This Week’s NY Happenings: Easter Dinners, Passover Seder, Jarro Opens

TONIGHT: Cool Katz’s
Why should gentiles have all the fun? Tonight, Temple Emanu-El is throwing a Passover Seder at legendary pastrami-slinger Katz’s Delicatessen. The crowd will all be 20- and 30-somethings, enjoying the unleavened experience of a lifetime.

Passover at Katz’s Delicatessen (205 E. Houston St., Lower East Side) starts at 7pm tonight, Monday the 25th. Tickets are $60, reservations required. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

SUNDAY: Easter Feasts
Man cannot live on Easter candy alone. Fortunately, the city’s brightest spots are rolling out resurrection specials. Aquavit has a full-on smorgasbord, with classic Swedish sweets for dessert. Rabbit makes the Ligurian Easter feast at Lincoln Ristorante, while lobster and lamb highlight The Sea Fire Grill’s array. You can also check out the latest from Georges Forgeois (Bar Tabac, Café Noir, et al.), as his glam newbie Clarkson puts on an Easter prix fixe. Roasted frog legs and lamb are among the springtime specials, with buttermilk cake to finish.

Easter dinner at the new Clarkson (225 Varick St., West Village) starts at 4pm on Sunday, March 31st. Prix-fixe dinners are $45. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

NOW: Maison Jarro
Get a first look at Cobble Hill newcomer Jarro while sipping on six Pinot Noirs from around the globe. Chef Rodrigo Nogueira will accompany the tasting with “Brooklyn Pintxos,” a mash-up of Basque snacks and local ingredients.

Pinots and Pintxos is tonight at 8pm at Jarro (68 Bergen St., Cobble Hill). Tickets are $35, reservations required. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

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‘Yes, Chef’: Marcus Samuelsson’s Memoir Debuts Today

You may think you know the owner of Red Rooster and Ginny’s Supper Club; he, after all, made Scandinavian cuisine cool through his work at Aquavit, won season two of Top Chef: Masters, and cooked for President Barack Obama’s first state dinner at the White House (remember the party-crashers?). But those are just some of the crowning moments in Marcus Samuelsson’s vast cooking career.

Now, after five years, the 40-year-old chef has completed his memoir Yes, Chef, and Samuelsson is ready to tell the world his whole story starting with his journey from Ethiopia to his adoptive home in Sweden. Naturally, many of Samuelsson’s childhood memories revolve around food, and quickly you get sense of the young chef emerging. It’s less of a play-by-play of Samuelsson’s life, and more a game plan on how to reach for a dream, a difficult but delicious dream, speckled with triumphs and failures.

“For me a book like that is inspiring and I can inspire,” the 40-year-old chef said over the phone. “And it can be inspiration whether you are into food or not.”

Another big thing Samuelsson delves into that separates his story from other chef memoirs is his feelings towards growing up black in a world of white people. It’s not an account of bitterness or feeling ostracized, but more one of childlike innocence to race politics—a good kid who gets picked on because he is different—not surprising given he grew up in the land of Vikings. As for his roll as a successful black chef, Samuelsson said, “It’s definitely helped people see that it’s possible, and we all need role models.”

One of my favorite lines in the book about this subject and Samuelsson’s first time in New York reads, “I stepped into the terminal, the first thing I noticed were all the black people, they were everywhere.” He goes on to say, “The second thing I noticed was that no one was looking at me differently. No, scratch that: No one was looking at me at all.”

Today, everyone is looking at the stylish, handsome chef who has seemingly taken over the culinary renaissance of his new home in Harlem. With his two restaurants, Samuelsson hopes to give more opportunities to residents interested in a restaurant or culinary career. “For me it’s about constantly evolving what Red Rooster is,” he said. “We will continue to evolve with our dining scene and we will evolve when Harlem is ready and when we are ready.”

Samuelsson’s book is now available, and this week he celebrates his book with various events across the city including tonight’s discussion at Barnes and Nobel in Union Square with Ruth Reichl, one of his first fans and the New York Times reviewer who gave Aquavit a three-star rating when Samuelsson was at the helm. Other events include a conversation between the chef and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi at Powerhouse Arena at 7pm on Wednesday; a three-course dinner for $125 at Ginny’s Supper Club at 7:30pm on Thursday; and a cooking demo and book signing at Macy’s Herald Square at 6pm on Monday, July 2.

Where Celebs Go: Mark Ruffalo, AnnaLynne McCord, Emily Mortimer

Mark Ruffalo: My favorite restaurant in New York is Le Cirque. AnnaLynne McCord, at the “Shutter Island” premiere: I live in L.A. I don’t go out that much because I don’t drink, so going out, kind of, becomes work, in a way. But, as far as restaurants, I love Chart House in Malibu for good seafood. And good Spanish food – Mexican food – Spanish Kitchen on La Cienega, one of my favorites. I, actually, really like Chili’s [laughs], for a little chain restaurant. Those are three I can think of right now. What’s good at Chili’s? Oh, my God! The queso. I go in, sometimes just get the chips ’n salsa to go, and go home, but the queso — I love the chicken steak quesadillas, just, like, chain restaurant. I’m from Atlanta – that’s high-class dining when you’re in Atlanta, so! Fran Lebowitz: I would never tell. Then they wouldn’t be my favorites, anymore. Then everyone would be there. Do you think they would want to follow you? It’s not me. It’s like you tell anyone anything– look what happened in New York. It got turned inside out. Anything any New Yorker knew, they tell someone like you, and then there’s a million people there from out of town.

Michael Stuhlbarg: Well, goodness gracious! I guess it depends on what kind of mood I’m in. If I’m in a cultural mood, I’ll go to the number of museums here, and if it’s food, there are so many places all over town to go to. One of my favorite sushi places is called Japonica, down on University and 13th. I love the sushi there. That’s the one that sticks in my mind the most. If you’re lookin’ for sizeable, delicious portions of fish, go to Japonica.

Curtiss Cook: We love Aquavit. We have five children, so we don’t really get out to eat that often. We love the cod, and all their herring meals are really well made.

Nellie Sciutto: Oh, my God! I’m glad you asked that. I love the restaurant, House. It’s my favorite new restaurant in Los Angeles, ‘cause I love Capo – their [restaurant] in Santa Monica. House is like Capo light and less expensive – very fabulous place. House is northern Italian, like me [laughs]. And The Tar Pit, good bar lounge.

Teresa Palmer: In Los Angeles – I’m from Los Angeles – I like Magnolia. I dunno. Toast Café [laughs]?!

Dennis Lehane: I live in Boston and Tampa. I go to a lot of Irish pubs. I’m not Mr. —I don’t go to the hip places anymore. Which Irish pubs do you recommend in Boston? Ah, jeez, I dunno. I used to like a place called the Castle Bar. I used to like another place called the Irish Village. What about Tampa? They don’t have any in Tampa. I just go to a place called the Old Northeast Tavern [in St. Petersburg].

Paz de la Huerta: Lately, I’ve been going to Spa 88, which is a Russian bathhouse on Gold Street. And they have hammam and Russian rooms, so it’s just, kind of like, my hangout right now. Hammam? It’s a Turkish hot room. It’s not a bar, but it’s fun. A lot of Russian Mafia go there …. You can eat; you can swim; you can sauna; you get a massage; it’s a good time.

Emily Mortimer: I like to go to Tatiana in Brighton Beach. It’s a Russian restaurant, and I love it. You get very rude waiters, and you drink vodka and sit looking at the sea on the boardwalk, and it’s really cool. I like the dumplings – Russian dumplings – pelmeni, they’re called, and loads of vodka.

Sylvia Miles: I love upstairs at Joe Allen’s, and that’s really swell, if you go to the theater, ’cause everybody in the theater’s there and all your old friends. They have all kinds of appetizers, which is good. They have a different menu than downstairs at Joe Allen’s. It’s like a supper menu; it’s good; that lobster salad; the kind of things that you’d get if you weren’t going to eat a big meal. If I’m going to the theater, there’s a lot of old favorites. And a lot of them are gone. There’s a lot of nice places, like Philippe’s. And I go to Momofuku. But I don’t like places that have very rich food.

Mark Cuban, at the AlwaysOn Media conference: Restaurants in Dallas are Bob’s Steak and Chop House; McDonald’s, for their grilled-chicken salad; Jason’s Deli; the Motley Pub, at the American Airlines Center; Kenichi – those are my hangouts.

Mia Tyler, at the Fullfast and CelluScience press launch:: Oh, my God, I’m such a nerd now. I stay home. I don’t even go out. I live in L.A., so I live in this little, artsy, Silver Lake neighborhood, and I like lounges. I’m not even exciting anymore. What are some of the lounges you go to? I like to eat, so we’ll go to eat. I love sushi. There’s a place called Taiyo that I’m at, at least once a week, and, I, kind of, eat vegan, vegetarian food, so I’ll go to little, vegan places. There’s a place called Vegan House that I order from and I go to, all the time. I like these little off—off-the-track, off-the-path, little places. There’s a couple bars I go to that are just kinda divey. There’s a place called the Cha Cha Lounge, and I love it there. It’s really cute. And then there’s the Red Lion across the street from it. They got two-dollar PBRs.

Industry Insiders: Bob Giraldi, Film & Food Director

At the peak of a successful directing career, Bob Giraldi — the creative genius behind Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video — channeled his talents for creation into the culinary scene, resulting in collaborations with famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a slew of successful restaurants. After the February opening of Butcher Bay, his ode to Americana and boardwalk food, Giraldi is focusing his energy on his new, “authentic” Italian-style pizza joint Tonda, in the East Village.

How did you make the jump from film into the restaurant business? I started in the middle 80s, before it was fashionable, because it seemed to me that the food business was almost the same as the film business. That coupled with the fact that I came from a home where my mother and father were really quite exceptional cooks. My mom was really quite accomplished; she taught cooking classes and studied with good Italian chefs and teachers. Food had always been the basic language of my family, so that combined with the fact that I was already in the media business and understood the idea of setting up, helped. It’s like setting up for a show every night — the waiters get into wardrobe, they go out and perform as actors and actresses, you get reviewed the next day, and then your run is completely commensurate with your performance. Today the whole food scene is completely different than when I started; chefs are stars, food shows are popular, so I’m not sure if we were doing it right, but we sure timed it right. What was your first restaurant? I was coming off some success as a music video director and was anxious to get into the culinary scene, so we opened a restaurant called Positano, named after the city in the Campania region of Italy. At that time it was one of the few, if not the only, restaurant in New York that offered Amalfi Coast, Campania regional food. There had always been Northern and Southern Italian food, but there wasn’t a lot of the Coastal and Central Italian food represented — clams on the half shell, fried calamari, and all those dishes inspired by the Mediterranean. So we did it then, and it caught on, and then we started a company called Once Is Not Enough because we knew that one restaurant wasn’t going to be enough. What are you working on currently? I’m opening a pizzeria on March 21, called Tonda, which means “round” in Italian. It will be in the old EU space on 4th Street, and Luigi Commandatore, who co-owns Bread Tribeca with me, is my partner. It’s the food people want right now and are buying in the economy, but it’s also very hip. In Italy a pizzeria is a casual restaurant where you can have other foods, but they take their pizza very seriously in Italy. We eat a lot of pizza in New York, but it’s made all over by a lot of different people, and it’s not made properly — in my own and in an Italian’s opinion. We brought in a chef from Naples, and his approach is world-class Neapolitan, which is where pizza is generally regarded as the best in the world. We’re going to try and give people in the East Village a really superior product. Let’s face it — you can go anywhere on a street corner and order pizza in New York City, but it’s usually made by many cultures, and it’s not made the way you make it in Italy. So Tonda’s unique factor is that it will be truly authentic Italian pizza? Yes, truly Italian. This love of food and restaurants has lead me all the way around my roots and back to the most basic of Italian foods, which is pizza, and that’s the beauty of the business. Most pizza is good — it’s bread and tomato sauce after all — but that’s just good, and I’m talking about great. The vibe will still be very East Village; it’s cool, and the space is really chill and wonderful, but it’s about the product. We’ve got ourselves a wonderful new technology — a pizza oven which rotates at a really high temperature, 1,000 degrees, and it only takes about 3 minutes for each pie to be fully cooked. We will serve 12-inch pies, nothing bigger, nothing smaller, and no slices. It will be whole, thin-crusted pies. In Italy, the way they eat them is two and three at a time.

Are all of your restaurants Italian-themed? The restaurants I enjoy the most are Italian — I have three Italian restaurants in Lower Manhattan and Tribeca where I go most of the time because that’s where I live — but I also have a Mexican restaurant in the West Village, and I just opened Butcher Bay on 5th Street about two weeks ago. Butcher Bay is a very casual restaurant that pays homage to boardwalk, handheld, and Americana food. . You’ve opened successful restaurants with Jean-Georges Vongerichten; how did you end up working together? Jean-Georges came to us when we were just starting out as restaurateurs. He is a wonderful chef who had just enjoyed success at Lafayette, a five-star restaurant in a hotel on Park Avenue; he got to know my partner and asked if we would be interested in backing him if he branched out on his own. We tasted his food, and he is truly a gifted chef, no question about it (probably the best of all chefs in America today in my opinion), so we opened JoJo together on the UES, and the rest is history. What are the most important ingredients for creating a successful restaurant? There is no formula, and anybody who says there is, is wrong. There are some tried-and-true things that might work, but don’t bet on it. I would say that the food is the number one foremost reason why people come back to a certain restaurant. They come back for the vibe, convenience, and a lot of reasons, but the number one reason is for good food. It’s more important that who owns it or who’s seen there. Food is paramount.

Is designing a restaurant similar to setting up for a film shoot? Yeah, that’s the fun part, especially if you’re doing casual. The fun to me is when you’re converting an old building or an old space, or you’re breathing new life into a space. I’m a man who has built sets for a lot of his life, and it works exactly the same way in the restaurant business, except that ours is not faux like in the film business. It’s got to work; it’s got to be functional. The more casual and funky, the more I love it.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? I respect the success, genius, and creativeness of certain chefs, the Mario Batalis, David Bouleys, etc., and there are some restaurateurs whose success I admire. But while I’m inspired, I don’t really try to emulate them. The successes are always different. For example, my success has now become a real casual sensibility; I’m no longer interested in a sophisticated fine dining … it’s too complicated, too expensive, and the chefs get to be a bit of a pain. I’m more interested in neighborhood-style casual dining. I don’t get too caught up in the food world … a lot of people don’t even think of me as being in the food business, they think of me as a film person. But I like the restaurant business because there’s something exciting about turning out a terrific product and pleasing people.

What are your favorite restaurants in New York? It breaks down by the food because in the city it’s always about what you’re in the mood for. I go to my places for Italian, but other than that I always look to Da Silvano on 6th Avenue, which I’ve always felt is one of the superior Italian restaurants, then Mario Batali’s place Babbo,and Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit (I go where the chefs are). And if I want Chinese, I’ll walk over to Chinatown to a place called Fuleen to enjoy just sitting at a round table and ordering and ordering. I’m also a big advocate of delivery — I’ve seen that explode in the last five years, so when I’m not at home cooking with my family, I call restaurants to deliver — to me that’s become so much a part of the way that New Yorkers dine today. When the Knicks play on a Tuesday night or when there are award shows, you can see the numbers rise because people are comfortable staying home and ordering. And that’s another thing I’m going to try to do with Tonda — deliver a better pizza to people in the neighborhood.

Any other big plans for 2009? I’m going to focus on my two new restaurants right now, and also I’m developing two motion pictures as we go, which is very time-consuming. I have a short film that is making the circuit in the film festivals now called “Second Guessing Grandma,” which I’m excited about; and I’ve always taught in the undergrad department at the School of Visual Arts, but now I’ve decided to go back in 2010 teaching a graduate program in independent, short film-making.

Industry Insiders: Unik Ernest, Nightlife Philanthropist

Unik Ernest, owner of Merkato 55 and Bijoux, blazes the path from Haiti to South Beach to New York nightlife don, stays grounded in a world where champagne bottles could feed entire villages back home, and dishes on his hot Art Basel party and the star-studded Inauguration Day event he’s cooking up in Washington DC.

What are some other places you like to hang out at in New York? Cipriani Upstairs, I like to go there. Sometimes I go to Pravda, because I live next door. I like to go to the gym. If I’m not working out then I’m listening to music. Or I’ll travel to Paris, to Hotel Costes, Plaza Athenee. I go to Barcelona a lot, but mostly I just like to walk around and not go out that much when I’m there.

What are some other places you like in the rest of the world? I like Brazil. I like Argentina. I stay at the Faena Hotel in Buenos Aires. I love London. I enjoy the south of France, from Cannes all the way to St. Tropez. Sometimes I’ll drive from Monaco to Milan. So pretty much that’s it.

Do you do events and parties all around the world? Definitely. In Paris we did a Diesel a party a few years ago. I just did a party for Ungaro this past Fashion Week. Sundance we’ve done events. We did a party for Lionel Richie in London after his concert. I took my friends out [after the concert] to a friend’s home, and it was like 100 people, really nice. I did a party in Cannes for the premiere of Ocean’s 13. A party for Denise Rich in St. Tropez on a boat. I did a beautiful party for aSmallWorld in St. Tropez at somebody’s house, right next to Club 55. I’m going to Miami for Art Basel [this week]. I have a party there, and David Bowie and Naomi Campbell will be showing up for that. And I’m doing the election party in DC on Inauguration Day.

Tell me more about the Washington DC event you are organizing. As we all know, this is the most historic event in America in many, many years. An African-American guy in the White House is incredible. I’m putting a committee together with, John Legend, Spike Lee, Usher — many people will be involved in the event, and it’s going to be very VIP. It’s going to be two nights, the night before Martin Luther King Day and then on Inauguration Day, a closing party to celebrate the inauguration of our new president.

Are you inviting Obama? Well, I am working with a lot of people in his camp, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to be busy! Then again it’s going to be something really meaningful. So we’re going to do something like New York invades DC, tastemaker-meets-celebrities-meets-politician party. It would be great to have Obama there, but I doubt it. I’m being realistic. He’s the President. He could have come to my party two years ago more easily I think!

Where did you get your start? South Beach, Miami. For four years I was a bar back, and when I would finish working, I’d go out almost every night in South Beach. So one of the club owners, whose partner was Mickey Rourke, asked me and my friend Dimitri [Hyacinthe] if we wanted to do the Wednesday night party. And I didn’t have any idea about promotion — I used to just go party. So next thing I know, we were doing the party, and the party was packed. What I did was I took to the street and just told everyone to come to my party, and it worked.

Yeah, pre-text messages. Old school. Yeah I didn’t have a fax machine, I didn’t have any technology, it was pure hustle. It was based on if people liked your personality or they liked your energy, and they just show up. And it worked. We did the party for like a year and a half, two years, and at one point I said to myself, “What am I doing in Miami?” Every day you wake up, go to the beach, and then you do the parties, but there’s nothing to show for it — there’s no career, there’s no tomorrow. So I said, you know, I’m gonna go to New York. I always had this thing for New York. It’s the place to be. So I said, you know what, let me give this a shot.

So my boy — who’s a big talker, used to be a promoter at Nell’s and Supper Club [in New York] — and he said, “I’m running shit in New York. If you guys wanna come, I’m gonna put you up, and I’m gonna put you under my umbrella.” So basically when we came here, because we were from Miami, we were already kind of ready, because of the way it works with the model scene. The season [in Miami] is over in like April or May, then everyone clears out. By the time we came to New York, everyone had already come here. So when we were getting on the street, we would come up with the most beautiful girls. We had our first New York party in June. By September, we had a big party going at Tilt on Varrick Street, where Culture Club is now. We had Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes. And eventually we had [the Wednesday night party at] Serafina in 1999/2000.

You guys owned Lafayette Street. Exactly. It was a dead street besides Indochine. I was already doing a massive party at Chaos on Wednesday night, and my business model was Bowery Bar, so I went to Serafina restaurant [on Lafayette Street] and decided to do dinner in the front and take the back room and turn it into a lounge. We did that for two years, and it was the most successful party seen to this day in New York. That party pretty much gave us the recognition that we needed to move to ownership. Even back then, Serafina wanted us to be partners with them, but we weren’t too sure. Then we got the offer from my previous partner at PM. He told us he had this space in the Meatpacking District, so why don’t you guys come in and be partners and we’ll help raise the money and we’ll help do the concept together. PM lasted for like five years. And when our lease was almost up, we got a good offer to get out, so we sold the lease, and kept the name if we ever want to do PM again. That’s what happened, then afterward we move to Merkato 55.

How did you get involved over here? The landlord always liked us. When the previous place was open, they weren’t doing good business. And the owner asked Aramis, our door guy, if we wanted to take over the place. Since we had to sell PM, we had to do something right away. Basically we came in, and we were looking for people to partner up with, and thinking about what kind of scene would be good for this place, what kind of concept we could do here that would be different, so we came up with the idea for African.

How did you get in touch with Aquavit chef Marcus Samuelsson? Marcus was looking at this place too at the same time as us. But Marcus didn’t have money to put into this place, so we brought Marcus in as a consultant. He gave us the concept. So we went ahead and did this place. It is challenge to do something at this time, of the year especially with the economy. We’ve been getting a lot of good response, people calling from all over the world to see us here. So we’ve got a great lounge downstairs [Bijoux], and we use it for events, and also for people to come and relax. It’s been good.

You have the rights to PM? Are you gonna try to do it somewhere else? Yeah it’s been less than a year since PM has been closed. We have another space that we own, and we may take PM there.

Who are some people that you admire in this industry? I love the guys at Serafina. I love what they have accomplished and their brand. Paola Pedrignani who was gutsy to take Amaranth over to the Upper East Side. Of course you have the old school guy like Ian Schrager. Anybody in this business wants to become like that guy. He set the bar so high, so if you eventually want to become a hotelier or own a resort, you definitely have to look at the blueprint he’s laid out for all of us.

Is that a career path you see yourself going on? I love my business, to be honest. Sometimes you get tired, because you have to work at night and during the daytime. Anybody who has to work at night has to work during the daytime. You have to entertain people. I wake up early in the morning to make sure everything is prepared for the day. In the afternoon, I have lunch meetings, book events, preparing for like two or three months from now. And at night, people want to see you. My friends are like lawyers, doctors, they have a tough day at work, they want to let off steam out. So I have to see them, which means I have to be there at night. I stay till like 4 a.m., but sometimes I sneak out at like 2. But that can take a toll on you. You can call me 24 hours a day. If I can’t talk to you, I just won’t pick it up, but you never know who is going to call. I know sometimes you have to make time for yourself and your family. But if you choose to be in this business, you are married to it. The good thing about me is I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. But if you are on this schedule everyday, it doesn’t matter if you drink or not, it’s still tough.

Is being sober a big advantage? Oh yeah, 100%. I’m sure there are some people who are smart, they can drink, do drugs, then drink coffee and they are still good at what they do. But I feel if you have a clear mind, your thoughts are more together. But besides doing nightlife, I have a charity, so that gives me perspective.

Tell me more about that. I took a school in my country [Haiti]. There’s 172 kids to be exact, and we give them a meal every day, as well as all the materials they need for school, including uniforms. The organization has been around for one year, and it’s called Edeyo. It means “I will help them” in Creole. So we have two big events coming up, an art exhibit by the kids, to enjoy some of their beautiful art. We have some photographers and other artists giving us some beautiful pieces. So we’re doing that here on December 9. And also in January, we are doing a big event on January 8 with Milk Studios, with Nigel Barker, who went with me to Haiti and we took pictures. I came from Haiti to America to having this good life to throwing all these parties and all these dinners. If you come from my background, forget about anything else, you have food and a roof over your head and anything else is just icing on the cake. There’s people right now, all over, that don’t even have anything to eat. I always tell people I’m not doing this thing to get recognition, I’m not doing it for gratification. I’m doing it because I came from that situation. I’m the guy that’s lucky.

Known Associates: If someone knows me, they know I am a solo guy. So whenever I can take time out by myself I gotta do it. But the people I do business with are Francois who is a guy I met in Miami, and he came to New York to start working for me. My brother Kyky [Conille] who is my partner. Dimitri Hyacinthe, my partner. Michael Pradieu is the co-founder of the foundation. Those are my core guys.

What are you doing tonight? I’m going to cook at home. I love to cook. I’m making rice and beans probably like with veggies. I love to eat out, but when you have your own place you have to eat food you cook yourself. Just to get ready for the night you have to cook at home. So I’ll do that and then come to Merkato 55 to work.