Lighting Up the “Last Real Slice of New York” in West Harlem

Artist Bentley Meeker’s new public art installation will be unveiled today. The piece features a giant aluminum “H” in an oval frame that fits snuggly below the supporting arch of an elevated roadway at 12th Avenue and 125th Street. At night, LED lights and full spectrum plasma light will illuminate The “H” in Harlem, which is expected to be seen from New Jersey, glimmering across the Hudson River.

Meeker’s installations often feature light as their central motif, though The “H” in Harlem is the artist’s largest outdoor installation to date. He created the “H” as an homage to the neighborhood he considers “[the] last remaining slice of ‘real’ New York.”  Having lived in West Harlem for 13 years, Meeker was acutely aware of the importance of producing a piece that would not disfigure the environment. Before the The “H” in Harlem officially launches this evening, Meeker discussed his latest undertaking with us.

What was the process like deciding where you would exhibit the public work?

I was approached by the community and the West Harlem Art Fund to do a public work on that site. So it was a site-specific creation.

How does your piece interact with the existing infrastructure of the site?

I think the piece interacts beautifully with the existing infrastructure of the site. The contours of the sculpture and the contours of the bridge really work well together. The colors match in daylight as well, which, while not unexpected, is an awesome thing.

What’s special about creating a piece of public art that is primarily activated at night?
The materiality of the sculpture is activated 100% of the time. The light element, admittedly the piece’s essence, is activated at night. That was always the intention.

The “H” in Harlem lighting ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m. today, June 25th, and will remain on view at 12th Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem until September 25th.

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How To Avoid Bad Pizza In New York

It’s New York City’s deepest, darkest secret: most of the pizza served across the five boroughs is borderline inedible. Oh, you’ll eat it—no problem there—but you won’t be satisfied, and you might feel sick. There’s only so much uncooked dough and tomato-like paste the human body can handle. How do you know which hole in the wall to give your business and, more importantly, your pizza-trust?

You could start by not going to a hole-in-the-wall, maybe. Upscale pizzerias like Co Pane in Chelsea will char each personal pizza (with an assortment of gourmet toppings) to perfection. Indeed, most decent Italian places have a great mozzarella di bufala pie on the menu. But neither of these options are ideal when you want to eat your pizza on the go, a beloved pastime in this quarter of the world. 

If you’re going cheap, one great idea is to avoid gimmicks: the jumbo slice can be tempting, but even the “reliable” jumbo specialists, like Koronet on 110th and Broadway, are batting about .600—every slice is a gamble. Likewise, the dollar slices are almost always garbage, with the odd exception of 2 Bros. Pizza, which has also managed to be a solid chain. Don’t go to any other franchise spots, especially not anything with “Famous Famiglia” in the name. [Shudder].

But the real mark of a great pizzeria is the foot traffic: it helps you gauge the quality of the product, and it guarantees you won’t be eating something that’s been sitting under plastic for a week and a half. Some places, including my own corner spot, deliver excellent pies but can’t produce the same results slice by slice. 

And here’s the most valuable lesson of all: if you walk in, look at the pizza. If you have second thoughts, just leave. Even if the dude at the counter already asked what you want. There’s another place just right down the block.

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Harlem to World: You Don’t Know Shit About the Harlem Shake

In one of the more satisfying takedowns of memes that aren’t worth the bandwidth they’re using, filmmaker Chris McGuire went to 125th Street in Manhattan—the main artery of actual Harlem—to get residents’ perspective on the so-called "Harlem Shake" video phenomenon. And the reviews, to put it lightly, are not good.

First off, most of the folks interviewed have to be shown an example of a Harlem Shake video, and they react with horrified confusion from the get-go. Many of them note that no one involved in this trend is doing the real Harlem Shake, which originated in 1981 and has its roots in a much older Ethiopian dance.

The advice proffered runs the spectrum: get another hobby, get some rhythm, get some sense of shame, put some clothes on, don’t try this in Harlem itself, study your history and check your privileged white appropriation of a minority’s hard-won cultural capital. All of which is guaranteed to fall on the deaf ears of Matt & Kim fans everywhere. But at least people are talking?   

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Marcus Samuelsson Does It Again, This Time With The Nook

Every time I turn around Marcus Samuelsson has opened, created, or become part of a new venture. A couple weeks ago it was American Kitchen, and this time, the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef has added a takeout counter to his popular American food restaurant Red Rooster in Harlem.

After a stint on Top Chef, winning accolades for his cooking at Aquavit, opening a couple restaurants, writing a memoir, and other such feats, it’s no wonder Samuelsson’s Red Rooster is constantly filled with fans and neighborhood folks looking to get taste of the celebrity chef’s cooking. Enter The Nook, the team’s answer to the crowds, and to lunch.

“It’s intended to serve as a concierge for our neighbors,” said Red Rooster pastry chef Deborah Racicot, who will be filling the small stand with cookies, pastries, and cakes. “There, guests can learn about local Harlem institutions and find farmer’s markets after getting a cup of coffee and a piece of sweet potato coffee cake. We want it to be a full-service spot that’s fun and accommodating as well as tasty.”

Aside from Racicot’s scrumptious treats, The Nook also does to-go dishes including the Chickety Split sandwich, which has fried chicken and sweet chili mayo on a biscuit; and naturally, Helga’s meatballs (named after his grandmother) that are piled high on a pretzel roll. You can also get hot and cold tea made from Samuelsson’s new Ambessa tea line. If you just want to take a little piece of Marcus home with you, you can do that too since the newest Samuelsson corner also sells his books, tea, and other merchandise. All I a can say is, what’s next?

Marcus Does Tea

Is there anything Marcus Samuelsson can’t do? As the celebrity chef launches a line of tea this week that he created with Harney & Sons, it appears he has a foot in just about every door possible—and I am not the only one who thinks so. Just over a month ago, the Red Rooster chef and owner came out with his hyped-up (yet engaging) new book, Yes Chef, and this past Sunday The New York Timeshad a feature on the chef and his accomplishments; past, present, and future. It appears this chef is unstoppable.

But, at least now, he has reason to settle into a more civilized pace, sit down, and enjoy a cup of tea. His tea line is called Ambessa, which means “lion” in Amharic and is the traditional emblem of Ethiopia. Samuelsson offers four whole-leaf blends that follow the timeline of his life. This includes: a Kenyan and Tanzanian estate blend called Safari Breakfast, after his birthplace; Ligonberry Green, after his adoptive home in Sweden; the dessert-like Choco Nut black tea, for his Swiss apprenticeship; and the smoke-tinged Earl of Harlem, which symbolizes his current location and, some might say, status.

At least with Samuelsson’s small takeover, he continually is giving back to society. To celebrate the launch of the tea, he is making a donation to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to help support UNICEF’s water and sanitation programs in underserved areas. You can buy the new tea either online or at the SoHo location of Harney & Sons. What’s next for the chef? We can only imagine.

‘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.

New York Openings: Randolph Beer, Tradesman, Ginny’s Super Club

Randolph Beer (Nolita) – Craft beer hall that bleeds America.

Tradesman (Bushwick) – Workaday bar would make Tim Taylor proud.

Ginny’s Supper Club (Harlem) – Harlem Renaissance redux beneath Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster. Small plates, big bands.