Marcus Samuelsson's Inspiring Message to New York Restaurants

By Marcus Samuelsson; Illustration by Becki Kozel


Marcus Samuelsson; Illustration by Becki Kozel
An illustration of Chef Marcus Samuelsson
An illustration of Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Dear New York, 

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has dealt brutal blows to us all. The reach of the pandemic has extended to everyone, regardless of race, age or class. Back in March, Chef Floyd Cardoz became my first close friend to pass away from the coronavirus. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Americans have succumbed to this cruel disease.
In the midst of so much darkness, it can be difficult to find any light. However, it's important to remember the old adage that the worst of times can bring out the best in people. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that the saying is truer now than it’s ever been. 
Over these past few months, I’ve witnessed my companions and colleagues from the hospitality community step up in ways greater than I could have imagined. Through partnerships with organizations like World Central Kitchen, cooks, servers, dishwashers, porters, and more have risen to the challenge and supported their communities. In just our restaurants in Harlem, Newark and Miami, we’ve served over 200,000 meals to those who have needed it the most.
Seeing massive queues of folks waiting outside of our restaurants for a long-overdue meal made me reflect on what I cook and who I cook for. The thought of serving amuse bouches and tasting menus on white tablecloths and fine china became something rooted in the past. As chefs, we love to create and push boundaries, but there’s more to cooking than that. Going forward, we must find a balance between cooking to feed our souls and cooking to feed those in need.
Today, running a restaurant is so much about nourishing and healing the communities in which we live and work. And by communities, I mean our neighborhoods but also the hospitality community at large. After some of the most stressful and uncertain times ever in our industry, it’s paramount for cooks and chefs to check in on one another. My dear friend Jonathan Waxman recommended that I call or text two fellow chefs and restaurant workers every day, just to stay connected. Hearing the voices of chefs such as Nyesha Arrington, Edouardo Jordan, Daniel Boulud, and Eric Ripert really helped me stay sane and engaged. But it was the voices of the line cooks and dishwashers I talked to that proved just how strong this industry is. These folks who are the backbone of everything we do exuded dedication and commitment to service in the face of danger and uncertainty, setting an example for all of us.
The post-COVID-19 restaurant industry will certainly look dramatically different. Not only have so many establishments closed their doors for good, but there’s been a massive reevaluation of how restaurants should operate and build healthy cultures. We need to build an industry that supports not only the diners, but our staffs as well. Hospitality workers are essential workers, and it’s time to celebrate them with the recognition and respect they deserve.
For cooks and chefs, cooking is our way of healing and connecting with others. It’s time for all of us to keep cooking and creating. When this passes, our communities will need to be nourished by the experience that restaurants offer. I know that when that day comes, we’ll be there for them. I’ve never been prouder of being a part of this industry. Keep cooking and keep rising.
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