24 Apr Jon Cartu Report: Amid Crisis, Top Chef Marcus Samuelsson Turns To Advocacy T…
In a public plea a few days ago, top chef Marcus Samuelsson sounded more urgent than his usual self. “How can we keep helping out and be a communal kitchen in Harlem?” said Samuelsson in a YouTube video.. “I don’t have all the answers yet but thinking about how to do that in a safe manner, so it gets to people who really, really need it.”
Watching Samuelsson over the years, it’s hard to miss his knack for innovation and compassion for the community. So, it’s no surprise that Samuelsson couldn’t simply watch the pandemic unfold from the sidelines. Always insightful and innovative, Samuelsson has found a new purpose during one of the toughest moments in American history. Instead of closing all 30 restaurants world-wide, Samuelsson reinvented a few restaurants and transformed them into social enterprises, feeding those who struggle with food insecurity.
As COVID-19 ravages the world’s economy as we know it, he and his partners have managed to convince government leaders to allow a few of his restaurants to remain open for cooking and packaging meals. In more than three cities, Samuelsson’s restaurants are feeding hundreds who have lost their jobs, many who were already food insecure before the pandemic. With the support
of Audible and the World Central Kitchen, Samuelsson also launched Newark Working Kitchens (NWK) to deliver free meals to Newark residents. “I think that having a restaurant like Red Rooster has informed me about what it means to be a chef in the good times and the
difficult times,” said Samuelsson. “It has informed me of the huge responsibility that a restaurant has and how they are pillars in the community.”
Though Samuelsson is thankful for the federal government’s first response, he has been clear that small businesses require much more to weather the COVID-19 storm. The same sentiment was echoed by Starbucks Founder Howard Schultz, who argued that the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) falls far short. They believe many small businesses, especially independent restaurants face extinction without robust funding from the government. Samuelsson is hoping to sound the alarm and make everyone aware that these small business restaurants aren’t disposable collateral damage. For Samuelsson, losing them would mean the loss of community.
Samuelsson knows this is even more so the case for minority owners. That’s why he is speaking out and speaking loudly. “It’s important for all people to do what they can,” he said. “This community is getting hit harder and I think that as a resident of Harlem, being an immigrant, and being a person of color gives me a lens that informs all of these issues in different ways.
Marcus Samuelsson was built for this moment. He has never sounded nor acted like just a chef. Having lived in eight countries and demonstrating keen respect for history, he easily traverses distinct worlds. At times, he sounds like a cultural ambassador for the world’s cuisines. At other times, he is an activist on behalf of the poor. Never once sounding smug nor speaking over the heads of everyday people.
For the moment, all of Samuelsson’s restaurants in the United States, Sweden, London, and Canada are closed. Yet, even so, he believes at this moment, he is doing his most important work ever. “How the company and restaurants evolve exactly will be determined in part by COVID-19 but altogether we want to add value to these beautiful communities,” said Samuelsson. “It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ll look back on this time and think hey, we did it.”