Red Rooster’s Marcus Samuelsson says the holidays are an ‘amazing’ time to support Black chefs
Marcus Samuelsson, the chef behind the Red Rooster Harlem restaurant, has a busy holiday season up ahead. His holiday plans include hosting family meals, indulging in gingersnap cookies, and uplifting Black chefs and restaurants.
Samuelsson is partnering with Heinz’s Black Kitchen Initiative to launch a brand new event series, Open Kitchen, where veteran chefs like himself will open up their restaurants and share resources with up-and-coming Black culinary talents. Samuelsson spoke to theGrio ahead of the series kick-off event at the Red Rooster Harlem.
On Dec. 6, Samuelsson will open the kitchen of his acclaimed restaurant to 2021 Black Kitchen Initiative grant recipients Joy Crump and Beth Black, co-owners of Mercantile in Fredericksburg, Va. Crump and Black will collaborate with Samuelsson on a signature dish highlighting their Virginia roots. The ticketed event will celebrate Black culture through food, music, community, and storytelling.
“It’s exciting to be able to bring them to New York and cook with them,” Samuelsson told theGrio. “Have all customers in Harlem really see and taste and connect … these collaborations are not just meaningful in one way. It’s something that can be career-changing.”
Given the popularity and growth of his brand, he added, “We carry a huge responsibility to this, so I feel really honored and privileged to be part of it.”
The Black Kitchen Initiative celebrates, uplifts, and strives to preserve the legacy of Black American food culture by helping to break down barriers many Black entrants face in the culinary and restaurant industries. The initiative, which began in 2020 with the support of partners including the LEE Initiative and Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice (SRRJ), has given $3 million in grants for Black-owned food businesses nationwide. The Open Kitchen series is one of many projects made possible through the initiative.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2022, Black chefs make up 15.8% of the industry compared to white chefs, who represent 63.3%. Closing the gaps is among the primary goals of the Black Kitchen Initiative.
From racism in kitchens to generational wealth gaps to lack of proper exposure to business, Samuelsson said there are concurrent systemic barriers standing in the way of Black chefs and food businesses.
“It’s been hard for African-Americans, and people of color in general, to get access to institutional money,” he said. “If you can’t get access to cash through the bank, and if your family can’t support you, then it’s challenging.”
He continued, “You learn business by being around business, right? So that’s why owning businesses are so important because that becomes a dinner conversation at home. And that’s how you learn as the next generation, but if you’re not around it, you don’t even think ownership is possible.”
Samuelsson stressed that Black food is well-known — and should be equally valued.
“African-American food is known throughout the world. We have a huge imprint of American food, whether it’s through Creole barbecue or Southern or low country. So, I feel as people, we have contributed a lot to American cuisine now. The next step is to have more ownership opportunities,” he said.
He added that his upcoming Open Kitchen hosting gig is a “great example” of what’s needed to help break down some of those barriers. Samuelsson also gave an urgent reminder that right now, during the holidays, is a crucial time to show support for Black chefs, restaurants, and businesses.
“It’s an amazing time in the restaurant industry to support your local restaurants,” he said. “Everyone is trying to show their best and show their local ingredients.”
Samuelsson noted that, as many local restaurants are attempting to delight diners and play a special part in holiday season memories, they are also trying to get their books out of the red (or out of owing and into earning) for the final quarter.
“The last fourth quarter is very often where you have to make up for a very difficult year. So this is a time of the year when the restaurant is trying to really make revenue and try to make a little bit of money,” he said.
If anything, it’s a time to also extend patience and grace to Black-owned restaurants and businesses.
“It’s a busy time in our hospitality space,” Samuelsson said.
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