On Saturday afternoon, I was invited to a lunch and book signing at Insalata’s, a restaurant in San Anselmo, for Marcus Samuelsson’s new book, The Red Rooster Cookbook. The book is a compilation of recipes and stories from his restaurant in New York, in Harlem. The lunch was a promotion to highlight some of the dishes in the book and Marcus Samuelsson has always been a favorite of mine on the Food Network. I had always thought he seemed like a likable bloke. Besides he is Swedish (by way of Ethiopia), and having lived and worked in Stockholm for two years, I thought I might wow him with my slick Swedish slangy greeting, “Tjena!”
Well, I didn’t get the chance even though I was seated three chairs away at his table. It was loud and there was much going on…but I did get to see a picture of his new baby boy, whose face graces his lockscreen, as his phone was passed around. A proud papa.
Heidi Krahling’s crew produced a great meal starting with the Bloody Rooster (the garnish looked like a cockscomb!), then Bird Funk and Chicken Liver Butter (poor man’s pate), Obama’s Short Ribs (named for a very famous guest), Brown Butter Biscuits (I had two) and finishing with Red Velvet Cake. Much of the meal was served family style, apropos as community is what this is all about. Shout out to Heidi’s amazing crew for a service well done!
Chef Marcus stood up to talk about his motivation for creating a restaurant in Harlem, the neighborhood where he lives. A restaurant should be a meeting place for community, and Harlem is a community of rich cultures, food and music, hustle and swing. Not always pretty but real. Through these pages, I can take a walk uptown, hear the salsa beat coming from one doorway, samba on the next block, swing on the next. I can make friends with the ladies on the stoop in the summer heat, turn away from the hustlers on the corner, feel the whoosh of hot air coming up from the subway. I want to go there.
Building community is more that just the creation of a space for community to happen. The Red Rooster employs nearly two thirds of its staff from the neighborhood. He understands that he has been embraced by the community as he has embraced it. The business that he’s created enriches the people involved with it. It is a reciprocal relationship and both parties understand that. If his business didn’t exist, there would be a hole that would be hard to fill.
If I could ask one question of him, it would be this: how are you able to articulate so perfectly the idea of community within the walls of your business? It is a courageous endeavor. Marcus’s business has consequence to the people it touches , whether they work for him or they come to enjoy his food. Like parenthood, being successful and staying relevant to community is a burdensome challenge, but one that can bring great joy.
Lycka til, Marcus!