Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem EatUp! is only in its fourth year, but the weeklong festival in May has already become one of spring’s tent pole food events. “We've established ourselves as a respected festival and have great chefs approaching us to be a part of the action,” Samuelsson says. “More and more people are interested in Harlem now, and we're getting audiences from several countries and over 30 states. They want to be in Harlem and feel that energy and culture.” We sat down with the chef to get his insider picks in the neighborhood, find out what’s new for the festival this year, and what makes Harlem so dynamic.
What are you most excited about for this year?
MARCUS SAMUELSSON: Laila Ali is new to the festival this year, and amazing chefs like Stephanie Izard are also participating. Andrew Zimmern will be in Harlem cooking Chinese soul food with Melba Wilson, and it's going to be awesome. I couldn't imagine a more delicious place to be.
Seriously! What are your hopes for the future of EatUp?
MS: In the long term, I hope EatUp! becomes like the Tribeca Film Festival in terms of the way it's viewed around the world. I want EatUp! to become something people pencil in their calendars a year out and say, "I've got to be Uptown for this".
The neighborhood is changing so much. What are some of your favorite new bars and restaurants?
MS: I love what they're doing up at ROKC. The cocktail program there is very smart and creative. I also like Clay, which just opened near Morningside Park, for its versatility and seasonality. It's a great spot for dinner with friends or a more intimate evening out.
And what about your favorite cultural destinations there?
MS: Harlem Stage is not new, but it's incredible for music, theater, and dance. The Harlem YMCA and Schomberg Center are also not new, but I can't imagine Harlem without them. Then we have the National Black Theater and the Museo del Barrio, which are very culturally meaningful.
Do you have a favorite under-the-radar spot?
MS: I don't know how under the radar it is, but I love Cove Lounge for their specialty cocktails. And of course, Marjorie Eliot's Jazz Parlor on Sundays.
Tell me about your perfect spring day in Harlem.
MS: If it were a Sunday, I'd go for a walk in Marcus Garvey Park, and then go to La Marqueta to watch some incredible salsa and Puerto Rican dancing. I'd continue to walk north and hit the Studio Museum and the Apollo to take it all in. I would then bike up to the incredible gem that is Marjorie's Jazz Parlor to listen to some soulful local jazz. Finally, on my way home, I'd swing by La Scat for some more jazz.
That’s pretty epic. What do you think makes Harlem special?
MS: The people really make the neighborhood; it's such an amazing community to be a part of – the community tells you when you're doing something they like and they will definitely also tell you when you're doing something that they want you to switch up!
Tell us more about what you're going to cook with Jarobi White.
MS: First of all, when you cook with Jarobi White, you're cooking with a legend. A lot of people don't know that Jarobi's always been a chef. Even in the beginning of Tribe called Quest, he went off to cooking school. We'll definitely be cooking up some of Jarobi's famous wings, that's for sure.
What's next for you, project wise?
MS: I have a show I'm currently filming with PBS and Eater called No Passport Required. We're highlighting the different immigrant cultures within the U.S. that you may or may not already know about. I'm getting in there and cooking with them among other activities. It'll air on PBS this summer and you can catch some behind-the-scenes action as we film on my social media.
Harlem EatUp! will take place from May 14 to May 20. Tickets are available now at harlemeatup.com.