Chef Marcus Samuelsson Launches Harlem EatUp! Food Festival

Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson (center, in blue) is one of the organizers behind Harlem’s first food festival. Harlem EatUp! is a four-day festival (May 14-17) celebrating the food and culture of the historic New York neighborhood. Samuelsson spoke with ESSENCE about the what festivalgoers can expect and why a food festival is long overdue in Harlem.

Harlem is the epicenter of Black life in New York. It’s hard to believe there hasn’t been a food festival before. What made you want to bring a festival like this to Harlem?
I’ve always wanted to do something to truly celebrate Harlem. Together with Herb Karlitz, we came up with Harlem EatUp! which is a festival designed to celebrate the art, culture, and food but most importantly the community. Harlem has always been a vibrant neighborhood and we’re excited to be showcasing that this weekend.

What do you hope festival goers will get out of this?
There is truly is something for everyone, from the collaborative dinners on Friday evening, to the panel discussions, culinary demonstrations, performances, and delicious food on both Saturday and Sunday—with even family/kid-friendly activities planned for “A Sunday Afternoon in Harlem” on Sunday too. We hope people will come to Harlem and really enjoy themselves!

Did you ever imagine Harlem would become a restaurant destination?
Harlem is certainly a destination for restaurants now but the truth is it’s always had a lively dining scene. Restaurants like Sylvia’s have been around for many, many years and are institutions in the community. It’s amazing to see the neighborhood continue to prosper and grow with new restaurants opening.

So many people bemoan how Harlem has changed. How do you respond to that—as a business owner, and resident?
Change can be good. As long as we pause and remember to appreciate what was there before us. With new restaurants and businesses establishing roots in Harlem, there’s more people to learn from and more friends to be made.

What would you say is the difference between dining in Harlem as opposed to midtown Manhattan, or Brooklyn, per se?
Harlem has its own unique identity, it’s unlike any other place or neighborhood in New York City. The roots of Harlem are rich in history from the music, to the arts and soul food. You don’t get that in Midtown, maybe parts of Brooklyn but not in the same way. That being said though, Harlem is a part of what makes New York City so amazing.

Proceeds from festival ticket sales will be donated to Harlem Park to Park and Meals on Wheels. Click here for more info about Harlem EatUp!