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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  September 9, 2017 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT

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- [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by klru's producer circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community. - i'm evan smith, he's a james beard award winning chef and celebrated restaurateur best known outside the kitchen for his regular appearances on chopped, top chef, and other irresistible foodie reality shows. his new collection of mouthwatering multicultural recipes, the red rooster cookbook: the story of food and hustle in harlem has just been published. he's marcus samuelsson, this is overheard. (applause) let's be honest, is this about the ability to learn, or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa? to say that he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it.
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you saw a problem and over time took it on and let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you gonna run for president? think i just got an f from you. (applause) marcus samuelsson, welcome. - thank you so much for having me. i'm super excited to be in this iconic location. - great to be here with you, and i'm so excited about your cookbook. - thank you. - so wonderful. i wonder why a cookbook from this restaurant. you have 11 restaurants all over the country, all over the world. when is it time for a restaurant to have its own cookbook? - well first of all, i mean my wife, my family, we live in harlem. i walk to work to the red rooster and it's really, the community that has embraced us so much. so i felt like opening red rooster was really an opportunity to start a new conversation. - right. - about-- - as much about harlem as it is about food right? - about the place, but also the mis, i think the mis-education about african americans
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contribute about culture of this country. so harlem really is the epicenter for that, and i feel like the restaurant reflects its neighborhood, and to tell that story, you need a book. - do you feel like harlem had a distinct or a discrete food culture? i mean it had bits and pieces of a food culture, but this seems like a quantum shift maybe, the opening of this restaurant. - well the question is always i think that the majority of a lot of traditional african american communities, they're not part of the normal grid. so the food was always there, but maybe not for the latest bloggers and the traditional media. so, one of the reasons why it took me six years, seven years to open it was because i felt like we needed to match the energy of the food vendors that was there, so you know i had to go to the park to get the jamaican food. some of the best sweet potato pies was made at the barber shop. you know, so it was highly entrepreneurial. some of the best corn bread was served in church. so it wasn't just a traditional restaurant scene.
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so we're going to do a restaurant here that needs to be in and of the community. i needed to learn what was this community's food and where was it at? - how involved are you when you open a restaurant like this? well you've been a chef for a long time. a very celebrated chef, an award winning chef, but at this point in your career when you open up a restaurant like this one, how involved are you in the preparation of the food and the planning of the menu? - everything, i mean this is, this is my phd into a cooking that i didn't grow up with, but i knew what i wanted to create. i wanted to have something that was inspired by this incredible neighborhood you know that had the energy of, you know the contribution of jazz to hip hop. from james baldwin to langston to current kendrick lamar. that energy and food-wise was inspired by leah chase to what we're doing today. not looking back only, creating modern. something that was inspired by the past, but also contemporary, right?
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so farmer's market, but also harlem's food scene is really inspired by two things. the great migration and global immigration which makes it much more diverse than you would ever imagine. - and in fact the menu at the restaurant and the menu, or the menu of recipes i should say in the cookbook, actually is not simply what you would think from a harlem restaurant. it's not as far as it goes, soul food say, right? - well it's inspired by stuff, but it's also what i want to explain to people is it's a highly diverse community. and it's been forever. you know el barrio, there's this beautiful latin gem in harlem, east of us, which started as a puerto rican american community and today is a mexican american community. so things are changing. it's still latin, but it still serves pernil and cuchifrito, but also has tacos and this tiny shift i want to explain. you know we have little west african which is senegalese, and sort of west african community, but that links back to southern food right?
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that's how we got our grits. that's how we got our rice, and that's how we got our okra right? so the music and the food and the people are always going to be linked back to west africa, and southern food and soul food will always be diverse because the settler could come from different places, the cook can come from one part of west africa, maybe married a native, and you have the latin influences too, so it's a very very diverse stew that is ours. it's american, it's not just black cooking. it's of african american culture, but it's american. - and the restaurant reflects back the diversity of the community. as i said you have 11 restaurants. you have a handful in new york, you have a handful in sweden where you grew up. you were born in ethiopia, but grew up in sweden. you have one in chicago, you have one in bermuda. but they're all very different restaurants right? you're not only cooking or in or presiding over restaurants in one style. which of these is closest to your own personal taste? when you cook at home, or when you go out to eat yourself.
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what style of cooking-- - i mean red rooster, because it's, it's a restaurant that reflects its neighborhood that i live in, right? but the word restaurant, which most people don't know, it means to restore your community. so when we do a restaurant, we always think about that right? so in sweden, you know we think about how do we create jobs for the immigrant population maybe that reflects the, so there's different local issues. in bermuda it was very important to create sort of the next version of you know for young talent, so they don't have to leave the island and they can get the training and stay on the island for great hospitality. so for us to create a restaurant it always take three years because first we have-- - is that right, it's a three year process? - we have to study what was there before us, culturally? what is currently going on right now, and how can we create something-- - so you're trying to tailor the restaurant to the community. you're not just basically dropping in a concept, which has become commonplace as you know,
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especially with chefs who have left the kitchen and entered the world of celebrity right? - i couldn't do that. i mean first of all our restaurant industry, we've gone from anonymous laborers, specifically african american cooks, to a visible labor right? being a chef wasn't even a profession until the '70s right? so today we celebrate it, but we're also there to honor the people, the anonymous cooks that created this platform for us and created the great american diverse recipes that we have today. - so now in the case of red rooster you mentioned james baldwin. the origins of this name goes back 100 years to an old speakeasy in harlem that so many of the cultural luminaries of the day used to spend time in. that's the origin of this, you really do feel connected back to that period of harlem. - i wanted to have a restaurant, a name that people acknowledged and knew. especially if you were in the '60s and '70s, but not a place where like the cotton club where it was so known, and also black people were allowed to work there, but not to eat there. so the red rooster was, it was an openly diverse gay bar,
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which i thought was fantastic. it was a place where the maid could go after she got her hair done on thursdays, she could go there, but it was also where young, someone like dinkins, mayor dinkins at a younger age, charles rangel, but also nat king cole and also someone that worked in the post office. it was extremely not just diverse-- - egalitarian. - exactly and we need and at the time i feel we need more places where it has this diverse layer of community. if you think about diversity in a place like new york city you truly only find it in two places. the subway and hopefully in restaurants. - right, it's the place where everybody comes together. now you, because you're you and because the restaurants that you've put together in new york have been at such a high level, you tend to attract a pretty elevated clientele. you cook for presidents in this restaurant. in fact our current president, president obama, not long ago, after you were the first chef to
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preside at the first state dinner that president obama did in the white house after he was elected. more recently, he's been to the restaurant. - well when the president came to the restaurant it was absolutely fantastic. it was a celebration, and cooking for the president at my home court advantage, was a little bit easier than going to the white house. - it was an away game right? - yeah exactly, absolutely. - but you chose the dishes carefully based on this president and this president's tastes that of course his wife would prefer probably that he just ate lettuce. (laughs) right? but you fed him something better than that. - well we did short ribs and it was, you know it was late winter, early spring in new york, so we did a little bit of spring salad, but you know i remember it specifically, the state dinner when we planned that and the first lady had just started her initiative with the white house garden that now is iconic, so we felt that that was an opportunity to do a menu that was high, we celebrated vegetables. and also prime minister singh at that time,
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he was vegetarian. - oh that's correct, so it was the indian prime minister and so you did a largely vegetarian, not exclusively, but you did i think you did prawns right? - the two things we wanted to celebrate there was up until that point, all state dinners had been with a french accent. i was like wait a minute, that makes sense if you have a french premier there, exactly, but if you don't it should be american and a nod towards the guest, because that's what a dinner party would be, and his or her sensibilities right? allergies or spirituality connection, so we're more informed. i wanted to be american wines and also to show that we american ingredients has arrived, we can do that. so that's why at that time was right past the gulf accident in new orleans so it was important for me to buy ingredients from that place, for example. so menu is always coding, class, an opportunity to say we have arrived. this has been our journey, and this is where we are today. - i love the fact that you said earlier that the profession has changed over time. you know we really live in an era now where chefs are stars alongside actor and actresses.
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you turn on any basic cable network, and you're as likely to find a cooking show and a familiar face as not. is this a good thing for food? for the food universe? - well you know i thought about this a lot and my whole idea is that great food should be really we should really have an opportunity to have them in every community. so for me, if i have this platform, what do you do with it? so if i want to create a farmer's market in harlem and project that, i can do that through my you know through social media or instagram or twitter right? so if one has a responsibility and a platform, you can drive somebody to a conversation that matters. you know, people say always that the urban communities that we have food desert, and that it's not food deserts, they're food prisons, carefully designed. - explain. - well you know if you think about... before integration, segregation,
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there was always places to stay, there was tons of restaurants. gordon parks had documented it, and that's why it's part of the book. tons of restaurants, tons of vibrant food communities. post that, what we lost, we gained a lot. but what we lost was the sensibility to have small restaurants, mom and pop, that had different types of food where people could work and people knew that that place, i can get a job in right? once you have stuff like fast food coming into your neighborhood, a small restaurant can't compete with a one dollar meal right? so we choose convenience versus our own small places right? so all arteries for great food, not just high end restaurants but market, bodegas that has real vegetables, were pulled out and what this movement is really about is great food is not coming back into urban america at an affordable price, which is very important, and also our farmer's market is not just the price. it's also having ingredients that is culturally relevant to that community.
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- well and that, you make a great point because it's not just about restaurants but it's also about cooking at home, and this also gets to the celebrity. wendell pierce, the actor, and memoirist who lives in new orleans was here a year ago talking about the absence of just a basic supermarket in neighborhoods in new orleans, which he said basically consigned people in new orleans to so few options that they were never going to be able to bring themselves up. - if you know how to cook, that's your passport. - so you think there are good supermarkets, good markets now in harlem different from five or 10 years ago? - absolutely, and there will be more but the key is to understand how to cook because then food waste will go down. you also of course will make sure that when you make something, eating is part of it, but cooking, there's nothing that beats cooking together and eating it and saying hey we made this. this is our culture. - as an experience. - i'm going to introduce you to my culture. where do you think tourism, like people know foods are going to italy, are going to france and spain. of course we're known by is through food right?
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and in harlem and many urban americas we have the music, we have the storytellers, but if people were pouring in and we create small restaurants, it's a completely different way if you break bread with someone. now you're not talking at me, you're really talking and we can learn from each other, and food has that opportunity. - i think i met you on television over the years as i've seen you and primarily it's been through your time as a judge on chopped, but other shows as well, and i think of you more as somebody who is helping me think about how to cook as opposed to thinking about restaurants to go visit as a consumer, and that kind of gets to your point. what you're doing is passing down this tradition of thinking about yourself as capable of making a great meal alone or with people in your house. - and it's i think that i've constantly thought about like if you have an opportunity, especially as a man, you know the blessings of being a black man is really with this gift of cooking and with this gift of being able to go from the elevator from a mud house
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in ethiopia to owning and being a business owner and owning a restaurant in harlem, i'd better drive a large conversation. i'd better include you to opportunity and conversation and learn something that you may or may not knew about. this is what you do here. you create a table and you invite us in to sometimes an uncomfortable conversation, but guess what, when i come out of it, i just learned something and now i have that tool, that muscle so i can say when someone said this is so and so you can say actually you know what? come up town, taste this. look at that, have a glass of wine. speak to someone that you may or may not want to have talked to otherwise. they might look different, but their values are very similar to us. - does everybody who finds themselves in a position as a celebrated chef on television now whether they're presiding over their own show or they're a judge on a program, do they all view this the same way? it seems to me that there are some people who retain their integrity as food people, and there are some people who seem to just like the fact that now they're famous
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and they seem detached from what maybe made them famous to begin with. - you know, that's the beauty of america you know. we don't have to do it, and thank god we're not doing it all the same way, but you know i can't avoid the beauty and the fact that i've been adopted. i am an african american. i'm african, i'm an american, i'm an immigrant and i'd better drive this conversation because you know i'm looking forward to have the conversation with my son about all of this-- - how old is he now? - he's just a couple of months, but when he's 15, he's gonna say to me where were you in all this? did you help out in this conversation? was all this stuff, did you just avoid the dialogue? so i'm preparing myself to have that conversation that every black man have with their son, and saying hey, hopefully when he grows up he doesn't have to say, i don't have to tell him when you see a police officer avoid him, look down, walk away. hopefully i can say to him when you see a police officer, give him one of our sweet potato doughnuts. - right, that, i like the fact that my takeaway from this conversation is that sweet potato doughnuts
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are the thing that will make everything better. i think that's actually-- - we agree on that. - hey i like that very much. i want to ask you about growing up in sweden. i don't think of sweden as necessarily having a food culture that would produce someone of your stature as a chef, but i'm probably misinformed, and in fact you have several great restaurants by reputation in sweden now. maybe i'm wrong about that. - well, you know it's a great question. so sweden... we know about foods a couple of different ways. either massive population, like let's say india and china or massive touring like italy and spain and france. we don't have that either, but what we do have is access to nature. so i grew up on an island where your steak was fish. four days a week we ate either mackerel, or fish balls or salmon and the day when we didn't have fish it was probably pork or chicken. but also the access to nature. so you go mushroom hunting, you go lingonberry picking 'cause all land is for, is public land.
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so just growing up without even knowing it, maybe we didn't have a lot of money, but we ate well and everything was homemade. so that-- - your adoptive parents good cooks? - my grandmother was an amazing cook. - grandmother, right. - so everything i put in my mouth was pickled, preserved, but we made it. so you don't think about yourself as a great cook or a great country of cooking maybe, but you had a sense of place, respect of culture, and respect of our food. and now sweden's becoming a very popular food place called the new nordic, right? because of the help of internet and because of, a lot of people can obviously travel easier to stockholm today. so sweden's done a big big journey in terms of entering its food to the world. - so you are continuing to travel back and forth. you have those restaurants there and i'm, you know you've made me think i maybe travel to eat in sweden-- - you should, you would love stockholm. - would be a good destination. all right, so we've got about five minutes left. i want to put you on the spot. so i can't sit across from one of the great chefs
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of my lifetime and not ask for advice, okay? so one of the restaurants you have, marc burger in chicago, a wonderful restaurant with great burgers in chicago. so what is the secret to making a great hamburger? for the average person watching this and they have the opportunity to tap into the marcus samuelsson brain here. - well the first, couple of things. texture is everything, right? it's very important when you make a burger. first of all, if you're gonna do let's say potato roll, you want to toast them with real butter right? you just toast them. then it's about the meat. you need about... you want a blend that's about 65 meat, and about 35% fat, the fat is very important. if you can, if you have the time, chop the meat, don't grind it. chop it because you need air. and when, before you make the patty, toss it lightly 'cause the air and the fat. you need that to create this sort of not tight, tense burger right? and then you put it on the grill, just salt and pepper.
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you cook it to about medium, uh medium rare, medium. i would then slow roast some red onions, brown them really really nicely. you need lettuce, you need tomato, and you need a great pickle. if you do that, you could put american cheese on top. if you do that, you're gonna always have an incredible burger. - that's the secret marcus samuelsson burger that you just described. it sounds so simple. - well it's not, because you have to chop that meat perfectly. but the fat, 'cause people think oh i'm not gonna have any fat in my burger, but that's going to be bouncy, not so good burger. so all of these layers make sense. the lettuce creates water. the onion creates sweetness. the fattiness that you get from the 35% fat, creates this mouth richness feel. the cheese helps you with the umame, and then by you toasted the bun right? it creates this layer of texture so it doesn't get mushy. you bite into that? you're in america.
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- i like the fact that you're also, i like the fact that you're talking about techniques and not only ingredients, because some people think as long as i have a shopping list, it's all gonna be fine but actually technique. - but the food has sounds and food have, there's so many, it's a four dimensional experience. fried chicken to me, if you didn't hear (crunches) if you don't hear that crack, you might be eating, but you're not eating fried chicken. and that's the skin has to speak back to you, like a great miles davis song. - isn't there a story about red rooster that you were thinking about how to integrate chicken into the menu and at some point somebody said to you, you know-- - john legend said-- - john legend said to you, right. - john said to me marcus, you're overthinking the damn chicken, just fry the damn bird, marcus. and i come up and i show you, and i said john, you know i, i, the chef in me, and i have to think it out. i have to think about texture and he's like, just fry the damn bird marcus. - sometimes, sometimes the simplest answer is the right answer. - and he came up and he fried the bird for me. - and it was great. - it was good. - the other thing i want to ask you about from a kind of consumer of this stuff standpoint
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is cornbread, so i read an interview with you connected with this cookbook in vanity fair, and the author was marveling over the cornbread that she ate at your restaurant. the story began with the cornbread and it ended with the cornbread and i thought i need to ask him about that. what is the secret to your amazing cornbread that everybody, not just her, but other people talk about from this restaurant? - well, it's how we approach it and what type of fat we put into it. - fat, again with the fat! i'm sensing a theme here. - the, well then also we put the bird funk on top. a little bit of chicken liver and bird funk. once you understand-- - bird funk? - but once you understand the key to very much african american culture, once you understand the funk, you understand us. - you're not pranking me here, bird funk? - bird funk, no it's amazing. it's chicken skin that you cook down, and it takes you in many different direction and it's mystique, it's different, it's prideful, it's specific and it's very delicious. - and so cornbread without bird funk, is just not that good.
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- it's cornbread. - it's just cornbread. - yes. - man i asked a question, i got an answer, i can't believe it. so this is, you've had several other cookbooks before and obviously we said multiple restaurants. what is there left that you want to accomplish that you've not done? - well i'm-- - you really have touched a whole bunch of different-- - well i mean, it's success is not a bus stop. to engage with the public in a great way. the people have been so supportive of me through all these years. i don't take that for granted, but the work must be done because great food can go into every community at different affordable pricing, and starting that dialogue with a restaurant in an iconic village is very important. so i continue that work and for me it comes down to hiring from the community. we hire people that just left jail and connect them into, this is, working in hospitality is a way back in. all of us, especially as young boys, we can be on the right, wrong side, we can do stupid stuff, and then you're out. then you can't come back into society.
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working in our restaurant isn't about the second chance, and in the restaurant you learn so much about life skills, showing up on time, how to talk to someone like yourself, and then you have those tools and muscles and maybe end up working for facebook. - so you see yourself actually as playing a larger role than simply being a boss to people who work in a restaurant. - absolutely, i mean and it's also by the numbers. my corner, in my community, the number of unemployment in new york city is about 5%. in harlem for an african american man it's 38%. 38%, so if i don't open a restaurant there or now when we have 200 employees, that says to everyone that it's okay, that we can accept it, that people shouldn't come here with aspirations of a job. that means that they have to leave a community. if that's gonna happen, not in my community, not on my watch. - so is there another place you'd like to go with a similar idea, try to go into a community and make that community better by virtue of the restaurant? - or what has happened is that it's inspired a lot of communities. what i see in oakland right now, people's kitchen,
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they're working together. they're taking over you know abandoned buildings. you see it, you know what theaster gates is doing in the south side of chicago. so this type of work and worth, that if you are an electrician and you live in an african american community, you have worth and my plumber, you know he can come and be a handyman in my restaurant. what is the other option? they should just sit and hang out because they don't know technology? is this what we're going to say to people that worked really hard and paid taxes all their life? no, so restaurant also gives self worth and you making something, and that's very powerful. - yeah i'm i'm so interested. i didn't expect this conversation to go in this direction, but i love hearing that that's how you're thinking about it. great to meet you and to talk to you. congratulations on the cookbook and continued success, marcus samuelsson. - thank you for having me. appreciate you. thank you very much. (applause) - [narrator] we'd love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at klru.org/overheard
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to find invitations to interviews, q and as with our audience and guests, and an archive of past episodes. - obviously being adopted, having my parents are white, my cousins are korean. my other cousins are french canadian. - [evan] you are the melting pot. - my aunt is jewish. so just get to the dinner table, there's a lot of different approaches. - [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by klru's producer circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community.
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