Marcus Samuelsson’s story is amazing.
He was born in Ethiopia, and when he was only three his mother walked for days with her two children to get medical care to treat their tuberculosis. Sadly, his mother did not make it, but Marcus and his sister received the care they needed to recover. A year later they were adopted into a loving family and brought up in Sweden. It was the love of cooking that his Swedish grandmother instilled in him which he credits for guiding him to where he is today. He has risen to become a world-renowned chef and author of Yes, Chef; A Memoir in which he details his fascinating life.
Me with Chef Marcus Samuelsson at Red Rooster
While in New York City for the Blogher conference I had the pleasure to meet Chef Marcus Samuelsson and check out his acclaimed Red Rooster Restaurant in Harlem. He has created a vibrant atmosphere in which to serve what he describes as American comfort food with hints of his Swedish and African roots. While there, he greeted us with the same easy smile and warm welcoming manner with which he seemed to grace all those he encountered. He graciously took us on a tour downstairs to Ginny’s Supper Club , which is fashioned as a modern speakeasy and opened in 2012 as a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance. The food was amazing and the ambiance electric, so if you are looking for a cool night out, Red Rooster is where you want to go.
A drink called Yes, Chef
A huge part of any foreign travel for me is the opportunity to taste different cuisines. The food we experienced on our trip to Saudi Arabia last month was as consistently abundant as it was delicious. I would describe the traditional dishes we tasted as Middle Eastern with a touch of Indian flavor. Our first night we went to the Fakher Dein Palace restaurant on the 11th floor of the Faisaliah Tower. I was enchanted by the interior set to feel like a tented desert palace, and from the outdoor balcony we could see beautiful sweeping views of the vast city on three sides of the building. It was the perfect beginning on our first night in Riyadh. The buffet style allowed us to try an assortment of dishes. We sat inside the tented decor, and on the balcony just outside our window sat a group of young twenty something girlfriends. They ate and laughed, and took tons of photos together and of each other. Only their eyes were visible through their hijabs, but other than the way they were dressed, they reminded me of myself with a group of friends on a typical girls night out.
Breakfast in our hotel was also a grand buffet that served both western and Saudi cuisine. My favorite part of the breakfast assortment was the daily fresh honeycomb that was set out to be sliced into by the guests. My other favorite was the always-present delicious kiwi tasting fruit that I had never heard of before (I love coming across a new fruit!) called a Pitaya or Dragon Fruit, which is imported to the KSA from Asia.
Holding the Oud burner
One night we were taken to a traditional Saudi Arabian meal at Najd Village. Housed in historic mud brick architecture with an open courtyard in the middle, meals are served in the custom of sitting on the floor. We were the only foreigners in the place, and with women in the party we had been directed to enter through the back “family entrance”. The meal began with the tradition of Qahwa (Arabic coffee) and dates being served. The food was laid out family style over a long runner on the floor. Food served in this manner is customarily eaten with the right hand or with bread. We passed around dishes of hummus, Baba ghanoush, and Tabbouleh, to be dipped into with flat breads called Fatir and Kimaje. Entrees of Kapsa, a traditional chicken and rice dish, and mild curried stews of lamb, beef or potato were passed around and accompanied by Saudi style rice as we each tried to taste from the multitude of offerings. After the meal a chalice of burning incense made of wood chips and called Oud was passed around to each person twice, and we were encouraged to let the smoke permeate our clothes to leave it’s perfumed scent.
On our penultimate evening in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia we were taken to a palace for dinner. We ate in Al Orjouan restaurant at the the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. The Ritz resides in a royal palace built to entertain guests and dignitaries, supposedly for the king, which for some sort of security reason was never utilized by the royal family. The Ritz-Carlton opened there in 2011. I have never stepped foot into such an opulent space. This structure and its details make the Newport Mansions look like cabins. Massive buffet stations sprawled through the restaurant, and because this was a festive occasion we were given glasses of Saudi Arabian “champagne”. Alcohol is forbidden in the Muslim religion, and is illegal in the KSA, so Saudi champagne tasted like the fizzy white grape juice we have at home. In the courtyard of the hotel lives a beautiful knotted olive tree estimated to be around six hundred years old. In the last hundred years that olive tree has stood witness to the transformation of Saudi Arabia from a nomadic tribal culture to a bursting modern city. In modern day Riyadh you can find many different types of food, including an array of American chain restaurants. Through the changed the traditional cuisine has maintained its long standing regional integrity, and many of the same dishes served in tents a hundred years ago are still commonly eaten here today. It is all so tasty, I can see why.
This is one of my favorite dessert recipes because it looks as good as it tastes. I’ll never forget when my friend Karen Vernacchio walked into a dinner party carrying it years ago. I could not believe she had made that beautiful fruit tart herself, and certainly did not believe her when she said it was actually easy to make!
She was kind enough to share her recipe with me back then, so you really have her to thank for what I am about to share with you. It has since become my staple, simple yet elegant dessert for entertaining. I am grateful to her every time I make it. I even keep the non-perishable ingredients in my pantry, (I almost always have milk, butter and cream cheese in my fridge) so in a pinch I can just grab the fresh berries and whip it up.
White Chocolate Fruit Tart
¾ c. softened butter
1 ½ c. confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ c. flour
1 bag White chocolate chips
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
½ c. milk
Kiwi, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries
(These are my usual toppings but Karen has made it with bananas, and I have made it with pineapple too, so it is really whatever design you come up with)
¼ c. sugar
1 T. cornstarch
½ c. pineapple juice
Preheat oven to 300. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in flour. Press mixture into 12 inch round tart pan, or pizza pan. Bake 20 min. until lightly browned. Cool completely. In a saucepan, melt chocolate and milk until smooth. Add cream cheese and mix until smooth. Spread over crust to cool.
Arrange kiwi, and berries on top of filling. In a saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch, stir in Dole pineapple juice. Stir constantly until thick. Drizzle over fruit topping. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour until it has set.