By Carly DeFilippo

Less than five years ago, the stretch of Harlem between Central Park North and 135th Street was, in the words of Chef Mike Garrett, “a total food desert.” But in October 2010, as the Executive Chef of Marcus Samuelsson’s first independent restaurant venture, Red Rooster, Mike and his staff opened a fine dining establishment that would forever change not just the food of this historic neighborhood, but the culture as well.

Chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Michael Garrett pose with their namesake "Red Rooster"

Marcus Samuelsson and Mike Garrett represent Red Rooster at the New York Wine & Food Festival. Credit: MarcusSamuelsson.com

In 2011, Red Rooster received a rave two-star review from Sam Sifton in the New York Times, but its influence went far beyond great food. The restaurant, whose cuisine pulled from the ethnic backgrounds of the neighborhoods’ many diverse communities, was a galvanizing force in introducing downtown diners to the emerging uptown scene. Today, Red Rooster is in good company—playing the wise, inspiring neighbor to such celebrated newcomers as The Cecil, Barawine and 67 Orange Street.

But back before Chef Mike was revolutionizing Harlem’s culinary culture, he was just a 17-year-old dishwasher in upstate New York. When one of the prep cooks didn’t show up for work, the executive chef asked, “Do you know how to make a burger?” One brutal day on the grill station taught the inexperienced young chef to never underestimate the nuances of any dish—no matter how simple it seems.

Posing with his fellow ICE Chef Instructors and NY Jets greats Willie Colon and Damon "Snacks" Harrison.

Chef Mike, posing with his fellow ICE Chef Instructors and NY Jets players Willie Colon and Damon “Snacks” Harrison.

Mike continued cooking through college as a way to earn money, jumping from hotels to bakeries to restaurants. At the time, his professional goal was to be a radio DJ, but after relocating to Baltimore with a friend, Mike realized that, with a little education, his seven years of kitchen experience might prove to be more profitable. Soon enough, Mike was a new culinary school graduate, working his way up through Baltimore’s restaurant scene.

Eventually, Mike returned to New York, where he found work in restaurateur Pino Luongo’s famed empire. At Coco Pazzo, in particular, his interest in becoming an Executive Chef started to grow, as did his interest in exploring other lesser-known cuisines.

As any of Mike’s culinary students can tell you, he’s very passionate about Asian food, with skills that he picked up during stints at pioneering American sushi restaurant, Ringo (a predecessor to Masa and Kittichai). Eventually, Mike’s network landed him a spot in a very young Marcus Samuelsson’s three star kitchen at Aquavit—the then premiere Swedish restaurant in New York City. From 2004-2010, Mike worked under Samuelsson and Chef Nils Norén, graduating from junior sous chef to executive sous chef.

Chef Mike and Marcus Samuelsson in the kitchen.

Chef Mike and Marcus Samuelsson in the kitchen.

 

 

Throughout this period, Mike also found opportunities to open such restaurants as Merkato 55 and Aer Lounge—even spending stints at C House in Chicago. But once Red Rooster came into view, Mike knew it was time to go all-in.

Red Rooster was a massive success from day one. Catering to both the local community and serving as a hip “destination restaurant,” Mike juggled the desires of an almost impossibly diverse clientele. “On a given night, you would have Fab 5 Freddy, Citibank business partners, real estate guys, politicians, actors, musicians—all in the same restaurant. The impact on the local community was incredible.”

But even as he helped Red Rooster open Ginny’s, its downstairs supper club, and reinvent the upstairs menu time and time again, it became clear to Mike that his primary job as Executive Chef wasn’t cooking—it was teaching. And after years of working in fine dining, Mike was most excited to pursue his growing interest in simple, well-executed food.

Meet Chef Mike header

In 2013, Mike joined the Culinary Arts faculty at ICE. As an instructor, he’s particularly adamant about reforming students’ bad habits. (His signature tagline—“control your energy!”—speaks to their tendency to cook too hot, too fast.) He’s also found time to explore his own artisanal hobbies, teaching beer-making or NY Jets tailgating classes for ICE’s School of Recreational Cooking. Yet whether he’s training future chefs or enthusiastic home cooks, Mike’s philosophy remains the same: “[ICE] is the perfect place to make mistakes and iron out the kinks—before you go and test run your skills in the real world.”

Want to study with Chef Mike? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Culinary Arts program. 

BlueStar, the manufacturer of professional cooking equipment and the provider of stoves and ovens to ICE’s 12th floor recreational classrooms, recently teamed up with Chef Marcus Samuelsson to benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure via its Susan G. Komen Greater NYC Race for the Cure. As part of the event, BlueStar is auctioning a pink 30-inch gas range valued at $4,700 and VIP dinner for six at Samuelsson’s Red Rooster, one of New York’s hottest restaurants. Award-winning chef and ICE Advisory Council member Samuelsson will personally cook a four-course meal for the winner and their guests (dates and times to be mutually agreed upon). And, when they’re ready to cook at home, they’ll also be able to use their new BlueStar eight-piece cookware set, valued at $595. It’s an amazing prize from both BlueStar and Samuelsson, two of ICE’s closest partners in the culinary industry.

To bid, go directly onto eBay’s Giving Works site here.

The auction ends on August 30th, and 100% of the proceeds will be contributed to the charity. The company will provide free shipping. If pink is not your color, you can bid on the range and select any one of BlueStar’s 190 colors, at no extra charge, and still support the cause.