Chef Marcus Samuelsson would not have survived the pandemic without the help of his community.
He says the support of his family, his Harlem neighborhood and his fellow restaurant workers who get up every day is significant. In the process, he fell even more in love with New York City.
“Why did it have to be Covid to create this sense of community?” Mr. Samuelsson said. “But it’s something I prefer to see positively from a very, very, very difficult year.”
Mr. Samuelsson, 50, lives with his wife, Maya Haile Samuelsson, a fashion model, and their 4-year-old son, Zion, in Harlem, not far from his Red Rooster restaurant. When New York City closed in March 2020 and some residents were moved to second homes, the family remained in their brownstone.
There were enough changes to handle though. As the founder of the Marcus Samuelsson Group, with 36 restaurants from London to Bermuda, Mr. Samuelsson is considering options to continue with his teams. For me. Haile Samuelsson (39) has stopped all fashion work. Zion could no longer go to kindergarten or even the nearby playground.
After the initial shock, the couple began to acknowledge their privilege. For mr. Samuelsson it was the realization that he had health care while so many other people in Harlem lived around him. Ms Haile Samuelsson asked her: how can I think about fashion when other people are fighting for hospital beds? The couple heard ambulances storming all night.
Mr. Samuelsson saw the environment quickly fall into despair. According to him, this was the motivation to make Red Rooster a common kitchen for Central Harlem. “It gave me the goal to get up in the morning, put on a mask and gloves, walk to Red Rooster and feed 800 people a day,” he said. “I was back to being a chef, something I’ve been doing since I was 17 years old.”
Ms Haile Samuelsson became the glue that held the whole family together, created new routines and took on newly essential roles, including camera person for mr. Samuelsson’s online cooking classes and gym class teacher for Zion.
The couple said they would not have penetrated without relying on multiple communities. As immigrants, they arrived in the United States in simple ways and felt comfortable falling back on the way of life. (Both Mr. Samuelsson and Mrs. Haile Samuelsson were born in Ethiopia; he was raised in Sweden and she in Holland.) They do not need much, just each other or their ‘tribe’, said Mr. Samuelsson said.
“It shows how strong we can be as human beings when we are driven into something we did not plan,” she said. Haile Samuelsson said. “It brought us closer and to look after each other and look at our neighbors and our surroundings.”
Throughout the pandemic, Mr. Samuelsson on the newly established Independent restaurant coalition, a collection of chefs and restaurants and lobby group, for support. Some of its Red Rooster locations, such as Miami, have reopened; others, such as his restaurant in London, will remain closed.
The chef calls his team of 250 people at Red Rooster his tribe. He said he feels like a failure if he can not have ‘their back’. Collaborate with World Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing meals in the aftermath of disasters, to turn the restaurant into a communal kitchen, helped the team maintain their common sense. The kitchen has been serving more than 230,000 meals since March 15, 2020.
“Those conversations I had with our new tribesmen, the people in line, they became our neighbors and knew they could get food from Red Rooster,” he said. Samuelsson said. “It gave me strength, and Maya strength, and therefore we can be better parents.”
With that in mind, Mr. Samuelsson helped design a new routine for himself and his family. The long hours in a hot kitchen and traveling on the road were over – he could be home for dinner with me. Haile Samuelsson and Zion. Some of their favorite memories of the past year include Zion’s spontaneous laughter in the kitchen and his mastery of pizza toppings. Mr. Samuelsson also completed a new cookbook he co-wrote, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food,” which was published in October 2020.
With more time at home, Mr. Samuelsson had the opportunity to be a more involved parent. In the past year, he has helped Zion learn to swim and bike, two activities he is not sure he would have done with his previously hectic schedule. He also includes Zion in his work projects, such as Zoom Cooking Classes, and recently launched the podcast “The Moment”, which he co-hosts with Swedish musician Jason Diakité, known by his stage name Timbuktu.
As a family, the Samuelssons took part in the Black Lives Matter protests this summer to bring Zion to the fore and show him that they are working on a solution to the ‘biggest pandemic of racism’, Mr. Samuelsson said.
The family also regularly fills a communal fridge. Each house that participated paid about $ 160 to help with the maintenance, and they refilled it with food for everyone who needed food.
[Sign up for Love Letter and always get the latest in Modern Love, weddings, and relationships in the news by email.]
Like many people, the couple longed for social interaction and new activities to grab their son’s attention after months of being up in the house. Fortunately, the couple lives on a block that Mayor DeBlasio has closed to traffic as part of his ‘100 miles of streets’ plan to allow more access for pedestrians outside. This meant that Mr. Samuelsson’s neighbors were able to make the 12 children run around, cycle down the street and color in with chalk on the sidewalk. Mr. Samuelsson jokingly calls it ‘daycare’ while the parents conspired to come up with ‘classes’ to entertain the younger set. Mr. Samuelsson did a cooking demo, of course, but other parents learned art, yoga and exercise, jazz music and even skateboarding.
In the evenings, the residents of the block would take turns offering the children and parents a meal as a way to lend a hand. For me. Haile Samuelsson it was a wonderful way to get to know her neighbors, from the Jamaican woman who served jerky chicken to the family from Australia who made lasagna. She was cooking an Ethiopian dish when it was her family’s night. She said she enjoys the opportunity to chat with other women, a kind of modified girls night out while they sit socially past.
“As humans, we need to talk about our emotions,” he said. Samuelsson said. ‘The reason for community is to be able to talk to your neighbor about how you feel when you’ve had a difficult day. I am happy to be a part of my communities, whether chef, Ethiopian or Harlem. This is what 2020 has given us. ”