‘I’m Ensuring Culinary Arts Are Not Left Out’: Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson on Why He’s Minting His First NFT
The NFT comes with a private dinner for four at Harlem hot spot Red Rooster.
Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson of the Harlem restaurant Red Rooster has mastered the art of fried chicken, spending years perfecting his signature Fried Yardbird recipe that’s juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Now, it’s also an NFT artwork offered in partnership with Christie’s New York at Charitybuzz.
Bidding ends tonight on the sale, which runs in conjunction with the house’s annual Art and Tech Summit. As of this article’s publication, bidding was over $3,000, on an estimated value of $7,500. Proceeds from the sale will be donated to the James Beard Foundation’s investment fund for Black and Indigenous restaurant owners.
The Chef’s Special NFT, which was minted by beer brand Stella Artois on Rarible, includes a digital artwork depicting the chicken dish, a copy of the recipe, and a unique video of Samuelsson preparing it. The winning bidder will also have the chance to meet Samuelsson at a private dinner for four at Red Rooster, where Fried Yardbird will be one of the courses served.
As the sale enters its final hours, we spoke to the chef about why he’s entering the NFT world, how the technology fits into his vision for arts and culture at Red Rooster, and why his Fried Yardbird recipe is so special.
You have been collaborating with other cultural figures throughout the pandemic. How did you draw support from each other, and how do you think artists and chefs can help each other going forward?
There were several instances during the pandemic in which I gained from what other artists were doing. I was able to start a podcast with my dear friend and creative collaborator Timbuktu. We were able to hash out everything that was going on and have long conversations with artists on our podcast, which was a foreign platform to us at the time. I was involved in an American Ballet Theatre video with ballerina Isabella Boylston and was able to teach her my craft and vice versa. Being able to take a step back from your own industry and step into another creative field can be really valuable.
Since museums began reopening late last summer, what was the most memorable artwork or exhibition you’ve seen?
The most memorable exhibition I’ve seen since museums reopened was Julie Mehretu’s show at the Whitney in New York. Her art is always so moving, breathtaking, and thought-provoking. I’m so lucky to consider her a dear friend of mine. I recommend everyone check it out before the exhibition ends [on August 8].
How has your approach to plating and composing a dish visually evolved as you’ve become more involved with artists and contemporary art?
When we eat we use all of our senses, so naturally I always take the appearance of the finished dish into consideration. I plate a dish with the various levels and textures in mind. Early on in my plating evolution, I may have put a larger emphasis on making a dish look aesthetically pleasing. Now I’m much more interested in having all of the components in a dish convey a story and connect me to the larger culture behind it.
You take a very expansive view of art, to include music, food, and culture more broadly. Now, with NFTs becoming more mainstream, are you expanding that definition to include technology?
Definitely. I’m constantly challenging myself to be creative and find ways to move the food industry forward, which is why offering my Fried Yardbird as a NFT is so special to me—ensuring the culinary arts are not left out of a world that is moving digitally.
When did you first hear about NFTs? Have you purchased any NFTs or thought about displaying them at Red Rooster?
I have a lot of friends who are artists and are NFT-ing their pieces. That really allowed me to get a taste of what the industry was about. It’s definitely an area that I want to get into professionally, starting with Stella’s Chef’s Special NFT and offering my beloved Fried Yardbird recipe. I’m also tempted to bid on and own a few NFTs for myself. It’s definitely something I see myself owning in the future.
What was your first thought when you were approached about making this NFT and why were you interested in the project?
As NFTs have become more and more popular, I was very interested to see how I could become involved. When the James Beard Foundation and Stella Artois reached out, it was the perfect opportunity to immerse myself further in the space.
There’s so much to feel and experience when it comes to cooking and enjoying a meal. That inspired us to collaborate on a robust NFT that’s the first of its kind, where beyond unlocking my famed Fried Yardbird recipe, we’re providing a digital film that further elaborates on my recipe secrets and includes a dinner at Red Rooster where the NFT owner will get to meet me, making it a true 360-experience.
How did you settle on the Yardbird recipe for the NFT? What makes the recipe so special, and has changed at all over the years since you first introduced it?
Fried chicken is a dish that I fell in love with as a young chef and I knew I had to put my own spin on it. I became fascinated with the different methods of preparing and cooking it in addition to the cultural significance it held. My Fried Yardbird recipe has since become one of my iconic staples and people around the world have expressed how much it means to them. As I learned more about what NFTs are, while thinking about the impact this recipe has made, it was a natural choice to offer the Fried Yardbird in such a unique and collectible way.
Do you worry that NFTs will end up being a short-lived fad and we’ll all look back at this moment in time and laugh?
You never know what the future will hold, but I am confident I will be proud of this specific initiative. As a restaurant owner, I can personally attest to the many challenges that impacted our industry during the pandemic, which is why I’m proud to serve my Fried Yardbird as an NFT to help raise funds for the restaurants that are hurting most post-pandemic.
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