Chef Marcus Samuelsson shows his dedication to cultural diversity

Saturday, 11 November 2017, 04:38:36 PM. NEW YORK — It’s understandable if it seems as though Marcus Samuelsson never sleeps.

NEW YORK — It’s understandable if it seems as though Marcus Samuelsson never sleeps. The affable New York-based chef and restaurateur, who recharged the Harlem dining scene with his restaurant Red Rooster in 2010, recently opened its first outpost, Red Rooster Shoreditch, along with the taqueria Tienda Roosteria, in London. He now operates 15 restaurant brands, from Streetbird Rotisserie, also in Harlem, to Norda Bar & Grill in Goteborg, Sweden, where he grew up.

Last October, Samuelsson released a cookbook, “The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem,” an ode to the neighborhood’s cultural diversity, and he now narrates a tour of Harlem on the app Detour. “I think people have a strong thirst for this history, and a big part of it is here in Harlem,” he said.

The following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Samuelsson at Red Rooster.

Q: What influenced you to narrate an app tour of Harlem?

A: When people come to Harlem, they see the Apollo Theater, stop by one of the famous restaurants, take a picture and get back on a bus. I want them to engage with us the way they would in other communities of culture.

Q: Red Rooster, along with Ginny’s Supper Club, were game-changers for the uptown experience. What were your biggest learning experiences with these two venues?

A: I didn’t fully understand Harlem and wanted to make sure that I studied it, and not just Lenox (Avenue) and Frederick Douglass (Boulevard), but also (Holcombe) Rucker Park and Charles Gabriel (of Charles’ Country Pan Fried Chicken). Music is something that’s important, so I developed a larger stage for artists, which became Ginny’s.

Q: What led you to open the Red Rooster Shoreditch and Tienda Roosteria in London?

A: Growing up in Sweden, London is always your New York City, especially when it comes to black culture. Red Rooster has a specific song and dance to it. I felt like the space could’ve been in Notting Hill or Brixton, but they’ve changed so much that I didn’t feel like it would reflect our voice. I started to stay in East London and the diversity in Shoreditch was different, with Jewish, Bangladeshi, African and Caribbean influences.

Q: You and your wife, the model and philanthropist Maya Haile, are native Ethiopians, and were married in Ethiopia. What was it like to have the ceremony there?

A: My wife has brought me so much love. Being in Ethiopia helped me understand the culture and understand myself.

Q: What are some of your favorite Ethiopian foods?

A: I love kitfo, raw beef, which came from the Gurage region where my wife is from. It is something that you eat on special occasions. I also love the dulet (a combination of beef, liver and lamb tripe).

Q: You were the guest chef for the first state dinner of former President Barack Obama. How did it feel to take on such a huge task?

A: Besides opening Red Rooster, it’s probably the biggest honor that I’ve had as a chef. The idea of being an immigrant in this country and cooking at the White House was amazing.

Q: What do you miss the most about living in Sweden?

A: I miss the real access to nature; it was never a field trip for us.

Q: In 2015, you ran the New York City Marathon, the largest marathon in the world. What was it like to train for the race?

A: I enjoy the thinking process of getting up early. I was in the middle of writing the Red Rooster cookbook at the time, so I listened to many of my interviews to help me understand things. I’m one of the slowest Ethiopians and one of the fastest Swedes that you’ll ever find.

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