When the lockdown hit Harlem, it also hit Harlem residents. Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s deep ties to the community had been doing benefits there through the non-profit Harlem Eat Up, of which Barilla is a long-time sponsor. So the two paired up to cook for Harlem and up the support during these troubling times.

Samuelsson is the acclaimed chef behind many restaurants worldwide including Red Rooster Harlem, Red Rooster Shoreditch, and Marcus B&P. Samuelsson was the youngest person to ever receive a three-star review from The New York Times and has won multiple James Beard Foundation Awards including Best Chef: New York City.

He was tasked with planning and executing the Obama Administration’s first State dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Samuelsson was also crowned champion of television shows Top Chef Masters and Chopped All Stars, and served as a mentor on ABC’s The Taste.

He is the author of multiple books including The New York Times bestselling memoir Yes, Chef, the young adult version—Make It Messy, Marcus Off Duty cookbook, and his latest book—The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem. In addition, he is one of the founders of the website Food Republic. Recent restaurant openings include: Red Rooster Shoreditch in East London; Marcus B&P in Newark, New Jersey; and Streetbird Express at the world-famous Madison Square Garden.

Samuelsson’s new TV series titled No Passport Required with VOX/Eater and PBS debuted summer of 2018. He most recently joined Buzzfeed’s Tasty as Executive Chef-in-Residence of their newly launched talent program. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at @MarcusCooks.

A committed philanthropist, Samuelsson co-produces the annual week-long festival Harlem EatUp!, which celebrates the food, art, and culture of Harlem. Samuelsson is co-chair of the board of directors for Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). In May 2016, he was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.

Cook for Harlem effort connect online

Marcus, along with Chef Lexis Gonzalas did a virtual Cooking For a Cause where they each did a take on one of the newly created Recipe Builder meals. While Marcus was prepping his meal, we asked him a few questions:

Q. We love your Harlem Serves Up! initiative, can you tell why you were inspired to start Harlem Serves Up!? 

A. I started Harlem Eat Up! to support small businesses with a focus on restaurants and culture and to bring people to come to Harlem and connect with the small business. At a time like this in the pandemic, every effort we can to work with small businesses and supporting them is something we want to focus on at a very important time.

Barilla has been an amazing partner for the past six year at our Harlem Eat Up! event where we all come together to celebrate.I bring my family to Morningside park, and everything is up! Chefs like Lexis and others are cooking and thousands of people eating and engaging and music, and Barilla brings out that pan and we toss pasta. It’s my favorite day of the year; it’s spring in Harlem, locals, tourists, and everybody comes together. Obviously this year we couldn’t have that experience because of coronavirus, so doing Harlem Serves Up! is  a way to honor this and help in an important time.

Q. What’s your favorite pasta dish? 

A. My favorite pasta dish is anything my son eats, because right now he’s four and he’s a very picky eater!

Creating a pasta dish is a lot of fun, no matter what type of cook you are. If you’re very experienced or if you’re not that experienced, pasta is one of those dishes you can build on. I love to build a pasta with a little bit of heat; I’ll use an Ethopian spice blend and then add in collard greens because it gives you that chewiness. I also love to  add in sausage because it’s so much about texture. You don’t want the pasta to overcook, you want all the supporting ingredients to add to that perfect bite, because that’s what you’re building when you build a pasta, the perfect bite.

Q. What’s your favorite pasta shape? 

Rigatoni is amazing, it eats so well, especially if you have sausage. And I love spaghettini for seafood.

Q. What’s the secret to your success? 

A. You gotta have a love for a couple of things—just like a pasta dish, life goals are a bunch of ingredients. You also have to love food and have a deep passion and curiosity for food. You also need to love people, you work with people constantly.  

I learned to cook as a kid and never stopped. My top chef judge was my grandmother!

Q. How would you like to see more diversity and equity in the food & restaurant landscape in the US? 

A. For us to start an initiative like Harlem Meet Up!, is all about highlighting black excellence. I passionately support and promote black-owned businesses. We want people to come into our community and see us, especially at a time like this. It’s hard for entrepreneurs normally, but the pandemic has just made it 20 times harder. This is the time we need and we say thank you to companies like Barilla.

We’re at a pivot moment. We’re either going to survive this as a collective, or our community’s going to go down.

Watch the event and cook-along with Marcus and Lexis