Uptown comes alive every May when the Harlem Eatup! Festival begins and is hosted by world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson.
Perhaps the most intimate and touching event in this one-week neighborhood celebration of Harlem restaurants, local and international cuisine, culinary skills, arts, and culture, is the prestigious Luminary Awards Dinner.
Local figures, celebrities and festival guests gathered at Ginny’s Supper Club, in the basement of Samuelsson’s Red Rooster restaurant, to honor award recipients: Harlem cultural doyenne Lana Turner; New York’s 106th mayor, David N. Dinkins; and the life and career of entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker.
A jazz band played as the evening crowd assembled and were treated to tasty hors d’oeuvres, like Caviar with Chive Cream Puffs. Award-winning sommelier and vintner André Mack, of Maison Noir Wines vineyard, provided guests with his exquisite wine, “Love Drunk” Rosé Willamette Valley. The secret to the aromatic wine’s fruity, smooth taste was revealed by Mack: “It’s my chardonnay with 23% pinot noir. I created it as I was developing a sparkling wine that will debut in 2020.”
A Luminary Award was presented to Harlem fashion icon Lana Turner, who walked to the front of the room dressed in a beautiful bright orange dress with a black beret boasting a thin eight-inch cone on top. With obvious love in his heart, Samuelsson introduced her as a mentor who took him under her wing when he first came to Harlem. Ever an ardent admirer of Turner’s style, the Red Rooster has had an exhibition of her dazzling hats.
One main course was an innovative creation by Mashama Bailey, chef/owner of The Grey Restaurant in Savanah, GA, which is located in a formally-segregated 1938, art deco Greyhound Bus station. Her Smoked Georgia Whiting with spring chow chow and egg dressing had a perfect blend of seasoning, which added flavor to the light, flaky fish. Judging by Bailey’s menu contribution, it’s no wonder she was able to share a recent achievement with the guests: “I’ve won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.” It’s a just reward for a chef who re-appropriated a historic building.
A sister entrée of Crispy Duck Breast (rice grits, farm greens and plum sauce) was also on a menu with items curated by Samuelsson, Bailey and Emma Bengtsson, the first female Swedish chef to be honored with two Michelin stars for her cuisine at the NYC restaurant Aquavit. The entrées were perfectly paired with a Rosella Pinot Noir by legendary vintner Edward Lee McDonald, known as “Mac.” He’s the proprietor of Vision Cellars, and as a pioneering wine maker he was a founding member of the Association of African American Vintners.
Before the Honorable David Dinkins was called to the stage, Marcus Samuelsson, recalled his experience of receiving negative feedback in Europe when he shared his ambition about opening his own restaurant. His dad gave him good advice: “Move to New York … They elected a black mayor … There will be room for a black chef.” There Samuelsson stood, winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in America in 2003, giving the festival’s high honor to a man who has been a guiding light to so many, Mayor Dinkins.
The last course of the evening was the very delicate and sweet Arctic Birds Nest Goat Cheese Parfait (blueberry sorbet and yogurt snow), served with a shot of Hudson Bay Bourbon Whiskey.
A’Lelia Bundles graciously accepted a Luminary Award on behalf of her great-great-grandmother Madame C.J. Walker. Proceeds from Walker’s hair products helped make her the wealthiest African-American in America in the early 1900s. Showing just how small the world is, Bundles acknowledged David Dinkins’ presence: “Mayor Dinkins and my mother went to Howard together.” She then shared how her famous ancestor viewed her success: “She thought real power was her ability to provide jobs.”
There was love and admiration in the room, gourmet food on the plates, exquisite wine in long stem glasses and fitting tributes to the heart and soul of Harlem’s community.