food & conversation with Mack Wilds

words and photos by Andres Tardio

Life is “Sweet” for Mack Wilds.

Still savoring the success of his latest album AfterHours and its accompanying mini-series, the multi-faceted star is sitting inside of Nas’ recently-opened Sweet Chick restaurant on Los Angeles’ bustling Fairfax Ave. on a sunny afternoon. He has been to the Sweet Chicks in Brooklyn and Lower East Side in New York, but this is his first time at the L.A. location, where he’s sipping on a Purple Drank slushy made of gin, Welch’s grape juice, lemon, and lime.

Looking out at the streetwear mecca that’s buzzing outside, the 28-year-old star (born Tristan Paul Mack Wilds) reflects on his lifetime as a foodie. It began as a kid in Staten Island, where he was influenced by the Italian culture around him and Italian cuisine. That remains his go-to when it’s time to get busy in the kitchen, but he’s also often inspired by those closest to him. “I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house with a bunch of people who cooked, even some people who turned into chefs,” he explains. “So I’ve really learned to love food.”

“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house with a bunch of people who cooked.”

These days, Mack cooks when he can. That is when he isn’t juggling his work as an in-demand actor and singer. “I don’t cook as much as I used to or as much as I want to, at times, but I definitely cook,” he explains. “I’m always looking for new restaurants or even new recipes to try.”

His schedule is no joke. Right now, the multi-hyphenate star has his hands full with two television shows, including “The Breaks,” which allows him to explore his love for hip-hop history through his character, DeeVee. “I feel like not enough people know or care to know how hip-hop became what it is,” he explains. “Not just how it began [like] with ‘The Get Down,’ but literally how it became the cultural phenomenon that it is today.”

“I want to spark the change that we need for our children and our children’s children.”

He also starred as Deputy Joshua Beck on Fox’s “Shots Fired,” which gave him a different sense of pride. “I’ve always seen artists use their art as weapons for change,” he says, “as opportunities to show people what’s going on in our world and the way that we view it so that we can get things to move or change.”

The show’s powerful script landed in Mack’s hands as “The Wire” alum pondered stepping away from acting altogether. “It just made sense,” he adds. “I said, ‘This is bigger than me. This is something I can do that will live longer than my body ever will.’ I definitely wanted to be a part of it to hopefully spark the change that we need for our children and our children’s children.”

When he isn’t in front of a camera, Mack is in front of a microphone. Even though he’s still promoting AfterHours, he’s already working on his next project, which is set to focus on love.

“I realized that love is a constant theme in my music,” he says. “As an artist, I wanted to have an opportunity to shed light on the way that we all look at relationships, the way that we carry relationships, or the way that we carry love. Some people look at love as a feeling, some look at it more as a commodity or something that they need to have. I just want to touch on the differences between those two with this next project.”

Music is part of Mack’s life everywhere he goes. At Sweet Chick, he finds it in Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day” quote, which shines brightly in pink neon letters behind the bar. In another section of the food haven, Wilds browses through the restaurant’s small but diverse record collection, which includes J Dilla’s Ruff Draft and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Shortly afterwards, he gets up and starts rapping along to his favorite Illmatic cuts and even playfully recreates the Life Is Good cover art, an ode to one of his favorite MCs and the restaurant’s co-owner.

“Nas always felt like a voice for what I look out my window and I see,” he explains. “No matter what ghetto you’re in, literally, you can look out your window and see what Nas is illustrating. Of course, he was talking about where he’s from, Queensbridge, but it was something that every single kid — no matter if you were into the thug shit or if you weren’t — it was something that we could all resonate with. He’s the God MC.”

“Nas always felt like a voice for what I look out my window and I see…He’s the God MC.”

“The flavor damn near hits you in the face…It’s just phenomenal.”

With a fork in his hand and a feast in front of him, Mack is ready to dig in to the Pork Belly Nuggets, made with kimchi, blueberry balsamic glaze, and pickled watermelon. “The flavor damn near hits you in the face,” he says, before his attention goes to the Brussels sprouts. “Some of the best Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had in my life — I apologize, mom,” he adds. “They do an apple cider glaze on it that tastes like teriyaki. It’s just phenomenal.”

Sweet Chick also has a delicious mac and cheese, made with gruyere, fontina, aged white cheddar, and Ritz cracker crust. Plus, there’s the fried chicken parmesan with waffles combo, and the restaurant’s famous Sweet Chick bucket, a three-piece fried chicken meal with buttermilk biscuit and kohlrabi slaw, right in front of him. After a few bites, Mack’s a fan. “Everything so far has been amazing,” he says. “You can’t beat this stuff.”

As his influence on music, film, and television continues to grow, Mack is earning his reputation as an unstoppable force. With a strong foundation, the sky’s the limit, and things are only getting sweeter. ◽️