Yesterday we spoke with Red Rooster’s Marcus Samuelsson about his new food and lifestyle website geared toward men. Today he tells us about cooking for the ultimate diner– President Obama — and what it means to cook comfort food.
You cooked dinner for the president this week. How was that?
It was an incredible honor. I’ve cooked before but each time it’s an honor and each time it’s different. I’ve cooked at the White House, but this time he was coming to Harlem — to our home. It’s our home-court advantage. I wanted to have sunchokes, artichokes, and ramps. I wanted spring lamb. We’re coming out of winter and so I wanted to honor that. And to honor Michelle Obama’s garden. We started off with lobster salad and we did braised short ribs with spring onions. Beautiful spring onions. And short ribs because that’s a cut that speaks “Harlem” to me, but is also elegant. I wanted something appropriate and that was hearty.
Your restaurants have featured several types of cuisines and span genres. How would you classify the cooking you’re doing at Red Rooster?
For me, it’s American comfort food. Our restaurant is an American tale. I’m an immigrant. That’s why on the menu we have fried chicken next to meatballs next to Ethiopian spices. It’s a celebration of comfort. When I make fried chicken, it takes four days, but it creates a sense of trust with the customer.
You live in Harlem, too, right?
Where do you eat in the neighborhood?
I’m probably six months behind because I’ve been at the restaurant. But if you want to have a drink and see music, go to P.J.’s; there’s no gentrification. You want to see something a little more modern, 67 Orange. Go to Melba’s. Go to the east side, the Latin side. Harlem is diverse — more so than you’d think
Do you get to cook at home ever?
My real luxury is when my wife cooks Ethiopian food. When she makes kitfo, a beef tartare, it brings me right back to where I love to go. It’s from the Gurage tribe, and it’s rich and greasy and she can transport me there.
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