Apparently there’s a little beef cooking up in Harlem, and it ain’t the on grill. After chef and writer Eddie Huang wrote a critical review of Marcus Samuelsson’s soon-to-be-released memoir, Samuelsson had a few words for his fellow chef: You’re irrelevant.
In yesterday’s New York Observer, Huang ripped both Samuelsson’s memoir and his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster to shreds, basically calling them both inauthentic.
With Red Rooster, the Ethiopian-born chef behind Aquavit has given himself a difficult assignment — writing the report for a book he never read.
But it’s the book he wrote, his new memoir Yes, Chef, out June 26 from Random House — that most glaringly demonstrates the shortcomings of his approach to Harlem. As successful as the restaurant has been as a business proposition, it fails utterly in its goal of paying homage to the neighborhood, coming off instead like an embarrassing exercise in condescension, much like the book.
“I had seen the photographs of Harlem in its glory days,” Mr. Samuelsson tells us at one point, “stylish men in bespoke suits, women so well dressed that they’d put the models in Vogue to shame…. I knew that Harlemites loved to dance, to pray, and to eat.”
Thank you, Marcus, for that ride to the intersection of Stigma St. and Stereotype Blvd., but we’re not looking for the Cotton Club.
Here’s what the chef has to say about the area today:
“Harlem is not a playground for rich bankers and consultants. It’s got students of all colors. It’s got old people who keep history and tell tall tales. It’s got musicians and artists and I swear I know a guy who is the next incarnation of Prince…”
The entire book reads like it was ghost-written by Rudyard Kipling with an assist by ‘Girls’ heroine Hannah Horvath, who infamously never encountered a black person in all of season one (except that homeless guy).
To prove how inauthentic Samuelsson’s restaurant is, Huang went to Red Rooster with a local Harlem rapper (uh, ironic, much?). The two talked about the fact that local residents rarely score a table at the Uptown hotspot; its location on famed (and crowded) 125th street; and the lack of a take-out option.
In the article, Huang also went on to wonder why Samuelsson receives accolades for dishing up revisionist soul food while other black American-born chefs don’t garner the same sort of praise as the Ethopian-born, Swedish-bred Samuelsson. And he takes Samuelsson to task for ignoring Harlemites and thinking of himself as sort of a pioneer in Harlem, despite other restaurants being in the area for decades.
In light of Huang’s scathing review, Samuelsson had a few words for his fellow chef: You don’t matter.
“I feel that the more you try to be positive, the more you try to make change, the more people are going to have a point of view on it. It’s not like he’s a relevant person in this place, but we live in a diverse environment where people have every freedom to comment. I can live with the fact that we have created jobs and that we make people happy. I stand by our work every single day regardless of who has a comment,” he told Paper magazine.
What I find interesting is that neither man, Huang nor Sammuelsson, is from Harlem and both dabble in stereotypes of the neighborhood and its people. But does it matter or is their “beef” just much ado about nothing?
You be the judge.