Prince's Lifelong Affair with Breakfast
One of my major regrets is missing the opportunity to eat pancakes with Prince. Back in the fall of 2013, a friend and I were on the cusp of hopping a Greyhound so that we could get to Minnesota and catch Prince and his band 3RDEYEGIRL perform at the Breakfast Experience Pajama Dance Party. At the last minute, we bailed. We were both strapped for cash, and couldn’t get out of our respective work obligations since the party had been announced with just two days’ notice. But the party, which apparently featured Prince serving pancakes to lucky partygoers, still makes me twinge with envy. And hunger.
Since his untimely death last April, tributes to the Purple One have (understandably) continued pouring in, some even in pancake form. Besides flexing a preternatural talent for guitar, songwriting and a singular swagger, Prince was also, by all accounts, a maestro at the art of breakfast-making. Yet as someone who closely guarded his personal life, and very much played into the enigmatic figure he was built up to be, how did word get out that Prince was a breakfast food aficionado?
His music holds some clues. As early as the Purple Rain era, Prince made it plain to fans that his skills for breakfast food were only surpassed by his lovemaking abilities. Check the hard-to-read poem on the back of the album’s vinyl release, in which he recounts the tale of a lover scorned: “I thought u liked eggs. I thought u liked me. Well, eggs are the only thing I can make besides a baby.”
There’s also “Starfish and Coffee,” from 1987’s Sign ‘O’ The Times. In it, Prince recounts the story of one Cynthia Rose, who had a lavish breakfast every day of “starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam, butterscotch clouds, a tangerine and a side order of ham.” You don’t write that way unless your love for breakfast food runs deep. The same goes for his 2013 single “Breakfast Can Wait,” in which he describes how not even the scrumptious “grits and gravy, cheese eggs and jam” can hold a candle to a couple of more minutes in bed with a loved one (the cover art also features Dave Chappelle dressed as Prince, a plate of pancakes in tow).
Yet Prince’s love affair with breakfast became officially sealed into the public consciousness in 2004, thanks to the now-infamous Chappelle’s Show skit (the same one that also inspired the “Breakfast Can Wait” cover). In it, Dave Chappelle takes on the role of Prince, purple suit, blouse and all, in a fictitious segment of “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories,” which is based on a true story that revealed Prince’s craze for pancakes. Speaking to the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2015, Charlie Murphy recounted the time in the ‘80s that Prince and the Revolution swept both him and his brother, Eddie, in a game of basketball. Upon their defeat, Prince presented them with a plate of fresh pancakes. Murphy admits it’s unclear if Prince himself made the pancakes, but says “they were actually perfect... they were as good as he plays guitar.”
The gesture of goodwill resonated either way: Prince could serve you in a game of basketball, then to turn around and serve you a plate of pancakes at his home. This corroborates the widely-shared GQ story from December, in which the late pop icon’s closest friends, collaborators and employees shared the most outrageous stories from a life that’s already been widely-mythologized. Jill Jones, who sang backup for Prince throughout most of the 1980s, recalls that Prince was the resident cook of the rotating musical family, and that his specialty was, popular to contrary belief, scrambled eggs. “He put curry and a little bit of Cheddar cheese in them,” she said. “It was really good, actually.” Misty Copeland seconds this, saying that when Prince made her “delicious” scrambled eggs, he used a ton of spices “like Lawry’s, or one of those all-purpose seasonings.” Prince himself said back in 2014: “I can cook. But only one thing. Omelets.”
The curious thing is that despite loving breakfast foods, and making them, few people saw Prince eat, if at all (though his private chef, speaking to Food & Wine in 2013, shared that Prince occasionally loved to have a quiche and a milkshake). Cat Glover, a dancer and rapper that worked with Prince, said he was “never an eater” and instead would “usually smell his food” instead of eating it. “I never really seen Prince eat,” she told GQ. “I've seen him make pancakes—he made me pancakes, he made me eggs. But he's not the type of person that eats a lot.”
It seems that despite name-checking “hotcakes with honey” in his songs, Prince preferred to see his friends happily eating his creations instead of indulging in them himself. Perhaps the best Prince breakfast tale comes from a former butler at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, who served Prince while he stayed there for a couple of months in 2006 and 2007. In a Reddit AMA from 2016, he recounted when Prince ordered 14 omelets and 14 orders of pancakes at 3 am, only to jump up and help dole out the goods to his guests that night (who included Chaka Khan). “He grabbed a plate of pancakes and started helping me serve,” he recalls. “I couldn't help but to laugh from the Charlie Murphy story on the Dave Chappelle show. This was my favorite moment... ever.”
But Prince’s instinct to nurture and feed his friends may come from a fraught place, too. In his 2013 Prince biography I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon, Touré poignantly notes the fact that “many said Prince has tried to soothe the pain of being unable to truly connect with people—and the ache of lacking a traditional nuclear family—by turning his bands into his family.” And a huge part of what brings families of friends together are meals. So whether it was at home or away, it was as though over pancakes he was saying: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here around the breakfast table to get through this thing called life.”