Marcus Samuelsson has made a name for himself in comfort food, from the international fusion of Red Rooster to the rotisserie chicken restaurant Streetbird Rotisserie, both in Harlem.
But like any good chef, he also has his eye on local, fresh, spring produce, which is filling up farmer’s markets across the city.
We spoke with Samuelsson during a brief break from filming the Food Network’s “Chopped,” on which he’s a judge, about health-conscious dining, spring produce and how he stays fit himself.
How much do you think about healthy options when it comes to your restaurants?
Springtime sort of evokes that, right? You think right away about peas, fiddleheads, mushrooms — all these things that lead to spring. I think that with springtime, obviously taste will always be no. 1, and then you think about freshness and local. I think today we live in a world where the definition of good food has a health aspect, and deliciousness, and low calories. I think that the idea of what good food is is a little broader today.
Do you see diners becoming more health conscious in your restaurants?
I think when people come to a restaurant, it can be for a celebration, for a good time. But also, Hey, I’m just eating vegetarian this week. It’s a very personal thing. At the restaurant, your job is to have delicious food and to also give people options and value. We focus a lot on our sides. Not just our big proteins, we have those too, but more vegetable-focused [sides].
What spring produce are you looking forward to using?
You think about artichoke, fiddleheads, ramps, rhubarb — those are all spring items that we can’t wait for as chefs. Spring is a big deal for chefs because we’ve been using mostly root vegetables over the winter, which is all delicious vegetables, but now, you want to have something a little bit lighter.
How do you stay healthy personally? You’re a big bike rider, right?
I run a lot in the park [Central Park]. That’s my time to think about food and to keep my sanity. Riding bikes would be something I do a lot in the neighborhood, I go from Streetbird to Red Rooster a lot by bike. They do two different things for me.
How often do you get out running?
I try to run three days, four days a week, when I can. It’s one of those things I can always bring with me — I can run no matter where I am.
Do you do long distance runs?
I like to run like 6 miles, so I can think through the whole day, think through where I’m going.
Do you ever work out at a gym?
I try to go to the park. I grew up in Sweden where the outdoors is a big thing. Putting on a couple of layers and going out running, it’s not that hard for me.
What are your healthy go-to snacks?
Just sauteing something as simple as peas — I might saute that with shallots and garlic and lemon zest. It’s not something you have to eat warm. It can sit out for a long time, you can soak it up with some bread. Even simmered artichoke with olive oil is the perfect bar snack.
What’s the best way to prepare the artichoke?
One way is to take the artichoke and simmer it on really low heat in a little bit of water and olive oil until it becomes really tender, and just pick the artichoke. It’s one of the most delicious things you can enjoy, really sucking on the back end of the artichoke is so delicious. Or you can cut the hearts out and put them on the grill. It’s a completely different flavor because you’re now charring with high heat.