I feel like I have been cooking all my life. Growing up, my sisters Anna and Linda and I spent summers in Smögen, on the west coast of Sweden. Every morning I went fishing with my dad, Lennart, and my uncles. We caught crayfish, lobsters, and mackerel, and often smoked and preserved the catch. My grandmother, Helga, would gather us in the kitchen to teach us how to pickle fresh vegetables, and make meatballs, ginger snaps, cookies, and apple jam. These experiences taught me to love and appreciate fresh and local food.
My other window into food came from my relatives and my father, Tsigie, in Ethiopia. Spices are the key element driving taste in Ethiopian cooking. In Ethiopia, food is often viewed through a strong spiritual lens, more so than anywhere else I know. I appreciate my Ethiopian roots because I see how hard people have to work there to survive, and I understand just how fortunate I am to live in this country. I am inspired by the way the people of Ethiopia lead their lives, and how everyone tries to help one another in the community. Their drive inspires me to work as hard as I can to take the knowledge I have about food and to share it with those who want to learn how to prepare fresh, affordable meals.
New York City feels so much like home I almost feel like I grew up here. I love all the diversity that this city has to offer. I love meeting new people and learning about different cultures, because this helps me expand my knowledge of different foods, spices, and techniques. Different sounds and colors influence the way I design a dish. The creative process is always fun for me, whether in food, art, music, or fashion. I love to be influenced by different kinds of art, and I try to take those experiences and place them in my creations.
My perfect weekend is to play soccer with my friends and then cook for them. My wife, Maya, and I entertain friends from all over the world, so it is great to cook something that might be familiar to them, yet has been prepared in a completely different way.
My hope is that Red Rooster will build on Harlem’s rich culinary culture, and that people from all over the world will celebrate all that Harlem has to offer. I’m looking forward to this new adventure.