In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem

Written by Chef Donna Desfor | Apr 3, 2017 9:00 AM
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The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem, by Marcus Samuelsson, with Roy Finamore and April Reynolds.  Copyright © 2016. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (A Rux Martin Book).  Photographs by Bobby Fisher.

Our Summary:

To cook and be happy.  At the same time.  While it strikes one as odd that a celebrated chef could be in search of happiness in the kitchen, it seems Chef Marcus Samuelsson's journey to Harlem and owning the Red Rooster was about just that.  In his latest of six books, Samuelsson celebrates re-discovering his joy for the kitchen in The Red Rooster Cookbook by sharing the stories, the music, and the cultures and influences on the food that brought him home.

What you need to know:

Get it:  The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem, by Marcus Samuelsson, with Roy Finamore and April Reynolds.  Photographs by Bobby Fisher. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (A Rux Martin Book) October 18, 2016.  Hardcover, $37.50 (Amazon $22.59; Kindle $19.99)

See it:  384 pages with both color and black and white photos of the recipes, the restaurant, the people, and archival photos of Harlem; campy but beautiful illustrations throughout.

Make it:  91 recipes, with additional seasonings and spice blends in side bard, plus variations.

After several pages of poetic prose and wistful commentary on what Harlem is and means to the soul of Chef Marcus Samuelsson, it feels shockingly abrupt to turn the page and dive into the deep end of the Red Rooster pantry.  Intentional?  Perhaps.  The way Samuelsson describes Harlem that seems about right.  With no apologies, you're deep into The Red Rooster and contemplating the ease with which a home wine vinegar can be made.  Much to your surprise, you'll find that your pantry is already stocked with many of these ingredients.  And for the odd sounding spice, blend or seasoning?  Samuelsson gives you recipes or suggestions (in that same paragraph!) on how to make your own or where to buy it, even if it's online.

Still, don't expect to browse a complete table of contents to find recipes worth jumping ahead to.  The closest thing you'll find is a brief table with each themed section cryptically named and listed two per line - on a Grand Staff alongside a treble clef and a bass clef.  The book is, indeed, as much about a (music) culture as it is food.

The absolute completeness of The Red Rooster cookbook, however difficult it may be to find what you are looking for, is thrilling.  This is a story.  A snapshot of a culture.  The recipes tell a story, just as the pictures and playlists and essays make Harlem come alive.  But if it's the recipes you're after - it is, after all, a cookbook, right? - you'll be happy to stumble upon the first few, which turn out to be cocktails and recipes for the fried food to go with them.  And, while you can lose the food in the mayhem that is this book, as you turn pages you land on Aunt Grete's Beef, a Swedish comfort-food standard, or Scrappy Fish Chowder, a Harlem riff on bouillabaisse right down to the garlicky-spicy toast to sop up the broth, and breathe a sigh of relief:  this is the food you were looking for.

The Red Rooster celebrates the melting pot of cultural influences on Samuelsson's cooking and his Harlem neighborhood.  He expertly grafts flavor profiles from Italy, Ethiopia, Sweden, the deep South and France onto chicken, beef and pork, fish, pasta, eggs, and vegetables.  Though you won't find a soup chapter or a vegetable chapter, you will find yourself flipping through the pages in search of those, only to realize you're far happier where you landed.  Especially when you land on Andouille Bread Pudding or Yep, Chicken Waffles, Mac 'n Greens or Marrow Dumplings with Charred Broccolini and Chiles.  And just to keep you guessing what kind of cuisine this is, there's Curried Goat Stew and Puerco en Cerveza (Pork in Beer), Plantains on the Side.  It's Harlem food.  It's people food.  It's food you want to cook and serve to people who check their worries and opinions at the door and sit down for the pleasure of the drink, the meal, and the company. 

You might say this is a book about how to entertain and you wouldn't be wrong.  What The Red Rooster really is, though, is a neighborhood party that beckons you to join.  And you will. Recipe after recipe, you'll discover what it means to cook and be happy.  At the same time.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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