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. 

Streets Chef Competition

Tim Love, Kerry Heffernan, Lauren Glassberg, Mark Maynard Parisi, Daniel Holzman, ICE President Rick Smilow and Neal Bermas

I’m a big advocate of supporting relatively small, entrepreneurial, and spirited non-profit groups that, in their own way, make the world a better place. One such charity is Hoi An, Vietnam–based STREETS International, founded in 2007 by Neal Bermas, a former ICE Culinary Management Instructor, and Sondra Stewart.

STREETS held its annual fundraiser at Astor Center on Thursday, March 29th. And I was lucky enough to attend with a group from ICE. The event included a walk-around tasting with modern street food, a chef cooking competition (for which I was a judge) and a short film about STREETS. Restaurants that participated in the street food tasting included Red Rooster, Morimoto, Bua, Rosa Mexicano, August, Blue Smoke and more. More…

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.

If you have visited ICE recently you may noticed our brand-new ovens and stoves on the 12th floor recreational classrooms. If you’ve participated in a culinary class or cooking event in this space, you’ve used one of the top pieces of culinary equipment available on the market today. The ranges and ovens were custom made for ICE by BlueStar, a pioneer and manufacturer of high-quality, reliable, custom cooking equipment. ICE is proud to announce that BlueStar is the exclusive provider of stoves and ovens for its 12th floor recreational kitchen classrooms.

The new BlueStar equipment at ICE includes seven 30-inch four-burner ranges and three 36-inch six-burner cooktops, all at 22,000 BTUs, as well as two double-wall ovens. Each BlueStar range is hand-crafted in Reading, Pennsylvania. ICE Director of Education Richard Simpson said, “The quality and durability of the BlueStar line is amazing. The ranges and ovens are ideal for our wide variety of classes and we are proud to showcase them in our kitchens.”

Independent studies have shown that BlueStar outperforms leading high-performance stoves when tested for boiling, simmering, deep frying, stir-frying and searing.   All BlueStar ranges, ovens and ventilation hoods are available in 190 color options (check out the photos of our new blue ovens!). More…

Marcus Samuelsson, Chef/Owner of the Marcus Samuelsson Group, ICE Advisory Board Member and winner of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, was back at ICE to give another demo yesterday. Samuelsson is one busy chef: in addition to opening his new restaurant, Red Rooster, he is also an ambassador for UNICEF and sits on the board for Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). He is author of Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine, The Soul of a New Cuisine and The New American Table. Among his many achievements, he was the youngest chef to ever receive three stars from The New York Times. ICE is always happy when he takes time out from his busy schedule to do a demo at the school.

Samuelsson’s path to award-winning chef has certainly been unique. He was born in Ethiopia, but was adopted and raised in Sweden. He worked in kitchens in Switzerland, Austria and France before moving to New York to pursue his culinary dreams. The dishes he made for the demo reflect this multicultural background. He made Fried Chicken with Spicy Ketchup and Foie Gras Ganache with Quince Chutney. The dishes drew on many influences to reflect current culinary trends. He said, “These dishes are both poultry, but they are totally different. I think they are a reflection of the direction where food is going. One is more high-end and the other is comfort food.” More…