Last evening found chef Marcus Samuelsson not readying things at his long-delayed Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster, but rather, rubbing elbows with fellow luminaries at the UNICEF Snowflake Ball, held at Cipriani Dolci. Samuelsson does claim to care about the children, so we guess his presence made sense (plus, he’s just so darn photogenic!). Grub Street cornered the Top Chef Masters winner on the eve of the next Top Chef All-Stars season to chat about Red Rooster’s status, the food blogosphere, and giving back.
Any holiday traditions in your family?
Well, you know, I was raised in Sweden, so I drink a lot of glogg, which is a spiced wine, so our house is always smelling of cinnamon, brown sugar, and cloves.
Do you drink that all year or only during the holidays?
No. It’s funny, you should drink it all year, right? But I only drink it, really, for the holidays, from Thanksgiving and on for a month.
When is Red Rooster opening?
Soon. My neighbor Albert Maysles, the amazing filmmaker, said, “Marcus, I’m going to make three caps for you. One baseball hat that says ‘Not yet,’ then one that says, ‘Soon,’ and then a third one that says, ‘Open.’”
Have you seen the bloggers have been giving you flack for doing so much promotion? Does that keep you from getting the restaurant open?
No, it actually is construction and all that stuff, you know. And I’m happy that they’re following what we’re doing. I invite them to, I think it’s great.
Do you ever worry about overexposure?
No. I think if you’re going to pull people to Harlem you have to work really hard at doing that. It’s a big commitment to change sort of the footprint of how people come uptown and eat.
Does the blog chatter bother you? Eater has been hammering you lately.
Eater is a blog.
I’m not sure.
Do you read the food blogs?
Uh, I read my blog and I read your blog. [Laughs.]
Do you get asked to do other kinds of endorsements a lot?
Well, I do, but we’re very cautious about who we’re working with and then we work with things that we think can make a change. If I work with children, for example, then we come up with an ad for that. Everything I do has a charitable component to it, such as UNICEF. I work with companies that can help us move things forward in terms of food, and the people that write about that don’t always pick that one up; they write it from one angle. But every single thing we do, we give back a lot. For every major thing we did, we’re able to build a child library, we’re able to help children, uh, to get fresh water. So, you know, that’s why I read my blog, because there we tell the full story.
Has anyone asked you to do an endorsement for something that you wouldn’t?
Oh yeah, all the time.
What’s the weirdest thing? Clothing? Sneakers?
It’s a lot of different things. Sneakers, a lot of stuff. But if it does not relate back to food or helping children or something, I don’t do it. It has to have a cause that is involved with sort of what we do.
So you wouldn’t do a campaign for clothing, say?
I should never say never, but as long as we could tie it back to children or food I would do it.
You would never do it just because you’re famous?
No. It would have to make sense.
Are you signed with a modeling agency?
No. No, I’m not. My wife is, my wife is with Elite, but I’m not.
Do they approach you?
Yeah. But, I mean, there I think I’m already doing enough.