Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson (pictured) is a busy man. The New York Times gave a recap recently about three days in his hectic life.
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Samuelsson went from hobnobbing with Kanye West at an event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to posing on the red carpet with his model wife to taping the audio version of his memoir to overseeing a dinner for the Queen and princess of Sweden. The following day, he was up in Harlem at his well-loved restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem.
In fact, the New York Times gushes that Samuelsson “exploded not only onto New York’s food scene but also on to its cutthroat food business scene”:
Yes, there is Red Rooster and five other restaurants. But there is more — much more. A forthcoming cookware collection for Macy’s. A new line of teas. Deals with American Airlines and MasterCard. Appearances on “Top Chef Masters,” “Chopped All-Stars,” and “The Next Iron Chef.” Two Web sites, FoodRepublic.com and marcussamuelsson.com, not to mention four cookbooks and the memoir. His growing multimillion-dollar enterprise stretches from New York to Chicago to California to Stockholm, and employs more than 700 people.
It’s clear that Samuelsson is going for broke.
In the mostly homogenous world of celebrity chefs, Samuelsson is one of the few brown faces making noise. He cooked President Barack Obama‘s first state dinner. His website Food Republic is targeting a market often ignored when it comes to food and the kitchen– men.
On Lenox Avenue in Harlem, where he opened Red Rooster, he helped to revitalize the strip also known as Malcolm X Boulevard.
Red Rooster’s neighbor, Sylvia’s, probably the most-famous soul food restaurant in the world, has been holding down the area for decades. But after Samuelsson opened Red Rooster and A-list names started showing up for dinner, three other lounges and restaurants opened nearby. He recently hosted a fund-raiser for the President at the restaurant.
“I wanted people to think about Harlem as a place of food and culture the way you would think about Harlem in terms of music and its history, Samuelsson told NewsOne in an interview. “People all over the world want to know about the African-American experience. They want to know how it tastes, how it sounds, what it feels like.”
After recently opening the American Table Cafe, a casual dining spot in Lincoln Center, the Ethiopian-born Samuelsson, who was raised by Swedish adoptive parents, proves that his brand shows no signs of slowing down.,
For all his efforts, Samuelsson is the Shine Awards Innovator winner. A busy restaurant like Samuelsson’s could easily gross $10 million per year, according to the Times, and his endorsements can add many more millions.
But it’s not 100 percent about the cash for Samuelsson. He also gets points for wanting his restaurants to be about good, healthy foods and be accessible to the local community.
“The food caste system in America is right in front of me. I can’t escape that. Before I opened Red Rooster I looked at why is it easier to buy a soda than an apple in apple season. My goal is to shift that,” said Samuelsson.
He has also hired local workers at Red Rooster and says that 70 percent of the 110 people or so on staff are from the area.
“I take pride that 70 percent of my staff comes from this very community,” said Samuelsson. “In Harlem, when you have 18.5 percent unemployment, it means something different when we have 116 employees and 70 percent come from this very community.”
And he wants those staffers to advance: Samuelsson hopes that his Red Rooster staff grow up in the restaurant industry to become executives, head chefs, restaurant owners and entrepreneurs.
“It’s very important for me right now if we can have the journey of Rooster to be a place where people can aspire, be inspired, learn the trade and eventually be more chefs of color, more maitre d’s, winemakers and beer-makers of color. I think we’ve done our part,” said Samuelsson.
For all we know, the person who greets you at Red Rooster or who delivers the delicious fried yard bird– one of the restaurant’s oft-cited dishes– to your table could end up being the next Samuelsson.
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