What's Your Soul Food Remix?

Korean ban chan at Plaza Market For the last four years, I've been able to travel throughout the country, meeting people and hearing their personal stories, and sharing my own. I've witnessed the history of artisan food in Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, the artistic sensibility of Austin restauranteurs, and the budding food scene in Oakland, California. I've met with chefs, readers, fans, and cooks who all celebrate food and culture in their own ways, and want to share what they're doing.

What's become clear is that food is a lifeblood to all communities, and it's been how I've been able to connect with everyone across cultures. Making and enjoying food is practicing our culture with family and friends, but it's communicating it with everyone . Like great music, great food doesn't have barriers between people.

Vegetable consommee

We as a community are redefining soul food, and it's evident in the attention to detail. Chefs and home cooks care about ingredients--that's why we're seeing community gardens, ingredients from local farmers, and gourmet artisan products replacing artificial processed store items in our pantries.

We're paying attention to flavors too, and changing them up. From pickling our own vegetables to experimenting with new spice blends, we're owning our food and taking pride in it, because pride in community, pride in food, and pride in culture are one and the same. The food I make has grown out of cooking Swedish cuisine with my grandmother, to a cuisine that layers those flavors with African and American influences.


I watched Byron Hurt's documentary Soul Food Junkies about his father's obesity, and 'soul food obsession.' One of many takeaways from the film is the role of soul food. As he shows, fried chicken and collard greens aren't just delicious, but they represent family and friends coming together to cook. It's always been about home-made, personal cooking that builds community, but its bad rap has come from an association with fast food, piled-on fats and salt, and the rise of obesity.

Let's take soul food back to its best meaning, which is food that has meaning to our souls. It's not fast, but slow, and not bought, but made, and influenced by our families, neighborhoods, and styles.

This is the beginning of a series in which we will ask the same questions of people with different backgrounds and stories: What's your Soul Food Remix? I'm talking about traditional foods and recipes that you grew up with, interpreted by you. How do you make your mother's meatloaf different? What spices to add to your burger to make it your own? Maybe your Mac-N-Cheese doesn't have all the fat but still maintains plenty of taste...what's your trick?

I begin this topic by asking you to send me Tweets and Facebook posts using #SoulFoodRemix or commenting on this article below. I want to start a dialogue that we can continue to explore and I look forward to hearing from you.


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VIDEO: Marcus Talks Food & Community with Rohan Anderson

marcus at Apolis In L.A. to promote "Yes, Chef", Marcus joined Australian forager, farmer and author of "Whole Larder Love" Rohan Anderson for a evening of cocktails and conversation at Apolis: Common Gallery. A lifestyle boutique with an eye towards global advocacy, Apolis was started by brothers Raan and Shea Parton who encourage social change by promoting local sourcing and manufacturing. What a fitting place for Marcus, Rohan and moderator Elvis Mitchell of KCRW radio to speak on how their profession impacts community for Apolis' inaugural speaking series.

Check out the video below and click here for more photos from the night.

Film: Food and Community, Apolis: Common Gallery from Apolis on Vimeo.

Film: dot&cross Editor: Nate Gray Music: Kevin Matley

"Yes, Chef" Paperback Launch with Converse

Yes, Chef Party

Fresh off wins for an IACP and James Beard Award, we took "Yes, Chef" to another part of town to properly fête the book's paperback release. Having had a very successful and proper tour coast-to-coast and overseas for the hardcover last July, this time was all about the B-Sides of the book, a grittier, edgier look at the untold stories from the memoir and a peek into Marcus's other loves aside from cooking: art, music, fashion, culture and lifestyle. For this intrepid mission, we headed to the big bad lands of Willliamsburg, Brooklyn.

Held in probably one of the coolest places in Brooklyn (and that's saying a lot), the paperback launch party for Marcus's memoir "Yes, Chef" was hosted at Converse Rubber Tracks, the eternally hip sneaker brand's music studio on Hope Street. Part music studio, part event space, the setting was the perfect backdrop to the party complete with local street art adorning the walls and an American flag fashioned out of Converse high tops.

Scroll down to see all the photos from the night.

Guests munched on eats courtesy of Red Rooster's Joel Harrington, who assembled a bevy of bites including duck tacos, lobster ceviche, pork belly buns, fried green tomatoes with bacon, goat cheese balls with watermelon--and that was just the hors d'oeuvres. The party goers tucked into Rooster's Mac-n-Greens, Shrimp and Dirty Rice, and Smokey Caesar Salad at the stations.

Brooklyn Gin served up refreshing Brooklyn 75's, the brand new distillery's ode to the French 75 while Newburgh Beer poured four exceptional drafts, including their new C.A.F.E. Sour, made from Ethiopian coffee, whole grain teff and gesho leaves...a fitting ode to Marcus. Speaking of fitting, special thanks to GANT Rugger who outfitted the staff with killer denim aprons and a beyond awesome outfit for the man of the hour, in addition to the sunglasses that were gifted to every guest at the end of the night. VOSS water and Travel & Leisure generously donated product and support to make this event a roaring success.

Yes, Chef Party Yes, Chef Party

But no party of Marcus's could be complete without some incredible music. Bringing some serious uptown beats downtown, the night started with hip hop dancer Sylvia and her friend Tai, followed by couple songs by Kissey Asplund and Farrah Burns. Not only talented in their own right, we're also proud to have them as part of our Rooster family.

The crowning glory of the night went to the band Smokey Robotic, who not only wowed the crowd with their superfuturistic funk beats, but actually got Marcus to jump on stage and jump around with this crew.

Party goers were outfitted with killer GANT sunglasses at the end of the night.

If you were at the party, you know how seriously talented this group is...and if you weren't there you'll be able to check them live when we host them at Ginny's Supper Club in August. Being our Harlem neighbors we're looking to show them some continued Rooster love.

Many thanks to all who made the night possible and for your continued support of Marcus and "Yes, Chef". We are going on the road again for an abbreviated tour around the country, so stay tuned to find out if we'll be hitting your town.



Converse Team

Benjamin Julia Jason Thome Jed Lewis

Gant Team

Chris Bastin Douglas Geller

Chris Basso and the Newburgh Beer crew

Reid Dougherty and the Brooklyn Gin crew

VOSS Water

Travel & Leisure

The Boys from Smokey Robotic

Seer Father Dude Konrad OldMoney !llMind

Sylvia, Tai and Decadence Dance Farrah Burns Kissey Asplund

Photos Courtesy of Michael McCarthy (@iamthelizardkng)

For more stories about "Yes, Chef":

"Yes, Chef" Wins James Beard Award "Yes, Chef" on the Radio "Yes, Chef" B-Sides: Marcus Talks Pranks and Celebrity Crushes Scenes from a "Yes, Chef" Summer "Yes, Chef" Tomato and Watermelon Salad

Is Your Child the Next Great Chef?

Mario Batali, Cooking, Child, Kid

Don't worry, I'm not trying to put pressure on you! I'm a firm believer that people find their own passions. In fact, my mother would be the first to say that being a chef was the last occupation she would've ever pushed me towards for the simple fact that she has never enjoyed cooking. But she also was very encouraging when it became clear that I loved being in the kitchen, even if it meant that I spent more time in her mother's kitchen than in ours. 

Scroll to the bottom for some famous chefs who started early!

Unlike our home, my Grandmother Helga treated her house like a mini food factory--she made everything from scratch so her pantry was always filled with homemade jams made from berries she grew in her front yard, pickles and bread. (I can argue Helga was the original hipster.)

As I write in Yes, Chef: "It took me exactly seven minutes to cut across the nature preserve that abutted our property, speed down the road on the other side, and make it up the long driveway to my grandparents' house. I dumped the bike at the foot of their steps, took the stairs two at a time, and walked as fast as I could to Mormor's kitchen. She'd look at me standing there out of breath and say, 'Ah, there you are. Come. I have a job for you.' She would pull out a stool and set me to string rhubarb or shell peas or pluck a chicken. I was only too happy to have Mormor to myself."

I credit my grandmother for teaching me to love and respect food. She taught me how to waste nothing, to make sure I used every bit of the chicken and boil the bones till no flavor could be extracted from them. Being in the kitchen with her also exposed me to preserving process and tradition--she shared stories from a family I wasn't born into but was innately mine. Cooking for my father and uncle, I learned a different kind of lesson. "Marcus, if you don't cook, we don't eat," my father would joke. They were already allowing me to help with the boats when we went out fishing, but by preparing the entire dinner for them, I was eager to show I was a big man.

Children want to mimic adults. They notice when you choose to prepare fresh vegetables over calling in another pizza pie for dinner. They will see that food made with love and care outweighs going through the drive-through window. Time spent at the dining table and in the kitchen, you can talk to your children while teaching them how to take pride in making dishes with their own hands. If they're age appropriate, give them lessons on how to handle a knife or what sautéing means--these require adult supervision but they'll want to be careful and show that you can trust them. Incorporating healthy eating early on becomes engrained in these sponge-like minds, so choose to cook with whole grains and less fat when you can. Introduce your children to diverse flavors and textures and open up their palates.

I learned at a young age what chasing flavors meant and I've been doing that my whole life. As an ode to Helga, her Swedish meatball recipeis a permanent dish on the Red Rooster menu. But I'm not the only one...many of my chef friends started their culinary careers as kids and I've got the proof. I'll be sending out a photo of some of your favorite celeb chefs when they were in diapers (hint: one of them got into some bizarre foods early on) every day starting today on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+. Guess who the chef is by using @MarcusCooks and #YesChef for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of "Yes, Chef".

Want to help someone become the next great chef? Support C-Cap here.

This post originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com

"Yes, Chef" Wins James Beard and IACP Awards

yes chef hi res Congratulations to Marcus for “Yes, Chef” being honored in the Literary Writing category at the James Beard and International Association of Culinary Professionals awards. “In the great tradition of Harlem storytellers, I’m very happy the book got recognized by these amazing institutions. Beyond humbled and honored.”

If you still haven’t picked up a copy, the paperback edition of “Yes, Chef” will be available for sale at retail outlets, online and at our Nook starting on May 21st.

For more YES, Chef related news