In the last three years, Christopher Bridges, a.k.a. Ludacris, has had several major accomplishments. He won two Grammys for his album Release Therapy (not so surprising). He earned rave reviews for his role in the movie Crash, which snagged an Oscar for best picture (pretty surprising). And he opened a Singaporean restaurant, Straits Atlanta, in his hometown (very, very surprising).
When I first heard about Straits Atlanta, which debuted last year, I was skeptical. I’ve seen so many celebrity-owned restaurants come and very quickly go (I work in New York City right near Times Square, the site of Britney Spears’s short-lived Nyla). But I was in Atlanta when Straits opened, got a chance to taste the food and was blown away by dishes like chili lobster (a fiery, garlicky riff on Singapore’s classic chili crab) and fried rice dotted with plump shrimp, tangy pickled onions and sweet coconut. And then I met Ludacris.
I’d always thought TV chefs were treated like celebrities, but I soon found out that a person who stars in music videos and movies attracts a whole different level of attention. I understand Ludacris’s appeal—and not just because he’s supercute, with huge brown eyes and diamond stud earrings roughly the size of my hand. I loved him in the film Hustle & Flow (as the Southern rapper Skinny Black), and I loved him in Crash (as the carjacker who becomes a hero). I loved his CD Chicken-N-Beer but assumed that he didn’t care much about food beyond the fried chicken he rapped about. I was wrong: Since Straits Atlanta opened, Ludacris has turned into a foodie. “I’ve become obsessed with restaurants,” he says. “It’s the same feeling I had when I started doing movies; you look at them in a different way—at the direction, at how the screenplay flows. Now I pay much closer attention when I go out to eat, to the service and the ambience and the food.”