From Huffington Post: Diversity, Determination and Dedication in the Kitchen

This was first published on Huffington Post on February 21, 2013.

It’s not uncommon that people will ask me which black chefs I admire—that answer is easy. Patrick Clark, the venerated chef of New York’s Odeon and Tavern on the Green; Sylvia Woods, my Red Rooster neighbor who was and still is a part of this Harlem community for over 50 years; Edna Lewis, the South’s answer to Julia Child; and Leah Chase, my mentor and New Orleans great who inspires everything from Disney movies to Treme. I know I stand on these chef’s shoulders and I can continue their path to inspire and aspire young black chefs.

You’ve heard me say that black people had to work really hard to get out of the kitchen and now they have to work really hard to get back in—I don’t want you to think I’m being negative. For decades, many blacks were reluctant to pursue a profession that was associated with servitude. If you went to school it was to become a lawyer or doctor. Older generations didn’t understand why one would spend money to learn how to chop, peel, dice, and sauté vegetables when that trade could be taught at home. The attitude was that those jobs were beneath us and there were better opportunities available; why would anyone want to work in a kitchen?

The fact remains that black chefs are underrepresented in fine dining kitchens. There are more Asians and Latinos prepping, chopping and sous viding behind the line than there are African Americans. But we’re getting there. When I look at the line cooks in the kitchen at Red Rooster, I know we’re on the right way. When I recognize talent, I reward it; one of our former line cooks, Charlene Johnson Hadley, became head chef of American Table Café and Bar last year.

But this isn’t a soapbox to declare our accolades. This is to show how glad I am that times are changing. Coming up with my fellow chefs in Europe, I was usually the only chef of color in all the kitchens I worked at across the globe. Peterson’s indicates that 4 percent of enrolled students at The Culinary Institute of America are black. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but the good news here? It’s double what it was 8 years ago.

Think about what American food looks like to people who live outside of the U.S. Speaking from the European point of view, American food means hamburgers as well as fried chicken, mashed potatoes and BBQ. Southern food. There is such a large contribution of traditional soul food in the U.S., yet there aren’t a correlating number of black chefs to represent it in fine dining kitchens.

Cooking is in an honest profession that you cannot hide and let others do the work for you. You have to show up, work hard and prove you can do it faster and better. And find a mentor who will recognize your talent and push you in the right direction. Look at Preston Clark, Patrick’s son, who is recognized with equal admiration in the culinary world as his father. Or Paul Carmichael, the Barbados native who became the exec chef of David Chang’s Ma Pêche last Fall. These are chefs who had mentors that believed in them and paved the way in the kitchen.

I’ve worked with the Careers through Culinary Arts Program for more than 10 years and it’s programs like C-CAP that are helping shift the tides. They guide underserved high school students and prepare them for career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality industry across the country. Many of my chef friends and I have hired our staff from C-CAP and I urge my fellow restaurateurs to use resources like these to encourage diversity in their kitchen. Let's recognize the talents who are defying tradition and following a dream. This is a trend I hope never gets old.

From HuffPo: Chickpeas, the Other White Bean

For those of you who read or follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you know that I post a Meatless Monday recipe at the beginning of every week. But what you may not know is that Meatless Monday isn't just a clever hashtag -- it's a nonprofit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Going meatless reduces our carbon footprint and helps us lead the way towards climate change. Beyond that, it can cut our meat consumption by up to 15 percent and opens us to find alternative sources of protein. And one of the most incredible, often overlooked sources? Chickpeas.

According to PepsiCo (they've teamed up with the U.S. Agency for International Development to boost the production of chickpeas in Ethiopia), the water footprint to produce a kilogram of beef, pork, chicken and soybeans are 18, 11 and 5 times higher than chickpeas. That translates to 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of chickpeas versus 1,857 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.

Believed to have first originated in the southeastern part of Turkey, chickpeas are an incredible source of vegetable protein (double the protein content of wheat), are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that boost heart health and provide a substantial amount of iron, potassium and enough vitamins that companies are looking to take some of the additional crops and make a ready-to-eat food product that the World Food Program has used to address famine in Pakistan.

So I ask, why don't we use chickpeas more? It's a highly versatile ingredient that can be made into dips, soups and breads, and can be roasted, stewed and even baked into cookies. I challenge you to find new ways to use this amazingly nutritious and inexpensive product and contribute to lowering our obesity problem as well as our carbon footprint. To help get you started, I've made a list, together with, of my favorite ways to use chickpeas.


1) Cauliflower and Chickpea Stew

2) Chickpea Eggplant Dip

3) Almond Cardamom Cookies

4) Tomato Chickpea Curry Chicken

5) Chickpea Fries

6) Chickpea and Portobello Meatloaf

7) Ethiopian Shiro Spread

8) Chaat

9) Trinidadian Chicken Roti

10) Socca

This post was originally published on Huffington Post on December 13, 2012

From HuffPo: 10 Recipes, 10 Ways to Use Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

This article was originally published on November 14th in the Huffington Post. Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday -- it's a day that's American to the core and it's a day that's all about what and how we eat.

I learned from my grandmother, who grew up in devastating war times, how important it is to keep with tradition and celebrate the holidays during tough times. Hurricane Sandy showed us that more than anything. Residents in the New York area witnessed the kind of impact one act of nature can have, and now more than ever we need to keep tradition to lift our spirits. It's also the time to offer whatever you can to friends, neighbors or anyone who could benefit from even the smallest gesture of kindness.

I often talk about cooking with a spiritual compass -- when you're making that turkey on Thanksgiving morning, think about buying one more bird and giving it away. Hurricane Sandy lessened the number of food banks receiving free turkeys this year because many who usually donate were displaced by the storm. Additionally, frozen-food sections of supermarkets were damaged, ruining many turkeys that would otherwise be given away. Give someone who is struggling a reason to keep the holiday tradition alive in their home, wherever that may be.

And make sure to eat with a spiritual compass, too. Don't waste any part of your leftovers. A study by the National Resources Defense Council reported that Americans throw away 40 percent of the food supply every year. That's $165 billion annually. If you need help getting creative with how to use your Thanksgiving leftovers, with the help of Food Republic I've compiled my 10 favorite ways to make sure you're not wasting a thing this holiday season.

Turkey Split Sandwich Customers love our popular “Chickety Split” sandwich at the Red Rooster’s sister stand, the Nook. Here’s a new way to use the turkey meat leftovers that’s not only delicious, it will have your guests coming back for more. You can make the bread and butter pickles yourself, or just use store bought ones to save some time. And for an added kick, I love throwing some spice shake onto the fried turkey.

Stuffed Mac-N-Cheese Folding leftover stuffing into freshly made mac-n-cheese isn’t for the faint of heart. But it’s definitely an easy and fun way to use up what’s left. Serve with a side salad and plenty of fresh vegetables to offset the richness of this dish.

Turkey Ramen After Thanksgiving, most people opt to just use the leftover meat for sandwiches and casseroles. But in my house, I like to go 360 degrees on the bird which means using the bones and carcasses to make a rich turkey stock that’s the perfect basis for a hot bowl of ramen the next day.

Harissa Roasted Turkey Breast If you’re entertaining a smaller crowd, you don’t have to buy a whole bird. Think about spicing up a turkey breast with some exotic flavors that will ensure your guests aren’t even thinking about what happened to the drumstick.

Mashed Potato Goat Cheese Kale Instead of just reheating your sides, why not get creative and invent a new dish to have the next day? Here’s a modern take on traditional Irish colcannon, courtesy of Food Republic.

Ham and Cheese Biscuit If your family prefers ham over turkey on Thanksgiving, don’t break out the sandwich bread for your leftovers. Why not make some of your own?

Cranberry Cornbread Trifle Leftovers can be dessert too! This is a no-cook dessert recipe that is as easy as it is delicious using leftover cranberry sauce. Perfect for a sweet ending the day after Thanksgiving, use clear water glasses or martini glasses for a beautiful and colorful presentation.

Glögg From the middle of November on through the New Year, glögg is served in Swedish homes on every festive occasion or when visitors drop by. Many families also like to serve glögg after the evening meal, when everyone is sitting around the fire, and this can be enjoyed all winter long.

Leftover Thanksgiving Hash In Sweden there’s a dish called pytt i panna that’s literally translated to little pieces in a pan. Here, we call it a hash and there’s no better way to use your Thanksgiving leftovers (or any leftovers) than to fry them up with some potatoes and throw in some kind of protein. Here I use fingerling potatoes, brussel sprouts, leftover turkey, and drizzle it with some turkey gravy. The best part? The fried egg on top.

Turkish Candied Squash If you have some leftover squash from your stuffing or roasted vegetable dish, this is a great way to have something unexpected and sweet for your weekend houseguests. Taking cues from Istanbul, this treat is topped with sesame seeds for crunch and can be served with our without sweet cream.

My HuffPo Piece: Banning "Healthy Food" from our Diet

Here's a thought: what if we ban the word "healthy food" from our culinary vocabulary? I'm not talking about banning foods that are considered healthy. I'm talking about changing the way we think about food overall.

Our country is in the midst of a cataclysmic health crisis, much of it caused by how we eat. More than one-third of American adults are currently obese (another one-third are overweight), and the next generation is looking worse. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980. It becomes an even more alarming number when you read that obesity is already responsible for $150 billion annually in medical costs.

We can all agree that government can't solve the obesity crisis alone. It's an ongoing issue that will require a collaborative effort across private and public sectors if we want to see some long-term success. However, in this election year, it would be irresponsible for our candidates not to stress the significance of this health epidemic; this crisis should be considered as top of mind as immigration, foreign policy, education and energy.

And then there are the instances where government is actually part of the problem -- actively keeping us from eating better. Take, for example, the $16.9 billion in federal subsidies that went to corn syrup producers in a 15-year period, according to a 2011 CALPIRG report. If that money was given back to consumers to spend on food, we'd each get $8 dollars to spend on junk food and a little more than a dime to spend on apples.

But as a professional chef, I think we also have a special obligation to lead the way in making sure that we no longer divide our food choices between what's considered "healthy" and what's considered "tasty." I don't distinguish the music I listen to from great music -- it's just music. There shouldn't be an announcement that divides our food between what tastes good and what is good for us.

I'm excited about what my colleague and chef friends like Bill Telepan, Michael Anthony and Sam Kass are doing to help provide better options for school children across the country. They're engaging in initiatives led by Michelle Obama and I was sorry to see that the NYC Department of Education had to discontinue the program that recruited professional chefs to help provide fresher food to public schools. Of course, I commend Jamie Oliver for implementing this new way of thinking about school lunches. Children aren't going to eat something because it increases their fiber intake; they're going to eat it because it tastes yummy and delicious. He's not telling kids asparagus should be eaten. He's letting them taste asparagus when it's in season and showing them how delicious it can be. He's using his skill and platform as a chef and making people want to eat foods that are good for them.

Look at what Nathan Myhrvold is doing at the Cooking Lab in Seattle. Behind the door to the lab where he's inventing a mosquito-zapping laser in hopes of combating malaria, his team is applying scientific methods to extract the purest flavors from products as commonplace as carrots and peas. Some might call it a passion project, but I see how this idea will change the way we eat. That rich, creamy soup? It's actually made from vegetables that were run through a centrifuge to extract the solids from the liquid and contains little to no unnecessary fat for flavor. I'm telling you, tasting that food means tasting the future.

For me personally, I often look to global cuisine and ingredients to help make delicious and nutritious meals. I am always shocked that people in second and third world countries living on very low incomes are often are eating meals that are far healthier (and tastier in my opinion!) than what we eat in America. I'm constantly experimenting with different combinations in my kitchen to replicate this way of eating. Lately, I've been experimenting with ramen and created a noodle made from teff, a delicious food grain that is very important in Ethiopia because it's used to make injera, the flatbread Ethiopians eat with every meal. I could tell you how nutritious it is, but that's not the point. If you eat a bowl, you will find it equally if not more tasty and fulfilling than that burger and fries. Also, by continuing to surprise your taste buds you won't need to overeat -- you'll just be looking forward to the next innovation on your plate.

There shouldn't be a distinction between what's healthy and unhealthy. Cooking and eating well, meaning deliciously and nutritiously, is not just an issue of access or cost -- it's also an issue of education and understanding, and our government has a responsibility to help with this transition. And as chefs, we have the responsibility to do our part both from behind the stove and beyond.

Photos: Jeannette Park

My Adoption Story on Huffington Post

I wrote a story about my adoption in last week's Huffington Post and I just wanted to thank everyone who made thoughtful comments and interesting observations. I especially enjoyed the adoption stories you shared with me and I encourage you to continue the conversation here on my site, or you can Tweet me or Facebook (@MarcusCooks). In case you didn't catch it on HuffPo, I've reposted the article here, so let me know your thoughts!

One of the reasons I wanted to write my memoirs is that besides talking about food, the other thing I am most often asked about is adoption. The journey into adoption started for my parents, as it does with so many families: my mother and father desperately wanted to have kids, but they couldn't. I came into this environment where there was so much love, so much positive energy. I never heard my parents say, "We have adopted kids." The minute my sister Linda and I landed in Sweden, we were their kids. It helped that they had informally adopted my older sister, Anna, an eight-year-old foster child, born to a Swedish woman and a Jamaican man. But more than anything, it helped that they were who they were: Lennart and Anne Marie Samuelsson, resolutely hard-working middle-class Swedes who weren't afraid to go their own way.

I like to say that my Mom and Dad were the original Brad and Angelina (if Brangelina lived in a small fishing town and made cabbage rolls), but in fact my mother's parents were the ones who first made blended families the norm. I had a Jewish auntie -- Anne-Marie's parents had taken in a girl from Czechoslovakia during World War II and raised her as their own. My grandparents were far from rich, but it was not strange for them to stretch their means to provide for others. And that's how it was for my parents; we didn't have money but we always ate well.

In my book Yes, Chef you can see old photos of them: my Mom with her beautiful, long hair and my dark blonde Dad, sporting a stylishly scruffy beard. They were so cool, so ahead of their time, without even trying. So many of our neighbors and my friends couldn't understand what my parents had done in adopting us, especially children from Ethiopia, but the impact on our extended family was immediate. I had Canadian relatives and cousins from Korea. If we got into fights at school, it wasn't because we were adopted. If we didn't understand what a word meant, it wasn't because we were adopted. My mother made sure that fact never creeped into conversation and she didn't let it define us.

But that didn't mean we were oblivious to the fact that Linda and I had white parents and my parents had black children. This one time we were visiting D.C. and my mother had to take us kids and leave the city. She had been so excited to come to America, to buy copies of Essence and Ebony magazine so she could learn how to comb our hair and buy the products she needed to tame our unruly afros. But she was getting it from both sides -- white people couldn't understand what this Swedish woman was doing with two little Ethiopian children, and black people would be constantly asking her a thousand questions. This was the 1970's and there weren't celebrities adopting children from African countries. I was about eight years old at the time and I can remember thinking Anne Marie was most disappointed because her expectations of that trip were not met; how times had changed when I accompanied my mom to a conference for adopted children and their families in our nation's capital some 30 years later.

My father loved to take us on historical vacations and you should have seen the stares we received in East Berlin. We had just come from the West -- the people were so diverse and colorful -- but the eastern part of Germany was so gray and we stood out, my tall Swedish parents and their three small children with jackets, gloves and hair that put Michael Jackson and Prince to shame. Here, I remember the looks we got, but by that time our family had gotten used to it. We knew we had different skin colors and were from different countries, but that never stopped my parents from doing the hard work of parenting. My parents were there: in front of me, behind me, in the middle of my life at all times: reprimanding me, giving me confidence, teaching me valuable lessons, to help make me the man I am today.

A dozen times a week, easily, I am stopped on the street by someone -- most often a woman -- who tells me that she is the mother of an adopted child. More and more, over the past few years, these women have adopted a child from Ethiopia and they've read about me or seen me on TV and know my story. While I love to hear these stories, I always wonder when will be the time the "norm" will flip on its head again. Will there be black parents adopting white kids? I'm waiting for the moment when some rich Nigerian man decides he wants to adopt an Asian child. Is this happening yet and if not, what will it take to change the conversation? In an open-minded world, everything is a possibility.

When I ride the subway back and forth, sometimes I look at the other passengers and wonder if any of them are children who have been adopted or parents who have adopted. That clearly wasn't the case for me -- it was obvious we weren't Anne Marie and Lennart's biological children. Not knowing and wondering how many people on that train might come from blended families gives me hope that in time we'll see a broader range of cross-race adoptions and it will seem as commonplace as a Swedish family adopting two siblings from Ethiopia seems today. And once we achieve that, we'll find momentum to start another conversation.