Marcus Samuelsson Doesn’t Agree With the Term Panhandlers

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Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for New York magazine

Name: Marcus Samuelsson
Age: 40
Neighborhood: Harlem
Occupation: Chef, Restaurant Owner, Cookbook Author

Who's your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Somebody who inspires me a lot and I've gotten to know over the course of opening Red Rooster is filmmaker Albert Maysles. He's been in the creative field all his life, he tells amazing, multifaceted stories about people, and he is open to sharing his knowledge for Harlem.

What's the best meal you've eaten in New York?
Back when I didn't own my own suit, I borrowed a jacket and tie from one of the front waiters at Aquavit and ate at Gray Kunz's Lespinasse. I had no reference point for Southeast Asian flavors in such an elegant setting before then.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
With Red Rooster Harlem now open, it's all about cooking and daily growth — whether it's working with Andrea on how to improve the previous night's dinner service, or coaching our cooks and waitstaff.

What was your first job in New York?
It was as an intern at Aquavit, but I truly think my first job here was observing food culture throughout the boroughs.

What's the last thing you saw on Broadway?
I've been absent from Broadway for a while, but I last took my wife to see Race. Before then, I went to see Fela!, and before that, I took my mom to Mamma Mia!.

Do you give money to panhandlers?
I don't agree with the term panhandlers because everyone has dreams and goals, but some get sidetracked and are left with nothing. For those people, I sometimes give money but prefer to buy them something to eat. We serve people at Red Rooster Harlem when possible.

What's your drink?
I love the Gin & Juice at Red Rooster Harlem — one of our bartenders came up with the idea. It was inspired by the ginger juice you find in some of the stores in Harlem's West African community. He took the juice and did his own thing. Thanks, Snoop!

How often do you prepare your own meals?
These days, I've been tasting a lot rather than sitting down to eat a meal.

What's your favorite medication?
Painting is my favorite medication. I do it when I can, and it allows me to work my way, thematically. I write it, paint it, then cook it.

What's hanging above your sofa?
I have a beautiful Julie Mehretu piece.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
I've gone to the same Haitian dude for five years, and $20 gets me a cut and tip.

When's bedtime?
About 1:30 a.m.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
I love old Times Square; it's the first place I got to when I was 18 and landed in New York. They were filming a music video with Eric B and Rakim, with LL Cool J and some other guys in the background. People stole our bags, but despite that, I remember feeling like I had arrived.

What do you think of Donald Trump?
I like that we share a love of New York.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
I wouldn't take a single thing out, it's what makes it NYC — the smell, the dirt, the grit.

Who is your mortal enemy?
I don't have one. People sometimes approach me with negativity, but I laugh because no one knows the journey I've taken to get where I am today. Through food, I've been lucky to turn that negativity into an advantage.

When's the last time you drove a car?
Sometime during the summer, when I drove out to Long Island.

How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
It's helped me focus my narrative to Harlem, where I cook more affordable food.

Times, Post, or Daily News?
All three ... I have to read them all in order to know who's who and what's what. I get the Times in the morning and read the Post on the train. The Daily News is big in Harlem, and I read that as well. I process them all differently.

Where do you go to be alone?
I know it's not technically alone, but I come home to hang out with my wife. I'm surrounded by people all day, and her schedule is packed, too, so an opportunity alone together is really relaxing for me.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
Grit, open-mindedness, and a gut belief that anything is possible.