What role does nutrition play when you are planning a recipe for Red Rooster?
I think that healthy cooking has so many different angles. At Red Rooster, our menu reflects that. We always offer a big seasonal salad, a very light fish dish, and a different take on macaroni and cheese that we call mac and greens. There are numerous ways to think about healthy cooking and to balance the food that you eat.
You are involved in several charities, including UNICEF and C-Cap (Careers through Culinary Arts Program), which helps pair disadvantaged high school grads with the restaurant and hospitality industry. Why is this work so important to you?
It's my obligation. We are a successful restaurant. At the end of the day, I think to myself, I came to this country and I was treated fairly, so I have an obligation to give something back. I'm a firm believer in "inspire/aspire," in inspiring someone to aspire to be something, and I feel like I can carry that message to young people.
Out of all the different types of cuisine you have cooked, do you have one favorite food?
I am a big fan of Japanese food. It's such a diverse cuisine and culture. For a Western chef, sushi is the hardest cuisine to learn and to understand. It's very cerebral and very challenging.
What do you like to cook at home for yourself and your wife?
Lots of vegetables. I like to cook ramen noodles with lots of fresh vegetables. I also like to do Ethiopian chickpea puree, and grilled fennel, and Swedish meatballs with roasted potatoes.
What five ingredients do you always stock in your pantry at home?
Good olive oil, rice wine vinegar, Ethiopian berbere spice mix, Ethiopian chickpea puree, and couscous.
What's for dinner tonight?
Jerked veal tongue buns. We're very excited about that.
After two decades or more in the kitchen, how do you maintain your passion for your work?
My work leads me into passion through its challenges. Opening Red Rooster in Harlem, putting a restaurant in a food desert and helping to turn this neighborhood around is a big part of that. It's very exciting.