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?

Eating Culture: New Restaurants for the Arts

In the past couple weeks, two popular chefs have opened their newest eateries with a little more culture then ever before. Culture being literal as the venue for celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s American Table is in Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, and the team behind the beloved M. Wells Diner has launched M. Wells Dinette, their new eatery inside MoMA PS1 in Queens.

“To me, Lincoln Center symbolizes New York City’s passion for culture and performance,” said Samuelsson. “As a lover of the arts, I am honored to showcase the diversity of the American dining scene at this iconic institution.”

Samuelsson’s new cafe is situated along the large glass windows in the concert hall’s foyer, and is helmed by executive chef Charlene Johnson-Hadley, who worked her way up from being line cook at Red Rooster in Harlem. The fare at American Table includes smoked Caesar salad, turkey meatball sandwiches, country ham biscuits, and, naturally, apple pie.

Over at PS1, chefs and owners Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis have converted an old classroom into their restaurant and offer a daily changing menu with items like escargot, rabbit terrine, and bibimbap with tuna and scallops. For those of you who were looking to try M. Wells’ infamous horsemeat tartar, according to Steve Cuozzo of The New York Post they will not be dishing it out any time soon after a PETA protest. M. Wells Dinette is open the same hours as the museum, but despite the classroom look, don’t expect it to be thronged with children as other museum cafeterias are.

With these new restaurants, almost all the hip cultural centers in New York now have the added draw of destination dining to them, mainly thanks to restaurateur Danny Meyer. His Union Hospitality Group runs The Modern at MoMA, followed by Untitled at The Whitney, and they have upped the food ante at Yankee Stadium by filling it with Shake Shack burgers, shakes, and fries. Now all we need is a true meshing of the two and have more food art.

Photo by Philip Greenberg

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.

Bye Bye Foie Gras: Good For Ducks, Bad For Foodies

Last Monday, I gleefully sat down to a rich plate of foie gras French toast at STK downtown. The lady-friendly steakhouse was packed with stylish people gorging on the same dish I had, plus chewing on steaks laden with creamy foie gras and foie gras butter. The scene was affluent and chic, and starting Sunday, July 1, will not be an experience you can have at STK in California. You also can’t have the foie gras terrine at meat-happy Animal in Los Angeles, or the popular foie gras au torchon at The French Laundry in Yountville.

“Like Chicago, I hope we can realize that the few ways we can enjoy ourselves is to sit around the table and enjoy food,” said French Laundry proprietor Thomas Keller to the Daily Meal during the James Beard Awards. “I hope our representatives in Sacramento realize that the enjoyment around the dinner table is sacred.”

While Keller and many other chefs feel this way, the law, which was passed in 2004 but had aseven-and-a-half-year grace period, aims to stop a practice animal advocates have deemed cruel for a long time—stuffing a feeding tube of fatty food down the throats of geese, ducks, and chickens. With the ban, the production and sale of food stuff resulting from any force feeding of birds that causes their livers to enlarge beyond the normal size, is illegal and comes with a $1,000 fine. That’s right, foie gras just got more expensive.

“That’s a lot of money to flout what is, in essence, a morals clause,” wrote Jonathan Gold in an article for the Los Angeles Times. He continues:

Which raises the question: In a period when New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pushed through a regulation banning supersize soda, California banned the sale of sharks’ fin soup and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked whether the federal government could force an individual to buy broccoli, can kitchen morality be legislated? Do the ban’s largely vegan supporters see it as a first step toward a larger ban on meat? Does a prohibition on products obtained from over-fattened ducks and geese protect animals or erode liberties — or both?

"It’s not just foie gras,"’ says Josiah Citrin, the chef and owner of Mélisse. "Most people don’t eat [it], so they think it doesn’t have anything to do with them. The problem is, what’s the next step, chicken?"

Lucky for me, I live in New York where places like STK can continue to dish out this luxury item, and eating a foie and jelly doughnut at Do or Dine and gorging on Marcus Samuelsson’s celebrated foie gras ganache at Red Rooster isn’t rebellious, but delicious. Despite how you feel about foie gras, just as Gold said, the real question comes down to morals and whether or not force-feeding a bird is cruel. Daily Meal’s Ali Rosen took this question to a duck farm upstate where farmers graciously let her tromp around and talked all about the process, which you can see below. It may surprise you to learn the difference between the way our throats an livers work vs. a bird’s. Readers, what’s your take on this ban?

‘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.

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 will.I.am, 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.