Monthly Industry Insights
Hear from industry leaders about their guilty pleasures, the oddest thing in their refrigerator, their inspirations and take on new trends. Learn more about the people behind the foods and dishes you know and love - and others you SHOULD know and love. We've asked all of questions and have the answers for you here.
February 2019 Edition
Chef, Restaurateur, 3-Stars New York Times Rated, James Beard Award Winner
You’re a chef, a restaurateur, author, philanthropist, father and husband with multiple appearances on TV as a competitor, judge and having just completed “No Passport Required”. What is your secret to juggling it all? How do you keep up?
I wouldn’t say that it’s a trick, so much that I just try to prioritize those things that are productive and moving me forward personally and professionally. Like I know for me, it’s really important that I get to workout, because it not only helps me physically, but also helps me bring my best to my work and family too.
When did you know that you wanted to be a Chef? Was there a “aha” moment in your life where you knew this was your destiny?
My grandma Helga was the one who really taught me to cook from the time I was about 6 years old. I remember making meatballs and thinking that this is something really fun. I have great memories of being in the kitchen, cooking and play-fightingwith my sisters. Then, when I was a little older and realized that my first passion, soccer, wasn’t going to be a career option for me, I turned back to my love of cooking.
What’s the greatest fear you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today?
It’s not so much a fear, but the blessings of being both a black man and an immigrant is that you don’t assume anything is a sure bet, no matter where you came from. So even after 30 years in the business, I don’t assume that I belong and I keep working hard everyday to make sure that I do.
If you could share one surprising thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’m probably the best Ethiopian hockey player and the worst Ethiopian runner. I’m also the 6th best cook in my family; the order would be all of Maya’s aunties, and then no one, and then me.
What is the newest culinary trend you see emerging that you’re using yourself?
I think there’s a big push towards sustainability and restaurants and products are becoming more ‘green’. Whether that’s recycling produce parts into cocktails, building an urban garden, or using new sources of protein like crickets and cricket powder, I think this is a huge step in the right direction.
Name one meal that you couldn’t live without?
Moreso than can’t live without, there have been some experiences that really changed my life. For example I was eating a vegetarian tasting menu in France in the 90s— I didn’t even know it was possible to do something so high-end and keep it vegetarian. Also eating at Dooky Chase and understanding what Ms. Leah Chase had to do to stay open as a young black woman who owned a restaurant during the Civil Rights Movement. And finally, I really enjoy the street food in Mexico.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?
I would say the relationship with my parents is something I am really proud of and I miss them dearly. And stemming from that, my relationship with my family (Maya, Zion, my sisters, my extended family) in general and the love we have as a family. We’re a tribe; a very odd looking tribe but we always have each other’s backs.
Is there a Chef that you admire the most? Who and why?
I really admire Charlie Trotter for all that he did for diversity in the culinary world. He understood diversity on a deeper level and was way ahead of him time in that. I remember cooking in his kitchen next to a young blind woman and she was cooking circles around me and it really opened my eyes a lot.
What can attendees expect from your demonstration at the 2019 International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of NY?
First of all, they can expect a lot of fun. I’ll probably be pulling some people to help me, so they should be prepared to roll up their sleeves. As far as food, they’ll see two dishes: one scallop crudo dish which gets this vibrant color from sorrel (hibiscus) and the other is a doro wat pasta, which is my take on a traditional Ethiopian chicken stew, Doro Wat. Full of amazing spices, it’s super warm and delicious.
What can your fans expect from you next?
I’ve got some exciting things coming up this year. I’m really excited that we have our annual food and culture festival, Harlem EatUp!, coming back for it’s fifth year this May. I’m also filming for the second season of No Passport Required right now, which is the show I host in partnership with PBS and Eater/Vox Media. This season will be coming out this Fall, so stay tuned. And then we always have exciting things happening at my restaurants, so keep up with all of them online or through my social, @marcuscooks.
Bonus questions: Dance or sing? Winter or summer? Breakfast or brunch?
Neither- I am terrible at both. Blame it on adoption. Summer, for sure. No question. Breakfast.