In addition to the quality of programming, Sundance offers invaluable access to well-known creatives. Of course, one’s mind immediately wanders to famous directors or TV stars, but at any given moment attendees can be speaking with the best composers, choreographers, editors and even chefs. At the Stella Artois Filmmaker Lounge, Red Rooster mastermind Marcus Samuelsson catered a global menu—drawing inspiration for each dish from the many nations that the world water crisis charity Water.org impacts. We spoke with Samuelsson about charity, his recent book and the new London restaurant—and even grabbed hold of a unique cocktail recipe he envisioned for the occasion.
Let’s start with what brings you to Sundance: your partnership with Stella Artois and Water.org.
My wife and I are from Ethiopia so clean water is a big issue for us. It’s very close to us. Finding this partnership, where you can actually buy a lady a drink—or anyone a drink—and make a difference, that’s amazing by itself.
How long have you been interested in or active with the combatting the world water crisis?
I think it started in my late 20s when I met my Ethiopian family. And I was like, “Whoa my sisters have to walk an hour and a half to get clean water?” But also, it was beyond that. It hit home. It wasn’t foreign to me. After that, I knew I had to do something—on my own, with my wife. Then we began partnering with other organizations. In the West, you never think about water. But this hits the developing world very much.
Up next for you, you’ve got a London restaurant on the horizon. What’s the timeline and what can people expect?
We think late spring or early summer. Once we knew we would miss our fall deadline, we thought, “Let’s just wait and do it right.” Red Rooster Shoreditch, we are really just so excited about it. It will be awesome. Shoreditch is such a creative community.
At times like this, content and culture will be a way to bring people together, and with Harlem being a creative hub—nothing makes me happier
When looking at Harlem now, how have you witnessed it change?
Harlem is going through this incredible time where obviously food is continuing to grow in importance. Not just at Red Rooster but through our food festival. It’s also a film community now. Every day when I walked to work I see more organizations making culture. People want to tell stories. At times like this, content and culture will be a way to bring people together, and with Harlem being a creative hub—nothing makes me happier.
What keeps you motivated in the food world?
First of all, I’m a food nerd. I am deep down so passionate about food. When I first began partnering food and content, I wasn’t sure they’d be a match. Today, we all try to tell stories through food. We have all become passionate about that.
Then what’s captivating you in the food world right now, as a food nerd?
I think honestly Peru’s moment right now is very interesting—going beyond the ceviche. Learning about the different chiles and potatoes. This is so fun.
For the Stella Filmmaker Lounge at Sundance, you put together a global menu pertaining to all the nations that Water.org is focusing on in this partnership. Can you explain your process here and how you made a meal from six different source countries?
We felt like in the small bites section Peru is always good. But we also said, “Let’s not make a ceviche” because it would have been so expected. So we went in there with a little bit of potato and crab. The Ethiopian dish, Dora Watt, I have done many times for my wife. But we changed it. Thinking about Uganda and Kenya, we approached it more with Indian eyes because we know there is a lot of Indian inspiration to their cuisine. We started with making staff meals from all of these places in December. It was sharing an experience and condensing it into dishes.
Did you feel like you had the knowledge base already to make this menu or did it require research?
You never have the knowledge. It’s not all there. I have a diverse staff and this is important. They sometimes tell me how to do it. I never have it all figured out. A diverse team helps you and humbles you.
The “Red Rooster Cookbook” is my love letter to Harlem
You also just had a cookbook come out. For those who don’t have it yet, what can they expect?
The “Red Rooster Cookbook” is my love letter to Harlem. You know, there are so many great stories beyond the restaurant. It’s telling the community of Harlem how lucky we are to be there. There are over 60 recipes and they’re accompanied by amazing stories. It’s fun food to cook around and stuff you can really bring your family to. I always want to connect the past to the present. Through a book it’s powerful.
And what about the cocktail?
I think actually the Cidre from Stella is a hidden little treasure. I asked, “How can I make it taste fresher?” I brought in ginger and lemongrass. I mashed some bananas, as well, because you never have them in cocktails. It was just fun.
How long did it take to develop?
Same thing here… you had to drink a lot. But it was building upon Cidre and citrus. Trial and error. Three weeks, I’d say.
Stella Artois Cidre Banana Spritz
1 oz diced banana
1⁄2 oz guava juice
1 oz lemongrass simple syrup (see below)
1⁄2 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 oz Stella Artois Cidre
3 oz pebble ice cubes
1 basil leaf
1 sprinkle mitmita or berbere (purchase at local spice merchant)
Place banana and guava juice in a shaker and muddle until chunky, but not mashed. Add the lemongrass syrup, lemon juice, and pebble ice and shake for seven seconds. Pour into a large wine glass and top off with the Stella Artois Cidre. Add a basil leaf and sprinkle with the Ethiopian spice.
Lemongrass Simple Syrup
8 lemongrass stalks, smashed and chopped
16 oz sugar
16 oz water
Bring water and sugar to a rolling boiling, stirring occasionally. Add the lemongrass to the pot and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain the syrup.
Portrait courtesy of Red Rooster, all other images courtesy of Getty