to take him to urgent care. That doesn’t sound like a pain cry to me. It sounds like emotion.” And I could tell the difference of his cry. I was like, give him a popsicle, make up some tea, play some music, just do anything to sort of change his mood. And she sent me a video like five minutes later and he’s like, “Dada, I’m eating a popsicle!” So happy! I know my guy.

Leslie Odom Jr. and his wife Nicolette Robinson with their children Lucy and Able at an event for Kinder Chocolate in New York City. Courtesy of Kinder Chocolate

It’s amazing when you realize how well you know this tiny person. That’s an incredible feeling. Ok, so we are entering the biggest food season of the year. Do you have any holiday foods that you can’t imagine Christmas without?

Christmas-wise, I’ll do a cider right when you can get it. Nicolette always asks me to do, which makes me feel very, very happy, that I make something that she looks forward to in that way. I’ll get all different kinds of apples and my cloves and my oranges and boil it down. It takes like two, three hours to let it boil. And then you muddle it and strain it and that all.

Did you learn to cook with your parents or did you learn on your own?

I learned the importance of cooking, and I witnessed the ritual of cooking. But I didn’t sort of study at the apron strings of my mom, or anything. Really, I got more serious about it and really found the joy in it during the early days of the quarantine. We were all home together, and we weren’t ordering out, and the restaurants were closed, and I still wanted to eat well. So it really became a bright spot in my day. I really looked forward to that hour and a half that I could just close the kitchen door, put on the music, and spend that quiet time to myself. But also the creativity of it and the great reward at the end of it. At the end you get a great meal and you get the leftovers.

My mother was a great cook and we ate a lot growing up, but there’s something about when you become an adult and you have to decide, are you going to be the kind of person who can feed themselves or not? Because you can always just order in.

Which I love. My kids every now and again ask, “Can we go to a restaurant?” We didn’t go to many restaurants when I was a kid, so I love that they liked that experience too. But Lucy loves cooking with me, so Lucy is learning cooking from me, which I’m also grateful for as well.

What would your kids eat if it was just up to them — if they were in charge?

My daughter would eat a whole lot more cold cereal. So would I, probably. Able would eat more bacon than he should. And then a lot of sweets, a lot of Kinder. More Kinder chocolate than they should.

Well, you’re going to have a lifetime supply now.

I can’t deny that some of my favorite memories from childhood are about going to get ice cream with my dad or buying myself my favorite chocolate bar. I didn’t eat chocolate every day, but I would pay my 50 cents for my favorite chocolate bar as a reward to myself in my early teenage years..

So I have to ask you a really personal question now. I read that your favorite movie growing up was the Thriller: Making Of video. Which I was obsessed with, because my parents wouldn’t let me watch MTV and my next door neighbor was allowed to watch it and she had the VHS tape. So I would go over her house to watch it, like all 45 minutes of it.

Give it to me again!

It was so good.

Michael gave us that generous peek behind the curtain. That peek behind the curtain really was what I got addicted to. It wasn’t that I wanted to be dressed up as a monster. I wanted to be a part of the community, a part of the people in those rehearsal clothes, laughing and practicing.

I mean, I have such memories of them in their leg warmers, rehearsing. And then you cut to the video and you see them in their costumes. And there’s the magic of what happens when they’re actually in costume.

Where did you grow up?

In New York City. In Manhattan, in an MTV-free home for a few years there.

Was it religious?

No, my mom was like a ‘70s feminist.

I like that. You know what I’m drawing a line with right now, anyway? Unboxing videos. That’s their MTV. And I’m like, no, not in my house. I’m a fucking weirdo about it. Go play with toys. Don’t watch other people do it. I’m your mom with MTV. No unboxing videos!

Well, my mom was like, “Madonna is going to mess you up.” And I was like, “You don't understand, Mom. Madonna is where I’m going to truly become myself.”