The Rare Books Room downtown at The Strand Bookstore, served as the perfect backdrop to discuss Yes, Chef—the room was nothing short of magical, with a library rich in content, an audience feasting on the words of Marcus and his hostess and a thick summer air that settled over the space causing us all to lean in a little closer. Sitting in front of stacks that included first editions written and signed by Stephen King and volumes of The New Yorker, Marcus spoke candidly about the stories that fill the pages of his memoir and reminded the audience that his world truly is an inspiring one.
The Q&A, hosted by New York Times writer and Food 52 founder Amanda Hesser had Marcus reliving moments of his early days as a chef, offering advice to those searching for that one inspirational meal and of course, finding time to reminisce with Hesser who once had the opportunity to impress Marcus in the Aquavit kitchen with her cooking, writing and grasp of the French language when she shadowed him for a piece written for the Times. So rarely do you find a conversation so engaging. Hesser, bold as always, was not afraid to ask the questions that often times seem off limits and Marcus was appropriately frank in his answers, not shying away from questions about death, drugs and gentrification.
He reminded us that “women are the most influential women in dining” yet somehow men seem to run the show. He brought us all back to Harlem, explained the difference from Brooklyn and told us the importance his success means to the community and to the visitor. “If we’re going to bring you all the way uptown you know we have to do it right.” He told us that Red Rooster is not just in Harlem, its grown in Harlem reminding us that nearly two-thirds of Rooster staff are Harlemites, but that there are also the electricians, designers, interns and retail neighbors that he and his staff utilize on a daily basis. This is the definition of a locally owned business.
After the discussion, the audience waited patiently for their books to be signed, sipping Ambessa iced tea and snacking on cookies from Red Rooster’s soon-to-be-unveiled Nook. A few lingered in the stacks as Marcus packed his things, both in awe of the treasures at Strand and amazed at the drive, passion and story behind one person’s life.