Marcus Samuelsson Fights Food Insecurity With Red Rooster

The Editors | May 31, 2020 | Food & Drink People National

IMG67843A1UK.jpgChef, Red Rooster

Your Red Rooster restaurant has become a community food hub for food-insecure people in Harlem. How did that come about?
We realized we weren’t safe anymore, and we couldn’t serve as a regular restaurant anymore. And so we said to ourselves, ‘What can we do?’ We started partnering with World Central Kitchen because, whether it’s hurricanes or catastrophe situations, they know how to get food to the neediest right away and the safest way.

What does that look like in practice?
It’s a very different way of serving. You have to use social distance among the staff and in the line. We put food dishes on the table, we step away and they step up. We wear gloves and masks. It’s definitely a first responders’ way of serving the food. We serve about 400 to 600 people a day, six days a week. We do the same with the restaurants in Newark and Miami. We serve everything from chicken gumbo to vegetable curries with rice. It’s definitely not a compromised meal.

How do you think Red Rooster and the restaurant community will come back from this?
We have to come back. We love our city, and if the restaurants go, so goes our city. Restaurants are the heart and soul of our city. And they’re also how you very often define a neighborhood, right? Restaurants create not only jobs but also an incredible vibe and diversity. Think about the amount of jobs that restaurants supply. At Red Rooster, we have around 170 co-workers. But we also have the person who delivers the vegetables and meat supply, the fish vendor, the person who cleans, the night cleaners, the person who cleans the windows, see? We are talking about 300 to 400 people for one restaurant to make it work, and that supply chain is completely interrupted now.

What have you learned from all this?
9/11 taught me a lot. I remember being down in Tribeca and volunteering and cooking and working. You’re right there, and you see the smoke. That moment really made me dig deeper and ask more questions about myself, and eventually I moved to Harlem. I started Red Rooster eight, nine years later. I am in this right now, so it is too early to know what I’ve learned, but I’m working that line every day and talking to the people and seeing the incredible needs, seeing the lines to the stores. You just don’t go back the same. This comes once in a lifetime, and it’s a horrible, horrible way to experience it, but a silver lining is that we have to be kinder.

A spotlight from our “Heroes of Hope” feature in The Hope Issue

Photography by: Angela Bankhead