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Red Rooster: Harlem's Biggest Rip-Off

Red Rooster: Harlem's Biggest Rip-Off



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In urgent need of respite, we walked into Red Rooster famished after helping a friend move uptown. We walked in without having read reviews, but assumed it would satisfy us considering the prestige chef Marcus Samuelsson earned after working as executive chef at the Nordic fine-dining restaurant Aquavit, winning Top Chef Masters season 2, and cooking at the Obama’s first state dinner. Despite this and the acid eating away at the lining of our empty stomachs, we walked out before filling our bellies.

Samuelsson’s goal opening Red Rooster was to cook American comfort food punctuated with influences from his Swedish and African roots. After walking in the door between two huge bouncers and taking a look at the ludicrously priced menu, Samuelsson’s spiel about the restaurant on his personal website became laughable: “I want this to be a place where people from all walks of life break bread together”. Dear Chef Samuelsson, do you realize that people of all walks of life can’t afford to pay $8 for fries? Moreover, after swimming upstream through a crowd of sequins, suits, and platform shoes, Red Rooster hardly seemed like the ideal place to break bread. The restaurant had more people trying to find someone to go home with than serious diners.

The atmosphere was unpleasant but we were only there for the food, not the meat market in front of the bar. We started by ordering cornbread, fries, and mac & cheese, with the intention to order more once our hands stopped shaking due to low blood sugar. The cornbread ($4) helped—it wasn’t terrible, but very sweet and lacking sufficient salt. The ($8!) “parmesan frites” were pale, flaccid, and unsalted. They were covered in grains of something that closely resembled that shelf-stable Kraft in the green cardboard and plastic cylinder—not the Parmigiano-Reggiano in my fridge at home. When we politely asked our server for golden brown, salted fries sans-parmesan, we received yet another order of limp white spuds dusted with the dreaded faux-parm nearly twenty minutes later. Tired, hungry, and increasingly irritated by the lackluster service and meat market-vibe, the pathetic fries left us on the brink of walking out: “If you can’t open a bag of frozen potato sticks and throw them in a fryer until they look like they’re done what can you do right?”—not mac and cheese, evidently. We barely touched it. It was bland and oily and set us back $18 and if there weren’t beer in our hands there would’ve been hell to pay as our tempers reached a boiling point.

While staring at the full basket of fries and ramekin of mac and cheese, we serious considered dining and dashing. After turning toward the sea in front of the bar and the nearly 300 pound bouncers, we knew we wouldn’t make it without getting hung out to dry. It took fifteen minutes and two reminders for our server to make it happen, but we reluctantly paid the check nonetheless.

Walking out hungry and angry, we pondered how Red Rooster could be so popular and the biggest restaurant rip off I’d experienced in months. Is the NYC dining out crowd more clueless than we’d thought? It seems that Red Rooster’s success is derived from Samuelsson’s shameless self-promotion on the Food Network and his extensive, narcissistic personal website (check out all the cute photos of him on there and the blog frequently updated by his team). While meandering toward the subway we pondered whether restaurants were going the same way as commercialized rap music, with one’s success to be determined by a persona rather than the quality and integrity of the product. We left with two major conclusions: first, avoid any restaurant with multiple bouncers; second, Samuelsson is too busy globetrotting, refining his image, and judging Chopped to properly manage his restaurants.


Chef Marcus Samuelsson Shares the 'Presidential' Recipe He Made for Barack Obama

Get the celebrity chef's short ribs recipes he made for President Obama.

When you’re cooking for the President of the United States, you’re gonna pull out your best recipe — something Marcus Samuelsson knows well.

The Chopped judge, who owns the popular Red Rooster in N.Y.C.’s Harlem neighborhood, hosted a campaign fundraising dinner at the restaurant for President Obama in 2011. “This was not the first time I cooked for the President, but it was one of the times that I will cherish the most with my staff because the first time was actually at the White House at the state dinner,” he tells PEOPLE in the video above. “This felt very special — home turf advantage for such a big occasion.”

“There was just as much action in the restaurant as outside,” he recalls of the evening. “There were like 4,000 people outside just wanting to get into the restaurant.”

For the event, he chose a recipe that was big on flavor — and that you can make ahead of time. “Short ribs are great for a big dinner, because they’re succulent and super delicious,” he says. “This is also an excellent dish to do the day before, because the slower you cook it and the longer it will sit, the better it will taste.”

And the reviews? Overwhelmingly positive. “The dinner went amazingly well,” Samuelsson says. “He was very happy with the short ribs.”

Get Samuelsson’s “presidential” recipe below to make it yourself at home.

For more exclusive recipes and celebrity food news, follow People Food on Facebook.


Chef Marcus Samuelsson: "Look out for the Black-owned restaurants … because we need you right now"

By D. Watkins
Published October 31, 2020 9:30PM (UTC)

Marcus Samuelsson, author of “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook” (Little, Brown & Company)

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It feels like it has been ages since my wife and I could begin our daily routines without thinking about simple necessities like food. Why cook? Our hometown of Baltimore has a ton of charming cafés and restaurants full of delicious foods from countless cultures to grab lunch and dinner from, so many that we could go months without repeating. And then COVID happened, forcing us to stay still, social distance and eat at home. We amiss running out to our favorite places, eating whatever we had a craving for and not having to rely on our own creativity and skills.

Fortunately, Chef Marcus Samuelsson is doing his best to help everyone diversify what we're cooking at home, keep food exciting and reminding us to still keep supporting our favorite local food spots with takeout orders.

Samuelsson, the executive chef of Harlem's famed Red Rooster, bestselling author, and host of PBS' "No Passport Required" returned to "Salon Talks" to talk to me about his new book "The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food"–– a collection of Black culinary traditions that features 150 recipes honoring dozens of top Black chefs, writers, and activists.

In our conversation, Samuelsson unpacks all that has changed during the pandemic when it comes to what we eat — from what it's like surviving as a small restaurant owner to how he completely changed his business model to feed Harlem, and his broader activism around saving the restaurant industry in America. He also breaks down his lively, innovative and beautiful book "The Rise," which beyond the delicious recipes, introduces America to countless Black chefs and is a clear reminder of their importance and future in American cuisine. You can watch my "Salon Talks" episode with Samuelsson here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below to learn more.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

I haven't seen you since we talked about your television show "No Passport Required." Could you just let everybody know how have you been surviving COVID and some of the things you have going on?

You know, COVID, we're still in it. I think that in many ways, I've been dealing with a lot with, I would say, post-traumatic growth. You know what I mean? Really, how do we survive? How do we navigate? Mid-March, we closed Red Rooster in Harlem and converted it into a community kitchen. It really helped me understand what it meant to be a restaurant in a Black community at this moment. We've served over 250,000 meals out of our restaurant for the first responders and the media.

That line every day, 1,000 people every day, more than that, it changes you. It doesn't change you just for COVID, it changes me forever. I think that what it means to be a Black chef in a neighborhood like Harlem, what it means to live and work in Harlem, in a completely different lens. When people say, "Everybody left New York." I'm like, "Wait a minute, people in our community didn't leave. They are the first responders, they are working." Even those terms that we consider, "Oh, everybody left," that people casually say, absolutely not. My community stayed and worked. Not only that, our community increased, because Rikers Island opened up and they decided that everybody from Rikers should be dropped off on 125th Street, whether they came from Harlem or not.

It's not the guys' from Rikers fault I'm not blaming them. At the same time, our homeless population increased, and they were also dropped off in Harlem. When people talk about institutional structural racism, it happens in our community, sometimes right in front us, but it's very hard for people to see it. That's what I mean by living in Harlem and working in Harlem, I see all of it. The beauty, the horrible, the institutional, but at the same time I also see the good stuff. My block has been blocked off and it's become kind of like this daycare for kids that the neighborhood's parents really just started to set up. We did cooking classes, other people did painting classes. I've seen it all. I mean, it's really been an incredible time to watch, both positive and negative.

It's amazing that we can be in such a terrible time with so many bad things going on, and yet able to just pull out those gems and to identify how we can build community, and what can we take as we work towards transitioning out of this. Because even though we can't really see an end in sight, we're going to have so much more to offer. I think that's always a blessing.

I think also that I drew from a couple of lenses, both about the blessings of being Black, and also the blessing of being an immigrant. They are parallel to me in my energy. Those scary days in March, April, May, I really didn't know what to do. I knew that me and my family would be okay, but what's going to happen to all the people that work for me, that's investing their lives in this?

It started for me with just, "I got to create." For example, I started a podcast, "This Moment," with my friend Jason [Moran]. He's an African American friend of mine that lives in Sweden. We said, "What do we do as two Black creators?" We started out of the basement. We didn't have the equipment, we couldn't go and get the equipment, no one would deliver it to us. But out of nothing we started this movement, this podcast, and we've had incredible guests on like Nikole Hannah-Jones and Thelma Golden, and incredible people, right? Hill Harper. Because we needed to share in this time and document this time, because I want this as a documentation for my son, when he's a teenager, that this happened. What side were you on?

The other thing was, my book "The Rise," it's been in the works for four years, and that's when everything starts happening with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the book is coming out now. People go, "Oh, that's perfect timing." I said, "What do you mean perfect timing?" Do you know what I mean? We've been working on this forever. The documentation about who we are as Black people, but also as a chefs, it doesn't have a moment for me for good time to release, bad time to release. This is our experiences and they need to be shared.

Let's get into "The Rise." It's a beautiful book and I am so happy to have a copy. The writing is beautiful. I was reading your introduction, in which you open the book with, and I was like, "Wait, is this guy going to steal my job?" Tell us about your new book.

I was extremely fortunate to work with Osayi [Endolyn] and Yewande [Komolafe]. You know, Osayi's the co-writer and Yewande developed the recipes. We felt that just as much as other American history, with the food that we know in America, Black people got written out of it. We have to figure out a way to get back into it. So it's parallel to other American history where we are completely forgotten or not documented. It's important to write something that both give[s] a nod to the past, offer what it means to be a Black chef in the present, but also looking at the future.

Although we're in COVID and a tough moment now, it's an incredible time to be a Black chef or in the culinary industry in this time because there're plethora of pathways to go. It's important to remember that because when you look outside or you look on the news, you might not feel like it's a unique time. The value proposition of Black food was taken away from us, and this is the way to document it. What do I mean when I say that? For example, if you wanted to give your mom or your auntie a box of chocolates, you would say, "Oh, let me order some great Belgian chocolate." There's no cocoa beans in Belgium, they're in Ghana. Right there, you don't even have to be a racist, or even as a Black person, you might not know that our stuff is actually – we're the birthplace of excellence when it comes to food.

Do you think we're having a moment right now for Black chefs? The industry, like a lot of these different industries, can be so racist, and you'll be lucky to see a Black chef raise to prominence and get the type of intention that so many of them deserve, but now we see a lot of them popping up.

I think yes is the short answer, but there will be more. You know what I mean? If you think about what Serena and Venus [Williams] did to women's tennis, right? Then you've got the Naomi [Osaka] and the Madison [Keys]. Because we've been cooking forever. When someone talks about a Black farmer, as enslaved people, we didn't own the farm but we worked on the farm forever.

We were farming.

Of course. Black farming is not something trendy that you do out of Brooklyn to upstate New York, it's something that we've been doing forever. For me, it's really about, when you think about cuisines in America, Creole cooking, Southern food, it all comes out of a labor of Black people. Barbecue, right? It's important to acknowledge our worth, then also present our work, acknowledge it, and broadcast it, and that's what I hope to do with "The Rise."

This book includes the recipes and stories of many Black chefs. When you're working on a project like this, how do you decide which chefs you're going to bring on and which of your own recipes to share?

First of all, it's a great question because it's not a list of who's on it and who's not on it. Right? I wanted us to present work and explain what is Black food, both to ourself, but also to the larger audience. I wanted to explain it, how complicated and beautiful it was at the same time. Like my boy Greg Gourdet, Haitian American living in Portland via Brooklyn, his food's going to have all those aspects. Or like Nyesha Arrington, Korean African American, but just being a Cali girl, and obviously influenced by L.A. and K-town. We know that our food and our journey, you and I are two Black men, but we have different backgrounds, therefore we bring those food journeys to our dinners. I just didn't want Black food to be reduced to one monolithic thing, because it's obviously not who we are as people.

Absolutely. Everything in the book looks so good. I'm keep it all the way 100, I never considered myself a chef. I get in the kitchen and try some things, but since we've been in quarantine, I've been challenging myself a lot more. Instead of me just popping a salmon in the oven, I'm been searing up the Chilean sea bass, like, "Look, baby, look what I put together."

My wife wouldn't let me make that. She made that, but I was her assistant. Looking at this book, I was wondering, what do you think a person who is an amateur, like myself, should try first?

Well, I think there's many recipes there [in the book] that anyone can do, but I think even more fun or important is also that narrative and storytelling is also who we are. right? That North Carolina rice, or South Carolina rice, the Gullah culture is your culture. You may or may not know about that. That jerk chicken that we all love on the corner place, we can make that. How did that really come to Jamaica? What is the narrative behind that? I think that we have learned to love other cultures more than our own culture. We know the difference between pizza from Naples or Detroit-style pizza, but we might not know the fact that peanuts came from Africa and the most American sandwich in the world, peanut butter and jelly, really comes from our heritage. You can't exclude the Black experience.

When you think about your extended family, your family, to be able to put us back into those dinner conversations, it's beautiful. It also aspires a value system, the way music. Right? If you want Miles [Davis], you're going to say, "What era of jazz?" If you want Prince, we're talking about '80s funk. If you want Kendrick [Lamar], it's very clear that we're talking about the 2000s hip-hop scene. In food, 10 years from now, I want these eras to actually be lined up. The way we talk about Kendrick today, that might be how we know Leah Chase 10 years from now. That might be how we introduce Kwame [Onwuachi] into the conversation. It all starts with sharing and storytelling and broadcasting ourself.

A person like you who's a master chef, were you challenged to come up with new things since we've been in quarantine?

Yeah, it's been an incredible ride. I've got to tell you a quick story. The first two weeks, you could order, but nobody delivered to you. So I walked to the store. It was an hour wait to get in. Then, once you get into the store, to the fish and the meat side, it was another hour, so we became vegetarian. I said to my wife, "Let's just be vegetarian. I'm going to cook it up, and it will be fine." We stayed really eating vegetarian food 70% of our meals for three, four months. It was beautiful. It was a great experience.

It also made me think about so many cultures that have been going through struggles, and that often means you're not going to eat well. Black food, the Black experience in America, has always gone through struggles, but the food has always been amazing. I do think that life's going to challenge you in certain situations, I definitely got challenged during this COVID, just like everybody else, but it also introduced me to a vegetarian side that I probably wouldn't have gone into otherwise. I actually appreciate that.

What is your favorite thing to cook, just in general, like all time?

One of my favorite things is actually to work, now, with my son Zion, he's 4 years old, to just get him to try our Ethiopian culture, right? It's a lot of spices, so he's not messing with that. We have this injera bread, this bread that we rip off, way too sour for him. Any time I can move the needle on his heritage of Ethiopia, it's a big win. So far I'm 0-4.

He's going to see how cool his dad is soon and he's going to love it. Let's talk about the restaurant industry a little bit. We have been seeing some crazy changes, like the outdoor seating. What do you think is going to happen as all of these different restaurants that make up the beauty of so many of our neighborhoods are trying to figure out creative ways to survive?

First of all, I've never been as nervous because as a known chef in my community and the country, I'll be all right, but that's not what I got into the industry for. What I'm worried about is all the mom and pops. Great areas that we both love, like Queens, like the beautiful strip malls out of Los Angeles, the Vietnamese shops, all that stuff that makes America. The restaurant scene is more family mom and pop with five to seven employees, and they'll be able to send their families through college through that. That's the food scene. That's why the immigrant story and the restaurant story is so tied together, because this is very often the first job and the way that we can really make a living.

What I worry about right now is that 70% of those stores, 11 million people work in the independent restaurant in America, 67% of them might lose their jobs. This is serious. I grew up in a country with 10 million people, and more than 11 million people work in the independent restaurant industry in America. This is severe. This is going to, obviously, impact Black and Brown communities, like Baltimore, like Harlem, like Overtown, in unprecedented ways. We already took the brunt of corona[virus] in a different way because we don't have access to health care, et cetera, but it's a double tap on our community, and it makes me very nervous.

If the restaurant goes, so does that community, so goes that barber shop, so goes your favorite nail salon. What makes up the soul of a community is very much anchored by those mom and pop restaurants. Once you start ripping those out, the community is going in a completely different direction, and I'm worried about that, especially now. We had a bill that was on the table for Congress, and, of course, that's now out. They're not going to deal with that because they're going through the Supreme Court, they're rushing through that.

That doesn't make any sense at all.

Yeah. It's going to impact our community, and it saddens me so much because these are people's life savings. Opening up a restaurant is a biggest investment a mom and pop will do. They're going to be gone, and we're just going to be like, "Oh well." This is serious. I really don't know what to do about it. I'm part of Independent Restaurant Coalition. We're fighting like crazy. We thought we had the bill passed, and then they decided to do this stuff instead. Nothing surprised me about what's happening at the White House. It's actually just been more consistent with evil stuff. Nothing surprises me anymore.

It's so corny, in my opinion, because this fake White House is supposed to be an administration that has a focus on business, yet your politics allow so many businesses to suffer. We should be empowering the people behind restaurants that are small businesses.

When they think businesses, they don't think about that level of business. That independent restaurant, it's beneath them. They really don't think about those businesses. They just think about majority of those are immigrant, a majority of them are people of color, so therefore we get to them later. Nothing can be further from the truth. There's 11 million people, like I said. There's 16 million people when you think about all the other businesses coming to restaurants, and they just don't care. That's the simple truth of it. It's sad, because those people are American as well and deserve it.

Can we keep the Restaurant Act alive? Is there a way for us to support? Should we be calling our Congress people?

It's all of the above, but it's also action. This one is when we go back in "The Rise." In the back pages, I list not only the 40 people that are in the book, I list about 150 other Black chefs, their Instagram, and also organizations and magazines that are Black-owned. Because my point is when people say, "How am I going to find them?" I'll say, "Look in the book, hit them up on Instagram," because these are nationwide, and they need your business, we need your business right now. Black caterers, right? Black private chefs, the Black chef that has stuff in retail stores.

Be very specific and strategic with how you order in or order out, or if you have a smaller company, order through the company. If you care about Black-owned restaurant or chefs in our community, your dollar matters. That order in your community, you do that twice a week, once a week, it might keep that restaurant afloat. Then, also, the fact that you might spread that through social media, through your friends, that might be the game-changing moment. Look out for the Black-owned restaurants in your community because we need you right now. That could be the quickest and the easiest way for you to actually support something. And you can afford it because it's really between a $15, $20 order that can actually change that restaurant's trajectory over the next 18 months.

Yes, inside "The Rise," you've got the stories, the amazing recipes and a directory for us. This is going to be my go-to Christmas gift this year.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

You're on the front cover, always killing it with the fashion. When I go shopping in New York, man, I got to roll with you.

Tell everybody when the book comes out and where they can get it at.

October 27th the book "The Rise" is out. You can, of course, get it on Amazon. You can also look for a Black-owned bookstore in your community. It's going to be in every bookstore. Keep rising, keep cooking, and please look out for the Black and BIPOC people in the hospitality industry in your neighborhood because we need you now.

D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: A Word From Forgotten Black America," is out now.

MORE FROM D. WatkinsFOLLOW @dwatkinsworld


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Marcus Samuelsson

No chef’s identity politics have been the topic of more discussion than Marcus Samuelsson’s. That’s in no small part because the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised Samuelsson made his name on the intersection of his dual heritage, first at NYC’s Aquavit, where at 23 he was the youngest chef to receive three stars from the New York Times. Years later, it became a central theme again at his Harlem flagship, Red Rooster, where dishes like gravlax and “Helga’s meatballs” sit side-by-side with a doro wat pot pie and beef kitfo. “I realized that Scandinavia wasn’t a big place, in terms of people having experienced it, and neither was Africa, so combining the two was a way to create really original food.”

But the celebrity chef has also come under fire for taking that cultural remix beyond his own diverse experience. When Red Rooster (named after a landmark speakeasy of the Harlem Renaissance) opened in 2010 on 125th Street, just down the block from Sylvia’s, people balked. Though Samuelsson had been living in the neighborhood since 2002, his attempt to synthesize the entirety of its cultural heritage into one glossy, $2 million restaurant struck some as uncomfortably appropriative. Eddie Huang, in a piece for the New York Observer, described it as “writing the report for a book he never read.” Samuelsson, for his part, has stated that he intended for Red Rooster to honor the African-American experience he grew up admiring from afar. "Just because I'm black doesn't mean I understand Harlem," he told the New York Times. "For the diaspora of people of color, it's a much larger culture."

For Samuelsson, that kind of cultural synthesis is a natural part of his creative process. Before moving to New York, he embarked on a personal chef’s tour, traveling to Singapore, Japan, and beyond, gathering inspiration as he went. “I was never set with this idea that Europe has it all and that’s that,” he says. “I knew I had to go through Europe to get structure and training, but a good dish for me was something I’d eaten at the fish market in Tokyo, or one I’d eaten for breakfast in Singapore.” He used all of that experience at Aquavit, to great success. In that Times review, Ruth Reichl said he was “walking a tightrope between Swedish tradition and modern taste” in his use of multicultural influences like Indian curry leaves and Chinese tea-smoked duck. It’s no wonder that he approached Harlem with the same scholarly eye, spending several years researching fried chicken alone, in places as varied as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and neighborhood icon Charles' Pan-Fried Chicken.

Seven years in, Red Rooster has settled comfortably into its place, a tourist-and-local-trafficked mainstay of the new 125th Street. Samuelsson’s second Harlem venture, the casual Streetbird Rotisserie, opened on 116th Street to fewer (if not no) fireworks, a neighborhood spot serving chicken sandwiches under the glow of the neon sign salvaged from shuttered soul-food restaurant M&G Diner. As Samuelsson’s empire expands beyond New York’s borders—including a waterfront Bermuda hotel restaurant and a taqueria in Malmo, Sweden—his persona now encompasses an ever-expanding number of identities. And while he may remain the most high-profile proponent of Harlem's food scene, it's by no means the only trick in his book.

From Ethiopian comfort food, to the most technically difficult dish he ever executed, these are the 10 dishes that made Marcus Samuelsson’s career.


Chef Marcus Samuelsson Takes THR’s Taste Test

The acclaimed owner of Harlem's Red Rooster, now judging ABC's 'The Taste' and the author of a new home cooking book talks hot sauce, buckwheat, dried mango and more.

Gary Baum

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Marcus Samuelsson &ndash the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-bred chef and judge (alongside Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson) on ABC&rsquos The Taste, whose Red Rooster restaurant has helped usher in a foodie renaissance in Harlem &ndash just published a new cookbook, his third. The self-explanatory Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home finds the James Beard Award winner, who made his name at Manhattan&rsquos refined Aquavit, offering up decidedly casual ideas, like a Nordic take on corn dogs. &ldquoStaff meal at the restaurant has been a huge inspiration,&rdquo he says. &ldquoBut also traveling the U.S. In America we throw out around 40 percent of our leftovers. These recipes go against that.&rdquo

MARCUS SAMUELSSON&rsquoS THR TASTE TEST

Current Fixation

&ldquoHot sauce. For years, I&rsquove been bringing bottles home from different countries. I recently realized that my collection is looking pretty impressive!&rdquo

Known For Cooking

&ldquoI think the regulars at Red Rooster Harlem would say Fried Yardbird. It&rsquos a classic &ndash comforting, crave-able, and so delicious. We serve it next to our Rooster hot sauce, with white mace gravy, buttery mashed potatoes and collards.&rdquo

Destination Dinner

&ldquoI would go to Tokyo with my wife and eat a really authentic sushi dinner, something that lasts up to two hours and really opens your eyes to the freshest ingredients and most impressive techniques &ndash like Daiwa Sushi or Kyubey. I&rsquom so inspired by the greatest sushi chefs: their precise skills, work ethic and dedication.&rdquo

Go-To Take-Out

&ldquoI like to walk over to one of the authentic taco stands in East Harlem and get a bag of every kind of taco to take home. So good. Some people think great tacos don&rsquot exist in New York City, but they do &ndash you just need to know where to go, including El Paso Taco Truck and Mildred Deli Grocery.&rdquo

Adventurous Bite

&ldquoMy most adventurous bite was when I ate insects while visiting South Africa. I&rsquom not entirely sure I will ever do it again, but I can check it off the list.&rdquo

Simply Won&rsquot Eat

Favorite Snack

&ldquoI love eating dried mango. I recently spent some time in Bermuda with my team and it was our go-to snack, on the plane, on the beach and throughout the day working in the kitchen.&rdquo

Dietary Regimen

&ldquoI try to eat lots of vegetables and healthy protein. When you&rsquore a chef, it&rsquos easy to gain weight with all the rich foods in the kitchen and constant tastings. I make sure to stay mindful to keep a balance. One great strategy is soup &ndash it&rsquos healthy, wholesome, comforting and delicious and keeps really well in the refrigerator for quick leftover meals. Marcus Off Duty has an entire chapter dedicated to soup.&rdquo

Preferred Company

&ldquoNothing beats dinner with my wife Maya, but I also love when we invite our closest friends and family over. The energy in the house is celebratory, fun and full of great vibes and people sharing memories. I love that kind of cooking &ndash &ldquooff duty&rdquo cooking! It&rsquos a different ball game and very relaxing.&rdquo

&ldquoI don&rsquot like judgment around the table or in the kitchen. I think cooking and eating should be about having an open mind &ndash embracing others&rsquo experiences, cultures and likes. At the end of the day, there is no rule book in cooking.&rdquo

&ldquoMy biggest wish is to bring people great memories. The more people that I can inspire to have fun in the kitchen or at the dinner table the better &ndash whether it&rsquos someone throwing a dinner party for the first time or cooking for a date, or sharing a casual weekday dinner at Red Rooster Harlem with friends &ndash there are so many great memories to be made surrounding food.

Embarrassing Experience

&ldquoThe first time I used chopsticks happened to be when I was visiting Japan and having sushi for the first time. I don&rsquot recommend eating sushi for the novice chopstick operator. It didn&rsquot make it any easier that everyone else around me was already a pro. Even though I was a culinary student and learning so much about food, I was pretty far behind.&rdquo

Guilty Pleasure

&ldquoNothing beats a cheeseburger and a beer &ndash it&rsquos not an everyday thing but sometimes it&rsquos so necessary. It&rsquos my ultimate post-soccer game meal.&rdquo

&ldquoI&rsquom a Swede-iopian who lives in Harlem, so it would have to be a combination of the food that is my comfort food. A true mash-up of my cultures: I would want my wife&rsquos Ethiopian doro wat, shiro and honey wine, fried chicken and my grandmother&rsquos pickled herring.&rdquo


HOT HONEY YARDBIRD

Went here with a friend before the pandemic and it was amazing!! Wanted to do a review now that I'm on Yelp. I had the Marcus cornbread and the honey yardbird . The food was so sell seasoned the stay was very friendly and informative helping us find something to do for the night. On my next trip to New York after life is back to a little normalcy I will make another reservation to eat here again. A reservation is a definite here b/c they stay packed!

Others will see how you vote!

  • Kelly-Mae S.
  • Queens, NY
  • 2 friends
  • 74 reviews
  • 329 photos
  • Elite ’21

COVID no doubt has caused so much chaos but in the midst of the chaos it's allowed some of us the opportunity to finally get a table in some of the most booked restaurants in the city. I've always wanted to dine in at Red Rooster but was never lucky enough to get a seat. Wait times were always 1hr or more. The most recent time I went the restaurant wasn't packed and we were seated right away.

The food was good and the drinks were great! I had the hot honey yardbird with Mac and cheese and the chicken was SO delicious! The mac and cheese was good but it wasn't the best. (Restaurant mac and cheese is difficult to rate, because once you've had some good southern baked mac that's all you'll ever want). My friends had the Lenox burger and the catfish. The burger was huge and looked juicy. I couldn't take the pic fast enough my friend dove right in and said it was yummy. The catfish was also good but you have to ask for hot sauce because what is catfish and greens without hot sauce.

The only reason for four stars instead of five is that our waiter barley checked in with us, and it was difficult to get their attention. Like I mentioned earlier the restaurant wasn't packed, so we were really confused about the service. However, I will say that when the waiter did check with us they were very polite and helpful.

Others will see how you vote!

  • Sharila S.
  • Jersey City, NJ
  • 296 friends
  • 56 reviews
  • 39 photos

I made a 6pm reservation for outdoor dining on Christmas Eve. It was a rainy Thursday, and we held out hope that the seating would hold up against the cold, wet weather.

Thankfully, it did! The beautiful outdoor seating area was tented, well-heated, and decorated nicely. We honestly could have forgotten that we were outside if not for the patter of raindrops and noisy car horns. This is natural, as the Red Rooster is located near the busiest intersection in Harlem: 125th & Lennox Avenue.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were seated immediately and the hostess provided us with hand sanitizer spray. We were then directed to the menu, which was accessible by a QR code located on our table.

We ordered the following starters: Cornbread with Roasted Tomato and Corn Butter ($9) Uptown Guac with Accra, Avocado, Pineapple salsa, and fried garlic ($9) and YEP! Chicken & Waffle with Maple Hot Sauce ($14).

The cornbread was sliced in a way that resembled pound cake and tasted quite similar to the dessert. I personally prefer sweet cornbread, and the salty tomato and corn butter was the perfect complement.

The accra fritter, made from a tropical root vegetable known as malanga, was good as well. While it could have been crispier, the guacamole and salsa gave a great flavor boost that almost made up for the lack of texture.

My favorite appetizer hands down was the chicken and waffle. It consisted of two SUPER crispy pieces of dark meat (my favorite!) atop a pillowy, vanilla-flavored waffle. A drizzle of the maple hot sauce and-chef's kiss-it was so good. Definitely the highlight of our meal.

One of my cousins ordered the Crispy Bird Sandwich and Fries with buffalo chicken, cheddar, charred onion, and pickles ($18). She loved the chicken and toppings but felt that the sandwich was a little dry. It needed sauce.

My other cousin is vegan, and she had a difficult time finding an entree that fit her dietary needs. I originally chose the Red Rooster Harlem because out of all the soul food spots, it had a plant-based entree: Charred Glazed Cauliflower with roasted tomatoes, bean puree, and cilantro-yogurt sauce ($19). However, our server told us that past vegan customers were not happy with the meal when the yogurt sauce was excluded.

For this reason, my cousin chose to order an appetizer for her main course instead: the Roasted Squash and Brussels Sprout Salad with pecan dukkah and citrus-berbere dressing ($14). She was disappointed as the squash was al dente instead of roasted and tender. The texture issue caused her not to finish her salad. I hope that this restaurant works to improve their offerings for vegans. I understand that it can be difficult, but a lot of people are moving toward meatless diets. Even one vegan entree would be a huge draw for such customers.

Because I was so pleased with the chicken we had for the appetizer, I chose to order the Hot Honey Yardbird chicken thigh ($6) with a side of Mac & Greens ($9). The mac was creamy and flavorful, and the acidity of the collard greens was perfect for cutting some of the richness. I was not a huge fan of the breadcrumb topping though, as I prefer my mac to have a crispy crust solely from more time in the oven.

While the food was largely a home run, the service left quite a bit to be desired. I had to consistently attempt to flag down our server, often to no avail. She would visit other tables but not ours.

We were never checked on to see if our food was okay, if we needed a refill on our waters, or if we wanted dessert. It took about 30 minutes just to get her attention so that we could finally get the check. I understand it was Christmas Eve and quite busy, but it began to feel as though our server was actively avoiding us. The lack of customer service left a bad taste in our mouths.

Although I would return to Red Rooster Harlem for the delicious food, I hope to have a better service experience next time.


Red Rooster, Harlem

If you live in New York these days, chances are pretty high that you’ve ventured all the way up north of Central Park to Harlem for a few evenings, or to look for a new home. So many cool bars and restaurants have opened up these past few years, rents have jumped up, and cultural institutions have attracted locals and tourists alike, all searching for that piece of ‘soul’ that makes the neighborhood such a hot destination.

While there are plenty of recent openings worth writing about (and eating at!), it’s a good time to highlight once more the one place that seems to have triggered the ‘new renaissance’ of Harlem – Red Rooster.

The neighborhood landmark is as popular today as it was when it opened nearly 5 years ago, thanks to the colorful and international culinary pedigree of its renowned chef and owner (and Harlem resident), Marcus Samuelsson. The sceney restaurant, at once elegant and comfortable, is a true celebration of Harlem with an eye-catching décor featuring curated artwork on the wall, some by local artists, and sophisticated soul food.

The diverse menu is a true reflection of the area’s population as well as the chef’s background with plenty of Southern food and Swedish touches which work incredibly well. This means you’ll find parties sharing dense slices of warm cornbread followed by an appetizer of delicate gravlax and big heaping plates of fried chicken and Swedish meatballs. And if you stay late into the night, there’s often very good live music downstairs at Ginny’s Supper Club. I feel I’ve just given you plenty more reasons to head to Harlem for the first or hundredth time…

Deviled eggs with duck salame

Gravlax, upstate farm greens, mustard vinaigrette, razor clams

Chicken & Waffle, chicken liver butter, bourbon maple syrup

Crispy fish – peanuts, cilantro, watermelon, tomatoes

Brownie Sundae for two – spiced honey peanut caramel, popcorn ice cream, cinnamon ice cream, vanilla bean ice cream


Marcus Samuelsson’s New Cookbook Celebrates Black Excellence

The pandemic has upended the lives and careers of America’s restaurateurs — among them celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. The proprietor of Harlem’s Red Rooster has directed his efforts to helping those in need, particularly people of color. It’s a community he celebrates in his new book, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food.” He joins Walter Isaacson to discuss.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: And now, from the business of government to the business of actually trying to stay in business, like other restaurateurs, the chef, Marcus Samuelsson, has been hit hard by the pandemic. But during this crisis, he is helping those in need, particularly those of color. It’s a community he celebrates in his new book “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food.” Here he is talking with our Walter Isaacson about his journey from Ethiopia to Sweden to the United States and why restaurants are more than just places to eat.

WALTER ISAACSON: Thanks, Christiane. And, Marcus Samuelsson, welcome to the show.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON, CHEF AND RESTAURANTEUR: Thank you so much for having me. Very excited to be on.

ISAACSON: Great. You came to this country with 300 bucks in your pocket and it took you 25 years to build up your restaurant empire. And then after COVID hit, it all came down in 10 days. How are you doing with things like the Red Rooster and your wonderful restaurants?

SAMUELSSON: Well, this has been by far the toughest year not just for me but all of us, right. It’s been challenging as a small business how to maintain and we’re getting tested. But I do think as an immigrant, it gives me a lot of strength. You know, I’ve been through things before. As a person of color, I’ve been tested before. But it’s definitely taking a toll. But I’ve also really felt gratitude to be part of several communities. One, the community of Harlem, and two, the community of hospitality.

ISAACSON: You talk about being tested before as an immigrant. You know, you’re from Ethiopia by way of Sweden, and then to Harlem. Tell me what you learned on the trail that’s helping you through this COVID crisis.

SAMUELSSON: Well, what I’ve been thinking a lot about this year is that this is so much bigger than yourself, right. And sometimes the worst that can happen can also be the best that could happen. In my case, me and my sister and my brother had tuberculosis. My mother sadly passed. But me and my sister survived and that’s how we got adopted from Ethiopia to Sweden, and it really saved me. So, when things like that has happened to you in your life, you just kind of like — I’ve been through some tough beginnings, but also very grateful to be here. And it’s very similar to this experience. It’s so much larger than yourself. You got to just hang on if you can. I’ve been very fortunate. My family’s healthy, my wife is healthy, my son is healthy. And as long as we are healthy, we can always add value to our community and our business.

ISAACSON: You’ve turned the Red Rooster, your restaurant up in Harlem, into a community kitchen now. Explain what you’re doing and how you’re working with Jose Andres, your friend.

SAMUELSSON: Yes. Well, you know, by yourself you have power. And if you’re part of the larger community collectively, I think that this year I really thought helped me focus on the individual but also as a collective. And as a collective, I’m part of the hospitality community. I called Jose Andres very early in March and said, hey, (INAUDIBLE), we’ll be there. We’ll feed the community. And we started with 400 meals a day for the neediest to 1,500 meals per day. So, between March 15th and October 15th, we served over 225,000 meals for the neediest and the first responders. And it completely changed us as a community, but also it made me realize what it means to be a restaurant during a pandemic. What you can do as a collective. And it transformed me as a person but also us as a business.

ISAACSON: Over the course of this coronavirus pandemic, have you seen the change in the type of people you are serving?

SAMUELSSON: Oh, this was in the beginning, particularly being — living in Harlem and serving Harlem, it was homeless people, the neediest. Then we served the first responders and the hospital. And then it was my neighbors. After months of this, right, this is still going on. The line became middle class, working class and I was — I’m pleased that we can be there for our community. And it was very often the homeless and the people that are used to waiting on shelter living that showed the line, that really showed they have experience on waiting. They knew how to wait through social distancing. So, there was a lot of beautiful human interaction in that line that I saw that I never expected because we had the least experience of this and someone has experience of waiting on line knew more about how to do this.

ISAACSON: After Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, we realize that the restaurants were not just places for food, but places of community where we rallied around and figured out what we’re going to do. Have you seen that in the restaurant community during COVID?

SAMUELSSON: Yes, I mean, this is — I’ve seen the best in people in the toughest time, right. This just didn’t happen in Harlem. Same thing happened in Newark and in Miami and across the country. The power of one and the power of us together. I mean, Walter, what you have to understand, independent restaurant, that community employs between 11 million and 16 million Americans, right. The word restaurant means to restore your community. But sometimes the word restaurant is almost too big. You know, fast food chains are part of restaurants but they’re very different than independent restaurant and we created the Independent Restaurant Coalition to specifically help the mom and pops. Once the mom and pops in your neighborhood goes away, our neighborhood vastly change, right. It’s going to be completely dark at night, it has impact on jobs but also on safety and also quality of life. So, it’s very important for us to keep the independent, mom and pop restaurants alive.

ISAACSON: Do you think the independent mom and pop restaurants are more likely to be thriving after COVID or do you think it will help the change more?

SAMUELSSON: Sadly, I think the big guys with access to finance and can wait it out and traditional bank loans will definitely be able to survive this. I’m not sad they’re surviving. It’s good that business is open. But this will have a huge impact on mom and pop, particularly minority, black and brown business, as we know, have been impacted by COVID in this proportionately. Both with access to hospital and access to health care, right. And also, traditionally, we know financial solutions in those communities are much harder. So, post-COVID it’s going to be a very different America in black and brown neighborhoods but also wherever there are small businesses.

ISAACSON: Congress is wrestling with an aid package. What do you think should be in that for the restaurant industry?

SAMUELSSON: Well, I would love to see the aid package really restore what we got this summer, something similar to that. Because small businesses or family business, I really don’t like the word small businesses because for the families it’s their own business. And if we don’t get a meaningful package, mom and pop restaurants in this country will go away. Not just for a couple of months, Walter, forever. The restaurant business is not a high margin business to begin with. So, we’ve been through our toughest year. We need the aid right now. We need to go back to work. Right now, you’re looking at 11 million people where 70 percent of the people, we’re asking to stay home. This is going to have impact beyond restaurant. This is going to have impact on the barbershop. This is going to have impact on all small retail. And we need that aid sooner than later.

ISAACSON: Give me a sense of how hard it is to start up a restaurant and to then restart a restaurant once it’s been closed?

SAMUELSSON: This is — it is extremely hard and challenging to start a restaurant because normally we are also not traditionally getting, you know, access to banks. This is very much — you fund raise through friends and family. And if a restaurant is doing great, you might have a 6 percent to 8 percent profit margin, which means that you don’t have a lot of money stashed away for a two-month closing. So, you’re basically running that restaurant month to month. And when you’re closing a restaurant and then starting back up, first finding the staff, getting all the systems back up, and the margin of 7 percent to 10 percent is not going to help you restart the restaurant. This is not a 30 percent, 40 percent profit margin business where you can stack away a lot of money for a better day. This is literally like living month to month. And — but it is also an industry that takes care of so many neighborhoods and employs — one of the largest employers in this country. So, it’s meaningful not only for the neighborhood, not only for the family, but for us as a country. So, when you save American restaurants, you’re actually saving American and it is by far the most diverse industry. So, immigrants like myself that might be hard to get into other work fields, restaurant is very often the first place you can get a job but also the first place where you can own your own business. So, this is vital for so many different reasons.

ISAACSON: You have a gorgeous, delectable new book out that’s not only a cookbook, not only recipes, but a celebration of black food, a celebration of the immigrant experience and a celebration of a lot of chefs, old and new, who you write about, almost biographically. You titled the book “The Rise.” Let’s start with that. Why is it titled “The Rise”?

SAMUELSSON: It was an opportunity, Walter, to really celebrate black excellence when it comes to American food and cooking. I felt like — just like a lot of American history, the African-American experience, the way it’s been written into our history wasn’t correct. This was an opportunity to celebrate incredible chefs like Ms. Leah Chase and also honor the people that are not so famous that actually contributed much more to American food. There are five original cuisines in American food that are directly linked to the black experience. Southern food that we consider — we call sometimes soul food. Low country from the Carolinas, Cajun, Creole and barbecue. These are all iconic important food cultures that all stems out of the African-American experience. So, we need to get the authorship, the correct authorship to that. We need to create and set tables for more memories so we can honor the people who created it and we need to get people to be inspired to be in our industry, and that’s really why we want to create the rise.

ISAACSON: Is there a particular essence to which you would call black food?

SAMUELSSON: I do. I mean, it obviously stems from West Africa. Comes out of the slave trade. Like a lot of food comes out of war and in a very, very complicated difficult and horrible situations. And I would say, making it delicious with very — small means, right. So much of all the black experience when it comes to food is not having enough but also being ingenious. Bringing the rice to the Carolinas, for example, bricking okra from the continent to America and so many incredible indigenous dishes that comes out of West Africa. When I think about a jollof rice from West Africa and I think about a jambalaya from your town, New Orleans, they’re exactly similar, right? So, where one inspired the others. And there are many dishes like this that started in Africa, came to the Carolinas and became American dishes.

ISAACSON: You celebrate Leah Chase, who died at 96 a year or so ago, and her restaurant in New Orleans was more than just a restaurant. It was a hub of the civil rights movement. It was a hub of the community. How important are people like Leah Chase? You’ve dedicated the book to her.

SAMUELSSON: Well, Ms. Leah Chase is an American icon. You know, she passed away last year at 96 years young. Her restaurant started in the 󈧬s. Think about that. In the 󈧬s. And now, her daughter, Stella, still runs it Dooky Chase. But, obviously, she was a game-changer in so many different ways. For the first 20 years or so, white and black customers couldn’t eat in the same restaurant but Ms. Leah Chase broke those laws because she wanted to serve everybody. But also create jobs for everybody, right. And restaurants for African-Americans meant different things. Very often they have to go to Ms. Dooky Chase — Leah Chase to gather, (INAUDIBLE) vote and so on. So, you know, we can’t think of restaurants as safe haven today but that’s what they were in black communities. They were job creators. They were safe havens. And there was also a place where you always knew you could get a meal. Even if you didn’t — couldn’t pay directly that day, you could put it on the bill and by the end of the month, go and pay, clean up your bill. And Leah was there for her community. She was in and of her community.

SAMUELSSON: My favorite recipe in the book, I think, and I’m going to try it out, is the casava dumplings with callaloo puree, which Nina Compton does it by (INAUDIBLE). Tell me about the influence of Caribbean culture on black food.

SAMUELSSON: Ms. Nina Compton is for me — it’s not a coincidence that she’s in New Orleans and she’s really learned so much and Leah mentored her as well. But, you know, Nina’s food, Nina coming from St. Lucia, training in New York with Danielle and so on, she’s done — she is black excellence, right. She’s come from a place. She’s gone this hard training. And now, she and her family have their business. And Caribbean food has influenced America in so many different ways but it’s also localized. When you talk about black food, it’s not monolithic. There are those five (INAUDIBLE) that we talked about. But there is also through the Caribbean and through immigration. We learned that St. Lucian food is different than Jamaican food, for example. We learned that Cuban has a different journey than Dominican food. So, it helps us in a geographically way really understand how blackness is not one thing, it’s plural. And that’s really important the way we understand that Portuguese and Polish food is not the same just because they start with P and come from Europe.

ISAACSON: When I was reading “The Rise,” I was loving the recipes. But by the time I got to the end of your wonderful book, I realize it wasn’t just about food. It was about race and about class and about equity. Tell me how those things fit in, both in your book and what we’re going through today.

SAMUELSSON: I think food is politics in so many different ways because it is a trading commodity, right. So, it is linked to culture, identity and race. Who owns something, who cannot own something. And I think it’s very important to have these conversations. You think about the slave trade, for example. You think about food from Africa very often doesn’t get its props when it comes from Africa. For example, if you’re going to give away a box of chocolate this holiday season, you might say, hey, I’m going to buy my loved ones some Belgian chocolate. The coco bean is not in Brussels. The coco bean is in Ghana. So, we are programmed already to give a lot of good food quality to Europe. You’re going to think about a French coffee or an Italian roast X, Y and Z coffee, that coffee bean comes from Kenya or Ethiopia. So, again, the authorship where the food comes from to identify that is very, very important. And we are on a journey and something like “The Rise” can continue to have that conversation to open that door up. That is very important because as we trade, we also think about that culture from a higher quality standard. It inspires us to go to that country, it inspires us to think about people in a different context.

ISAACSON: Marcus Samuelsson, thank you so much for joining us and good luck with the restaurant and good luck with your book, “The Rise.”

SAMUELSSON: Thank you so much for having me.

Christiane speaks with President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde in an exclusive interview. She also speaks with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Walter Isaacson speaks with chef Marcus Samuelsson about why restaurants are more than just places to eat.


Little Island, NYC's new floating park, is a marvel

It’s hard to think of a book better-timed than Marcus Samuelsson’s “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food,” a luminous journey through the many splendored worlds of black-American cuisine.

Part cookbook, part tasty history lesson, it adds a sweet note to the belated celebration of under-appreciated black artists, writers, filmmakers, inventors and business innovators. The book’s also a mood-lifter for this terrible pandemic year. What’s more heartwarming than 300 pages of food illustrations so luscious-looking, you want to eat them off the pages?

Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson personifies the archetypical multicultural, immigrant New Yorker. He’s best known as the award-winning former chef of Aquavit and the pilot of his thriving, game-changing Harlem restaurant Red Rooster.

And he’s a damn good writer. He brings to vivid life a sprawling constellation of black American chefs — some famous, some little known — and their creations. It took Samuelsson, his co-author, photographers, researchers and recipe testers four years to produce — “big lift for my team, like the Olympics,” he told The Post.

“The Rise” reveals the eye-popping scope of black culinary genius, integral to what Samuelsson calls “the beauty of America.”

“You can’t think of American music without black music, and it’s the same with American food,” he told The Post.

The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook Courtesy

Some people still perceive black-American cuisine mainly through the prism of Southern “soul food.” More enlightened eaters know the truth is worlds more complex. Dishes with Guyanese, Jamaican and Senegalese origins pop up on many restaurant menus.

But gastronomical cherry-picking can miss how thoroughly woven “black” food is throughout our culinary fabric. The dishes in “The Rise” originated from around the globe. Their chefs made them American, although not of the steak-and-apple pie school.

“How do people understand black cooking?” Samuelsson mused. “Jamaican cooking is different than Ethiopian cooking or the cooking of the Great Migration” from the American south, he said. In “The Rise,” he sets out to honor all the different styles that became part of the American culinary scene.

“The Rise” illuminates scores of chefs’ careers and creations. Some are as recognizable as New York’s Eric Gestel, Eric Ripert’s Martinique-born executive chef at Le Bernardin, and Southern-born J.J. Johnson of Harlem’s Field Trip. Another is entirely anonymous — an undocumented Mexican immigrant working in a San Diego kitchen.

See also

Meet Eric Ripert's secret culinary weapon at NYC's Le Bernardin

We also meet Austin, Texas, chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph’s Guyanese-style smoked venison with roti and pine nut chutney New York home cook Eden Fesehaye’s Eritrean-inspired lamb wat and Boston food educator Fred Opie’s West African-style broken rice peanut seafood stew.

There’s a warm nod, as well, to Patrick Clark, who before his premature death from heart failure in 1998 made Warner LeRoy’s Tavern on the Green an unlikely culinary magnet for several golden years.

A unifying theme among many of the book’s featured chefs is their enthusiasm to spend time in Africa and learn from the continent’s myriad traditions, styles and raw materials.

“I knew I was onto something last year when five of my friends said they were going to Nigeria to learn. In the past, they’d be going to Paris,” Samuelsson said.

“It’s always been the same with music. Jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie did it all the time. Stevie Wonder went to Nigeria to meet Fela [Kuti].”

Fine, but what about recipes? There are 150 of them, each with a thumbnail history. If you’re mystified by buttermilk-baobab broiled peach popsicles, Savannah, Ga., baker Cheryl Day makes the dessert based on the lemony fruit of East Africa’s iconic baobab tree seem as easy as apple pie.

Sunday roast chicken part of Marcus Samuelsson’s new book, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food.” Angie Mosier

Samuelsson managed to corral all the chefs while he was busy running restaurants in New York and four other cities, organizing charitable events and producing TV shows.

“As with any minority community, there’s like an underground network” of acquaintances, he said. But he met many at his annual Harlem EatUp! food festival. “All the best African-American chefs came, so I’ve cooked with a majority of the people in the book,” he said.

Samuelsson was blamed by some Harlemites for “gentrifying” their neighborhood when Red Rooster opened. One chef even accused him of “cultural appropriation.”

Samuelsson writes, “Black food matters.” But “The Rise” soars above politically correct slogans.

“America is dealing with two pandemics — the pandemic of racism, which has been around longer than COVID,” he told The Post. But, “we are highly layered and complex, which from a food point of view can only get more and more delicious.”

These are some of the New York City-based chefs and restaurateurs who are featured in “The Rise.”


Marcus Samuelsson on Why He's Finally Releasing a Red Rooster Cookbook and What Makes Harlem Great

Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant, Red Rooster, is a Harlem staple. Ranked as a favorite culinary destination of New Yorkers (see for yourself on Yelp with the restaurant's diverse 5-star reviews) and Washingtonians—both famous (President Obama) and not so famous (this writer)—Red Rooster is pretty much a crowd favorite of diners across the United States.

Free tip: make your brunch reservations now .

Samuelsson has finally shared the recipes of his culinary landmark in a new cookbook, The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem. The cookbook reveals the secrets to the restaurant’s signature dishes, including “Fried Yardbird” (yes!), and intertwines these glorious Southern food recipes with poems, art and a historical narrative of Harlem.

His passion for food is met closely with his love of music. For one clue to this fact, look no further than Samuelsson’s Ginny’s Supper Club, the lower level to Red Rooster whose sultry ambiance is a portal to the hip and seductive speakeasies of, fittingly, the Harlem Renaissance.

Book cover via Marcus Samuelsson's Facebook page.

Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia but raised by adoptive parents in Sweden. There, he learned cooking from his maternal grandmother and formalized his skills in culinary school. After graduating, he began working in a restaurant in the United States and has since earned a litany of accolades as the owner of internationally-acclaimed restaurants, a judge on television shows like Top Chef, and the author of numerous cookbooks.

While his public Wikipedia profile reveals these details, earlier this year he gave us a candid look into his birthplace and the flavors behind his cooking, as the focus of an episode of the television show, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

From my home in Washington, D.C., I spoke on the phone with the New York-based chef about his new cookbook and other new projects—notably his special custom menu he created for an upcoming awards ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, and the opening of a new restaurant in the Nation’s Capital. He also gave his suggestions on food and music pairings, and his favorite foods from around the continent.

Nadia Sesay for Okayafrica: Red Rooster opened in 2010, so why are you only now releasing a cookbook inspired by the restaurant?

Marcus Samuelsson: It takes a lot of time to make a cookbook. This book in particular took over four years. You want to create memories and tell a good story that you can’t do if you’ve been open for one year.

What are some of those memories that you have from Red Rooster?

There are so many special memories—the book is 300+ pages. It tells about why I opened in Harlem and the story of Harlem, so that’s a story in itself. One memory is when President Obama came and we talked about the history of the neighborhood and who occupied that space before me.

Red Rooster is known for some unique recipes, like the "Fried Yardbird." What’s your favorite recipe in the book and why?

The chapter called “Birdland” is a lot of fun. It shows a lot of links between African and African American cooking. At Red Rooster we serve a lot of food that looks back to the continent. The chicken recipes for example have Moroccan spices.

Why is Harlem special to you?

It’s the people and the culture—African American historical culture [like] music, the Apollo, jazz. We are learning about ourselves. There’s a rich history and present culture that reflects diversity.

You have traveled extensively outside of Harlem. Have you noticed African foods being adopted throughout the world and what are your thoughts on this?

Well, a lot of food comes from Africa that you might not realize. Over the last 10 years awareness of the culture of Africa has grown. You know, things like Peri-Peri now appear on menus throughout the world. There’s a higher awareness through travel and trading. For instance, Africans studying in the west bring culture with them. There is a way to connect. I talked a lot about that in my cookbook from ten years ago. There’s always an undertone of Africa in recipes.

In your travels throughout the African continent specifically, what are some of your favorite foods you have tried? And from where?

I love Durban, where the food has a big Indian influence. I was just in Nigeria and had great suya in a street market late at night.

As with Red Rooster, do you have particular memories from food experiences on the continent?

I have so many magical points in terms of food. So again, having street food in Victoria Street Market at night, or in Durban. These are all experiences I bring with me. Sometimes through food, sometimes through music. For example, one time at Red Rooster after the 'Fela! On Broadway' play we cooked Nigerian food. My experiences are sometimes expressed as food and sometimes culture.

I have read that you are a music lover. Which artists are on your playlist?

In terms of African heritage, Fela. I also listen to the Ethiopian artist Aster Aweke. And in terms of modern music, David Bowie and Frank Ocean.

How would you pair those artists and sounds with food?

Frank Ocean’s music is cerebral, so a meal with several courses and lasting a few hours to reflect on all the nuances. Fela too is complex I admire the layers.

David Bowie transformed over the years, showing us that so many different artists can do that. I’ve transformed too—I started cooking in a 3-star Michelin restaurant. I would pair something moody, so that you can have a reflection on life.

Nicki Minaj met Lauryn Hill recently, and literally fell to the ground in awe of meeting her music idol. Which artist would give you that reaction?

I’ve met a lot of great artists, but I would say Prince, if I would have had the opportunity to meet him.

Latin-fusion and Asian-fusion are restaurant concepts some of your peers have explored. Will you introduce us to Ethiopian-fusion?

I think that’s for the next generation of Ethiopians. We are already seeing this in many expressions of music and art, with The Weeknd and contemporary artist Julie Mehretu. They have introduced a modern way of presenting Ethiopia. In America we have many expressions of that. Even in my new book, many recipes are inspired by Ethiopian cooking.

Speaking of art, you are designing a special menu for the First Annual African Art Awards at Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, coming up on Oct. 28. How do you feel about this honor?

The Smithsonian is always the perfect partner in bringing together people from the continent in art, storytelling, and food. Being part of the Awards is something I look forward to.

Can you give a sneak peek into the menu?

Ha ha, no. But it will be yummy and delicious.

You have another major event happening in Washington, D.C. this year, on Dec. 8—the opening of your new restaurant at the new MGM Casino at National Harbor. As a D.C. resident I think I speak for a lot of Washingtonians when I shout, “Finally! We are getting our own taste of Marcus Samuelsson!” Tell me a bit about your new restaurant in the Nation’s Capital.

I am very excited about restaurant Marcus at MGM. It’s really inspired by Red Rooster, yet it’s distinctly different. There is a festive bar to greet you, local art, and a music venue at the back of the restaurant called Sammy’s.

You’ve done so much in your career as a chef—you are an author, TV host, and not least, a restaurateur. What is one role you would like to have in the future?

To continue focusing on working in Harlem and connecting the foodscape to Africa. And, maybe, host a cooking fest on the continent.

Keep up with Chef Samuelsson and order the cookbook, 'The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem,' on his website.


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