Harlem’s Best Fried Chicken Arrives in London

Marcus Samuelsson reflects on food, politics, and cooking for Obama

Chef Marcus Samuelsson at the new Red Rooster in London's Shoreditch neighborhood.

Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

Red Rooster became a hit in Harlem thanks to chef Marcus Samuelsson’s take on Southern comfort food—and became internationally famous because former President Barack Obama was a huge fan. He even held a fundraiser there. Today, the first foreign outpost of Red Rooster opens at the new Curtain Hotel in London’s hip Shoreditch neighborhood. 

About half the menu will be the same as the New York location: There will still be chicken ’n waffles for £10 ($13), fried yard bird (£19) and the Obama short ribs (£33), a recipe fit for a president. (Check it out below.) But he’s using some local ingredients and adding dishes to reflect his background, such as Uncle T’s herring (£8). Plus, there will be a taqueria called Tienda Roosteria.

Samuelsson, 46, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, became a star early in his career. More than two decades ago, when he was in his early 20s, he earned a three-star review from The New York Times as the chef at Aquavit. Now his brand and marketing empire has expanded to restaurants in Bermuda, Sweden, and Norway, and he’s a regular on shows such as “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America.”

He spoke with Bloomberg in London on the eve of the opening. The interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Why London and why Shoreditch?

Growing up in Sweden, London has always been the big city that you have ambition for. I just felt that East London would do us a level of mystique for me—and also for our customers, in that they’ve been to London many times, but mostly on the West side.

What will the taqueria be like?

We are inspired by Mexico, but we are not trying to be authentic. We are trying to be delicious. We’re doing some tacos that are traditional and some that are not. We’re doing one we call Addis Taco that starts with injera bread. It’s the shape of a taco, and you pick it up with your hand, but it has Ethiopian flavors. We make all our tortillas here, and we have all Latin staff, which helps for flavor. We’ll do vegetarian tacos so we will roast cauliflower and do salsa with that, and breakfast tacos and stuff like that.

How would you describe your food? Do you use the term soul food?

I don’t actually, not that often. It depends who I am speaking to. If you’re not a foodie and you just need to know in one phrase what it is, it’s modern soul food. But soul food itself, it’s not a cuisine. It is Southern cooking. It’s the food of the migration. It is inspired by me as an immigrant: deep roots in Scandinavia, so you will see some techniques with herring and so on. And then the African in me. Where did America get its Southern food from? It got so much from Africa through the slave trade.

Do you think of yourself as a black chef?

I think of myself as a chef, period. We all have different narratives. Being a good chef is about understanding yourself.  Growing up in Europe, all we were taught was French food or Swedish food. Going to Japan and Singapore changed my life. Then, as I lived in America, then your African-American identity becomes stronger around food.

You famously cooked for Obama. What do you make of the election of Donald Trump?

He can do everything he wants but diversity is not a label. Our family was extremely diverse, even though we grew up in a not-so-diverse country. My aunty was Jewish, my cousins were Koreans, my other cousins, my sisters and I were mixed, my [adoptive] parents were white, my cousins were Canadians. What I think we can draw from this is that the art will be better than ever, resistance will be better than ever, music will be better than ever, food will be better than ever.

Short ribs fit for a president.
Photographer: Bobby Fisher

Obama’s Short Ribs

Short ribs marry with many flavor combinations, and they taste much more expensive than they are. I chose plum sauce as an accent to this super-delicious braise; it adds an elusive flavor. We served this as part of a special menu when President Obama came to the Red Rooster, and it’s a hit every time we put it back on.

Serves 4

You’ll have extra braising liquid. Freeze it in ice cube trays, and you’ll have flavor bombs to use in pan sauces or pasta.

4 (230g/8oz) boneless short ribs
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed, smashed and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (2.5cm/1in) piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
120ml/4fl oz dry red wine
750ml/26fl oz beef or chicken stock
120ml/4fl oz plum sauce
60ml/2fl oz soy sauce
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
2 bay leaves
Horseradish, preferably freshly grated, for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
  2. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and season all over with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the grapeseed oil in a large casserole over a medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the short ribs and brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Put them aside on a plate.
  4. Add the onion, carrot, celery, lemongrass, garlic and ginger to the pot. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring to dissolve any of the brown bits that may still be on the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, plum sauce, soy sauce, thyme, parsley and bay leaves, and bring to a simmer. Return the short ribs to the pot, along with any of the juices, cover, and slide the pot into the oven. Braise until the meat is fork-tender, about 1½ hours.
  5. Transfer the meat to a plate. Strain the braising liquid into a fat separator. Discard the bay leaves and put the vegetables into a food processor. Process until smooth.
  6. Add 360ml/12½fl oz of the defatted braising liquid to the processor and pulse to combine. Return the sauce to the casserole and check for salt and pepper.
  7. Bury the short ribs in the sauce, cover and leave on the back of the stove until you’re ready to serve.
  8. Reheat the short ribs in the sauce.
  9. Divide the short ribs between four shallow bowls. Top each with a spoonful of sauce. Put the rest of the sauce in a bowl for passing round at the table, along with a bowl of horseradish if you’d like.

The recipe is extracted from “Red Rooster Harlem: The Cookbook” (£25), published in the U.K. this month by Pavilion Books.

Red Rooster Shoreditch, 45 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3PT. Tel. +44-20-3146-4545. 

Richard Vines is chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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