"I go through that every day," said Lana Shabazz with a chuckle, pretending to disapprove of the raucous Bundini Brown monologue that was dominating the coffee shop at the Sheraton motel in Prince George's, where Muhammad Ali is training for his May 16 fight with Spain's Alfredo Evangelista. "Yesterday they gave me a headache and I had waked up feeling pretty good."
Shabazz, a genial woman who won't tell her age but looks too young to have two grandchildren, is Ali's personal cook. She lives year-round on his 80-acre farm in Berrien Springs, Mich., but she travels to his various training sites around the world to cook his meals.
Feeding the champ is easy, she says. What is hard about the job she has held for 13 years is feeding the champ's friends.
"He'll tell me all I have to plan for is him, Veronica (his wife) and the nurse," she said, smiling pleasantly. "But I don't pay him no mind. It's always eight, or 10 people at least. Men dropping by and Ali saying, 'Grag a plate."
"When we were up at the Deer Park (Pa.) training camp, the Jackson Five dropped by to visit with Ali. Not only that, 20 people came with them. But I had a baker in town make a special sheet cake for the dinner and you should have seen Ali's face when he opened that box. Written in the icing was 'Welcome Jackson,' and there were those five brown faces drawn in icing with all that hair they wear. I'm telling you, he almost fell over."
Shabass paused with a worried look and added, "I only wish they'd have let me keep that Michael. He's only about that big around," and she made a small circle with her thumb and index finger. "Yes sir, if anybody could fatten up Michael Jackson, it is Lana Shabazz."
Her healthy interest in food and nutrition began when she was 3 years old and started cooking cabbage. Later she found herself cooking for Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammed before moving on to Ali. She is only slightly overweight, something she goes comes from working around restaurants all her life. "Ali's weight problem.Well, I think it must be hereditary. His mother is heavy, you know. And he always puts on weight after every one of his fights. I sent him down to Florida to make that movie and he looked good, but when I saw him next he was all puffed out. Gets it all right here, just like me," she related grabbed a tire of flesh around her middle.
"I guess I'm always so busy seeing that other people eat correctly that I don't see to myself. Ali eats to build a strong body," she said describing a Muslim-inspired diet plan that, during training, allows one big meal a day. "Oh, sometimes he'll come back from road work and want a breakfast. He might eat a steak or maybe four lamb chops, four eggs and four pieces of whole wheat toast. But, no butter."
She said she shops every day for fresh vegetables and makes up recipes for variety and "just to put a little something of myself in."
The menus are simple: steak, fish, chops pared of fat, vegetable or fruit salads and dishes like steamed cabbage with tomatoes, polebeans cooked with green pepper, onion, and crushed red peppers, or a special bread Lana Shabazz will include in her new cook-book, "Cooking With Lana Shabazz."
"It's a special bread I make with farina flour. You make it just like cornbread and if you don't have farina you can substitute Cream of Wheat," she told a novice.
She doesn't cook pork, sweet potatoes or black-eyed peas ("too gasy"), collard greens ("too hard to digest"), and no shellfish except lobster ("because the salt water purfies it"). Back in Michigan she grows her own vegetables, "The biggest turnips you ever saw," she declared, making a circle with her hands.
At the Deer Park Camp, the Berrien Spring farm, even in Ali's Chicago mansion, Lana Shabazz has restaurant-sized facilites with walk-in freezers, walk-in refrigerators, eight-and 12-burner stoves, and double ovens. On the road she has to manage her on-call cooking chores for the masses on a meager four-burner apartment-size stove. It requires constant rotation of the huge cooking pots she packs and brings with her.
She loves it. "I go through all that cooking for his friends every day. But I don't mind it at all because Ali just loves people and he always wants them to eat with him. I am always prepared, but oh, there's something.
"Ali just loves that Bundini, it's like he's the spirit of the camp. When Bundini gets here, things start happening. There are so many people around Ali all the time, but that's what seems to make him go.
"Ali's a quiet person, you know. People are always surprised when I say that. The first thing people usually ask me is if he is as loud at home as he is in public. But there are times you wouldn't know he's in the same house. He'll even call from the next room to quiet us down. He'll yell out, 'Hey, lower that microphone,' if we're talking loud in the kitchen.
"He's so shy and quiet. I have the feeling God is always with Ali. He is so giving to everybody. His children just love him. If he has any bad qualities - and I don't know of any - his goodwill overpowers them," she said.
"I used to worry about his missing all the glamour if he retired from boxing. All the parties and autographs and the people. But now I know he'll be happy. He won't miss anything because he'll go into something else that is just as glamorous. He'll be a movie star or a minister and there will be the same party around him. Wherever Ali is, is a party."