Inspiration from Marcus Samuelsson

Written by Miriam Rubin on . Chefs

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NEW YORK CITY -- It's unusually frigid here in the city since a foot of snow dropped, mostly sideways and then ushered in a big freeze. No warm cars with heated seats here; instead to get to the subway, one climbs over snow-packed curbs and skids on ice-slicked sidewalks.

So, understandably, Marcus Samuelsson, celebrity chef, owner of Harlem's Red Rooster and author of the memoir "Yes, Chef" was running late on Wednesday. Just a touch, for his noontime talk at the Beard on Books program. Run by the James Beard Foundation, it's held in the Greenwich Village townhouse once occupied by Mr. Beard.

Marcus Samuelsson is intense, and maybe a little nervous, but very dapper, wearing a deep-purple sweater, a multi-colored scarf, a cap with triangles of black leather, and leopard-print sneakers.

Inspiration was key to his message. His early culinary influences came from his Swedish grandmother who shaped his love of food. Born in Ethiopia, Marcus Samuelsson and his sister were adopted by a Swedish couple after their mother died. It would be years before he would return to his roots and the country where he was born.

His grandmother was a retired domestic and there was struggle between her and Marcus' mother, who didn’t want to cook in the old way. But he loved cooking and the work it involved. Besides, "Her kitchen smelled better."

Often he'd have two dinners, he told us with a wide smile. First with Mom and Dad, and then he'd ride his bike over to "Mormor's" house.

There he learned from the ground up. To roast a chicken, it first had to be killed, plucked and salted. With the cooking lessons there were always stories, about World War II, about poverty. At his grandmother's house, he said, "there was always something to do and something was always cooking.

"There were mushrooms and herring to pickle, jam to make, plums and apples to pick. I was tasting things for the first time."

After working in France, and realizing food would be his life's work, he tried to get to the States, writing three letters of appeal. One was to David Letterman, one to Oprah and one to the founder of a well-known Swedish restaurant in New York, Aquavit, where, later, he garnered three stars from The New York Times. He had $300 dollars in his pocket.

"And a big idea."

He'd explore the city on roller-blades, living with a roommate who was also working in restaurants and at night they'd exchange ideas.

After 9/11, he found a new place for himself in Harlem. Opened Red Rooster and then Ginny's Supper Club, a place where the culture of Harlem, jazz, gospel music and art intersect with food. His goal is to inspire other young cooks, to work with them, to teach them. To do something meaningful, beyond just filling up seats in a restaurant.

He travels by bicycle now, having given up rollerblades. Fifteen restaurants have opened in Harlem since he opened Rooster.

As he writes in "Yes, Chef:"

"I spent so much of my life on the outside that I began to doubt that I would ever truly be in with any one people, any one place, any one tribe. But Harlem is big enough, diverse enough, scrappy enough, old enough, and new enough to encompass all that I am and all that I hope to be. After all that traveling, I am, at last, home."

Miriam Rubin photo

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Sousa Kickstarter campaign off and running

Written by Gretchen McKay on . Chefs

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Chef Kevin Sousa knew he was going where few Pittsburgh restaurateurs have dared go when, earlier this month, he kicked off an ambitious Kickstarter campaign to raise $250,000 for a new restaurant in Braddock, one of Pittsburgh's poorest and most disadvantaged boroughs. 

Failure, you see, is not an option on Kickstarter. Unless the chef raises evey single penny of his quarter-million goal by 11:59 p.m. Jan. 6, he gets nothing and the restaurant --  which could not secure financing through traditional sources --  simply won't happen.

Fans of Chef Sousa's creative, modern American cuisine and farm-to-table sensibility, however, are proving faithful.

kevinsousaLess than two weeks into his 31-day campaign,  Mr. Sousa already has raised almost of one-third his fundraising goal. More than 380 backers have promised about $80,000 for the project, including 4 heavy hitters who've made $5,000 pledges --  a serious show of faith that will reward each of the backers with an all-inclusive, five-course dinner for eight at Braddock Mayor John Fetterman's funky loft above the proposed restaurant on Braddock Ave. There's also been one $10,000 pledge.

"We had no idea what to expect," Mr. Sousa said yesterday. "As of now, if we can keep the momentum going, we are on track to hit our goal . . . The feedback has been extremely positive."

That said, he still has a ways to go.

Which is where you come in.

Fans can pledge as little as $25, to $10,000 or more for the restaurant he'll call Superior Motors. Each comes with a "reward" ranging from a free appetizer at the new restaurant when it opens, to  a private event for 25 of your choice. That, and the knowledge you're doing something good for an in-need community.

The 50-seat restaurant will be located across the street from Braddock's most famous and fiery structure -- Edgar Thomson Works steelmill -- in a 1921 building that was one of the first indoor car dealerships in the country. (That's where the name comes from.) In keeping with Mr. Sousa's mission of "paying it forward" to members of the community, it will include housing for staff, as well as culinary training for local residents.  A rooftop greenhouse will provide some 1,000 square feet of year-round growing space, and Mr. Sousa also plans on constructing 20 or so raised beds on the roof. 

You can watch a video on the genesis of project here, where you also can take a virtual tour of the property with architects Studio for Spatial Practice.superiormotors2 Better yet, peruse the space in person. On Sat., Dec. 21, from 1 to 5 p.m., Chef Sousa and Mayor Fetterman will host a meet-and-greet at the site, 1215 Braddock Avenue. Guests will be able to see all facets of the project:  the greenhouse and chicken coop, apiary and rooftop garden area. There will be a fire and hot beverages to keep you warm, and Chef Sousa will be doing cooking demonstrations in the kitchen. Mayor Fetterman also will be opening his house (which is really cool) to the public. Free parking. 

Mr. Sousa also will talk about the project on KDKA-TV's Pittsburgh Today Live on Thurs., Dec. 26. 
 
If Mr. Sousa is successful, Superior Motors will be among the most ambitious restaurant projects to be funded by Kickstarter, one of the world's largest funding platforms for film, music, art and other creative projects.

Superior Motors (top and bottom right) and Post-Gazette photos


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Five-Star Ode to Pittsburgh in NYC

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Chefs

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Chef Kristin Butterworth, back in Fayette County at Nemacolin Woodland Resort's five-star and five-diamond Lautrec, is cooking up a "Five-Star Ode to Pittsburgh" dinner tonight at the James Beard House in New York City. 
          
There's a cocktail reception at 7 p.m., and dinner is at 8. Tickets are $170 for the public (if you happen to be in NYC this evening) and $130 for members of the James Beard Foundation, which puts on scores of such culinary events (reserve here or by calling 1-212-627-2308).

Even if you can't be there, you might enjoy the menu:

Hors d’oeuvres

Ode to Primanti Brothers: Housemade Corned Beef with Slaw and Pomme Frites

Lautrec Truffle Scones with Fiscalini Farmstead Cheddar and Sea Salt

Beet-Stained Deviled Quail Eggs with Baby Beet Chips and Feta Powder

Champagne Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV

Yuengling Traditional Lager

Dinner

Foie Gras Terrine with Pennsylvania Maple Syrup, Vanilla-Pickled Apples, Salted Granola and Fried Sage

Montinore Estate Almost Dry Riesling 2012

Smoked Potato Pierogi with Charred Pearl Onions, Truffled Sour Cream, Onion Consommé and Chinese Toon

Damilano Barbera d’Alba 2011

Pittsburgh-Style Grassfed Beef with Bone Marrow Butter, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Carrot Confit and Black Garlic Jus

Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot 2010

Rosemary Macaron with Pennsylvania Amish Chèvre and Huckleberry Preserves

Grapefruit Posset with Crystalized Shiso, Cocoa Nibs, Toasted Coconut and Honey Granita

Luccio Moscato d'Asti NV

Chef Butterworth worked for at time at The Grill Room at New Orleans' Windsor Court Hotel, which wooed her from Lautrec in 2012. A Western Pennsylvania native, she's worked at other swanky places, including Virginia's the Inn at Little Washington. She and her Lautrec team were previously invited to show 'em what they got at the Beard House in 2011, as she recounts here.

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Nemacolin photos of Chef Butterworth and her foie gras terrine as served at Lautrec.

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Is there a Rust Belt cuisine?

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Chefs

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Is there Rust Belt cuisine?

Belt Magazine asks the question, and gets some interesting answers and tidbits from chefs in the region, including Pittsburgh's Chris Bonfili, depicted above with his wife, Jennifer, at their Shadyside restaurant, Avenue B.

Snip: " 'Rust belt' sounds like decay."

You can read the online article here.

And if you care to comment, please do so via this blog's commenting feature.

Bill Wade/Post-Gazette photo from 2010

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Michael Symon coming to Pittsburgh

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Chefs

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Celebrity chef Michael Symon is heading to Pittsburgh to promote his new book.

The former Food Network Iron Chef is co-host of ABC's "The Chew" and the Cleveland-based owner of several restaurants, including Bar Symon Kitchen & Taphouse at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The author of "Michael Symon’s Live to Cook" and "Michael Symon’s Carnivore," he's just about to publish "Michael Symon's 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners" (Clarkson Potter; on sale Sept. 3; $19.99) that he wrote with Douglas Trattner.08262013symonbook

The publisher says Chef Symon had "harried home cooks in mind" with this formula for answering the question, "What's for dinner?" The book covers setting up your pantry as well as tips and lots of recipes, including Fresh Orecchiette with Sausage & Kale, Salmon with Rosemary & Garlic, Fried Salami & Fontina Frittata and Garlic Chicken with Asparagus, as well as Salted Caramel Sundae with Peanuts.
 
He'll sell and sign them at at least two area events: 

• 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sun., Sept. 8 at Giant Eagle Market District at Settlers Ridge

and

 • 3 to 5 p.m. Sun., Sept. 8, at Giant Eagle Market District at South Hills Village.

Photo via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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The sexiness of chef coats

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Chefs

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What work uniforms "drive women crazy"?

In a good way, that is, apparently.

UniformDating.com, which facilitates "online dating for anyone who works in uniform or love those who do, has put together a list of the Top 5 sexiest job uniforms" -- "actually, our list of fastest moving categories over the past two years along with level of interaction versus other categories."

Without further ado:

No. 1: Lifeguard

No. 2: Chefs (such as Dan and Sherri Leiphart, photographed for a 2008 story by the PG's Rebecca Droke).

No. 3: Private pilots

No. 4: Military

No. 5: Fireman   

The news release about this ranking actually used the term "fireman," which is just one of the sexist elements of the whole thing. But crunching numbers over the past few years, "The bottom line is: We wanted to know which categories of occupations were growing the most, and getting the most attention from female members, around the world," says Sean Wood, communications director of Cupid plc, which owns this niche website. The Edinburgh-based company claims to have built a base of more than 54 million members in 58 countries.  

UniformDating.com has 100 uniformed occupatons in its database that could have made the top. But not really. "What about fast food workers in their distinctive shirt, dark pants and possibly an ill-fitting hat spelling out the company’s name? Again, given minimum wage in this country, not likely a chick magnet. " 

About the high ranking of chefs, the release expounds: "Unexpected on this list of Sexiest Uniforms? Sure. But who doesn’t enjoy breakfast in bed? Primarily in Europe, U.S. and Canada, research witnessed a high interaction rate with 'professional cooks' or 'chefs' compared to previous years. Is there a more passionate profession? This is a man who knows how to please all the senses -- sight, smell, touch and taste. We’re not talking about a big white floppy hat -- more modern chef uniforms are tailored and made of the very best quality materials. In the US, it might be related to the popularity of food shows on national TV."

Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette photo from 2008

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