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?uest Loves Food visits the Night Market

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Last week’s Night Market, the sixth installment in The Food Trust‘s crazy-popular nomadic street food series, packed several spacious blocks of Washington Avenue in the Italian Market zone with revelers, falling in queue to get their hands on a head-spinning selection of eats — barbecue, takoyaki, tacos, Caribbean, nu-Korean, porchetta, frozen bananas, freshie biscuits, phew. For the first time, however, the event’s VIP section handled by an ever-elusive chicken-fried entity familiar to Philly food-event frequenters: ?uest Loves Food, the edible imprint of The RootsAhmir “?uestlove” Thompson.

The QLF crew has had a longstanding relationship with COOK. Before debuting their signature drumsticks at last year’s Feastival (Ed Rendell was reportedly a big fan) and hosting a thematic class during the space’s debut month of September, they organized an April 2011 competition to recruit culinary talent, a chef square-off judged by a panel that featured COOK’s own Audrey Claire Taichman.

Since that time, the food-and-music collective — “We don’t really call ourselves a catering company … it’s more about food curation,” says organizer Alexis Rosenzweig — has fed Academy Award revelers, hosted a number of brand-driven parties and butted heads with David Chang on national TV. At the latest Night Market, however, QLF joined epicurean forces with Philly booze mainstays like Yards, The Farmers’ Cabinet and Penns Wood Winery to provide local street food fanatics some signature taste teases, beneath a ticketed VIP tent that directly benefited The Food Trust.

Commandeering a fleet of portable fryers, chef Elita Bradley and her crew quickly dispensed QLF’s chicken to the intentionally in-tent crowd. The New Yorker, whose relationship with the company began after her participation in the aforementioned cooking competition, is the co-creator of the recipe, which involves Lancaster County-sourced drumsticks coated in a secret seasoned-flour and buttermilk blend. “[At food events], you often come across dishes with an assemblage of tastes you’ve never heard of,” said Bradley when asked about the enduring popularity of the pollo. “[But] fried chicken is very classic, and that’s refreshing. It’s crispy, it’s juicy, it’s tender — we call it fried chicken, and it is fried chicken. There’s nothing fancy about it.” In keeping with QLF’s subtle Asian motif, each piece of crisped-up chicken was enveloped in a painstakingly folded origami sleeve before being laid in a boat lined with Riddler-like punctuation paper.

An edgier culinary bent came in the form of dessert, via QLF pastry chef Traci McGinnis’ carrot and pineapple cupcakes, dolloped with Thai curry cream cheese icing and a fortune cookie stuffed with a food quote from Questo himself. The sweet went nicely with two signature Southeast Asian-style drinks mixed by F-Cab’s Maria Polise and Giuseppe D’Angelo: a sneaky-spicy tom yum-inspired situation combining Penn 1681 vodka, Thai basil, Thai chili syrup, lime and coconut milk; and their sea foam green Makai Punch, which leaned on subtle Himalayan pink salt to scissor through an herbaceous, citrusy admixture of Bluecoat gin, lime and sage.

Night Market VIPs seemed to deeply dig the QLF offerings, which begs the questions: What’s coming up for the brand, and when and where can the denizens of Thompson’s hometown next get their paws on his product?

“I think the idea is continuing to evolve, and has from the beginning,” said Rosenzweig, who notes that QLF’s recent partnership with Chicago chef Graham Elliot Bowles has produced some interesting edible results, such as frozen “Love Pops” and a variety of “Quest Kebabs.” Since the event-based biz model requires an approach much “different than a traditional kitchen,” it’s difficult to say exactly when Philadelphians will again cast an ear to QLF’s symphonic bird-frying and treat frosting, but Rosenzweig hopes their arrangement with The Food Trust is more than just a one-off. “I went into [the partnership] with Night Market wanting to have a long-term relationship with them,” she says. “We have to discuss it and figure out if we want to do it again, but it’s a really good fit for Quest Loves Food.”

Photos: Drew Lazor

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