My fascination with chefs probably comes from the fact that my dad is an excellent chef and always was creating masterpieces in our kitchen growing up. Ever since I arrived in New York, this obsession has quadrupled. I literally could watch The Food Network, Cooking Channel and Top Chef all weekend long. And I feel it takes a certain person (read lunatic) to be able to run on the treadmill while watching Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. I love these chefs and think they’re just as famous as movie stars. When we had our gastronomic experience at Le Bernadin, I almost passed out when I saw Eric Ripert.
I sort of pretend I’m a foodie- we’ve tried probably only half of the ultimate restaurant lists here in NYC and next up will certainly be Red Rooster. I just LOVE Marcus Samuelsson – who also has great style. His chef’s jacket is even chambray. How cute is that?! He recently did a great Q&A with Park and Bond that I wanted to share with y’all.
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Marcus Samuelsson is well versed in the art of the unexpected combination. His talent for melding disparate elements into a cohesive whole is on full display at Red Rooster Harlem, which merges a downtown scene with uptown flavor to create what may be NYC’s hottest restaurant. Here, Samuelsson, who was just named to Vanity Fair’s 2011 best dressed list, riffs on the importance of confidence, the power of a “sense of arrival"—and how he manages to count both Bryan Ferry and Fela Kuti as style influences.
Red Rooster has a seriously stylish crowd. How does that happen?
I feel like what we’re doing at Red Rooster, clothing and style-wise, will have an impact—it will transcend and translate. We have three customers: the visitor from Kansas or Japan; the [downtown] New Yorker; and the Harlemite. So the style becomes a mash-up of the diversity. I like Fela Kuti and Bryan Ferry’s style—can you imagine two people more different? That’s what we celebrate here at the Rooster. It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it, and how you put those combinations together. When I started Rooster it was during the recession and everyone wanted to dress down in a T-shirt. I said, "let’s do the opposite.” I wanted it to be like church. People ask, “Should I wear a T-shirt?” I say, “Are you kidding me?” I’m asking people to come from 40 minutes away or hundreds of miles away, I want them to have a sense of arrival.
How do you inject that into your own style? You spend a lot of time in kitchen whites and clogs, I’m sure, so how do you dress it up for an occasion?
I know that I am always going to be in three worlds—in the kitchen in my clogs, with my customers, and in meetings. So I most of the time wear great shoes, nice jeans, and something more casual on top and a jacket with that. Belts are very important to me. If I wear “adult pants” then I make sure I wear a seat belt from an airplane so it looks fun.
How has your style evolved over, say, the past five years?
The core is very much the same, but Harlem has influenced me a lot. Because of Red Rooster I spend a lot more time up here, walking around with all the characters around—it’s definitely an uptown player that you don’t have downtown. It’s a specific flair—you see the shoes, the hat, the ‘do rag—I’m inspired by all that. I’m very tribal in my clothing, wearing scarves from Ethiopia. I buy specific Swedish denim designers I either grew up with or admire and the Gothenburg clothing scene is booming and booming. Like my cooking, I go back and forth between these three places even more than I did before.
How do those evolutions come about?
I collect when I travel. I go to Ethiopia and I come back and I feel great about wearing a print scarf which may have been [a bit too] tribal for me before. But now I’m like… that, a pair of jeans, a jacket, I’m good.
I like things with a patina on them, clothing that has been someplace else before. A really good designer can create that—Marc Jacobs does a great job making his clothes feel like they’re vintage.
Are there guys out there who inspire you?
Fela Kuti impacted this whole African movement 30 years after his death. Fela on Broadway means that now Diane von Furstenberg is using African tribal patterns in her line. Broadway is very much an indicator of what America does.
Do you have a favorite article of clothing?
Absolutely. I have a vintage jacket that I can wear with a pair of jeans and I’ll be the most stylish guy in the room. It has cigarette burns and I don’t even smoke… All my clothing has spots on it from wine, grease… It has a story.
What does every guy need in his closet at the end of summer?
More than anything, confidence that you can wear anything. That’s the first.
What is on the top of your shopping list?
All these young designers in Harlem are coming to me with their clothes. Style is found in the least expected places, like Harlem, like Soweto, like Ethiopia in the food markets. I always think that in the places that have been neglected, style is really important because people might not be able to buy the car but they can put a funky hat on. It’s accessible. That type of thing you can’t take away from me.