CHEF FIGHTING FOOD INSECURITY IMPACTED BY COVID-19 PANDEMIC

CELEBRITY CHEF SAMUELSSON TRANSFORMS NY, NJ RESTAURANTS INTO COMMUNITY KITCHENS 

SAYS THIS IS PROBABLY MOST IMPORTANT WORK HE’S DONE; FOOD INSECURITY HEIGHTENED DURING PANDEMIC 

SAMUELSSON: MOM-AND-POP BUSINESSES ARE THE HEROES KEEPING HARLEM COMMUNITY TOGETHER 

For people with sufficient resources, the message has been clear: stay home and stock up on food and supplies. But what if you are food insecure? Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson is on a mission to help by turning restaurants whose doors have been forced shut by the pandemic into community kitchens. With many of his own restaurants now closed, the chef laments the millions of people in his industry who now join the ranks of small businesses that have been forced into a battle for their survival.

Food Insecurity Resources

General

Feeding America

World Central Kitchen

New York

City Harvest

Feeding Westchester

Find Your Food Bank

Food Bank for New York City

Island Harvest

Long Island Cares

New Jersey

Community FoodBank of New Jersey

Food Bank of South Jersey

Fulfill (Monmouth & Ocean Counties)

Philabundance

Connecticut

Connecticut Food Bank

Foodshare

Aired on April 6, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

AS THE CORONAVIRUS CONTINUES TO STRETCH OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM TO ITS ABSOLUTE LIMITS, THERE WAS ANOTHER CRISIS BREWING IN HOUSEHOLDS ACROSS THE COUNTRY -- FOOD INSECURITY.

NOW, THIS IS REPORTEDLY A PROBLEM AS MORE AND MORE AMERICANS LOSE THEIR JOBS, THEY'RE FINDING THEMSELVES UNABLE TO OBTAIN THE FOOD NEEDED TO SUPPORT A HEALTHY LIFE.

NOW SOME FOOD BANKS ARE DOING WHAT THEY CAN TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND ANSWER THIS UNPRECEDENTED DEMAND, AND RESTAURANTS ALSO HARD-HIT BY THE VIRUS ARE PITCHING IN AS WELL, BUT IS THIS ENOUGH, AND WHAT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE?

TONIGHT, WE TAKE A CLOSE LOOK AT THIS CRITICAL ISSUE WITH AN AWARD-WINNING CHEF AND PHILANTHROPIST WHO IS ALSO PROVIDING FOOD TO THOSE IN NEED.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON IS ONE OF NEW YORK'S MANY SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS SPECIFICALLY OF THE RED ROOSTER IN HARLEM AND ALSO THE HOST OF 'NO NO PASSPORT REQUIRED' HERE ON PBS AND I'D LIKE TO WELCOME HIM BACK TO THE PROGRAM.

MARCUS, IT'S SO GOOD TO SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

HAPPY TO BE ON.

SO FIRST I JUST WANT TO START OFF WITH THE ROLE THE RESTAURANTS ARE PLAYING RIGHT NOW.

WHAT IS IT THAT YOUR ORGANIZATION, YOUR RESTAURANTS ARE DOING TO HELP MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE HAVE THE FOOD THAT THEY NEED?

WELL, FIRST OF ALL, OUR COMMUNITY IS HIT EXTREMELY HARD, RIGHT?

THERE ARE 15 MILLION RESTAURANT WORKERS IN THIS COUNTRY AND I WOULD SAY APPROXIMATELY RIGHT NOW PROBABLY 13 MILLION OF THEM ARE UNEMPLOYED.

WHEN WE KNEW WE HAD TO SHUT DOWN RUST ROOSTER IN NEWARK AND RED ROOSTER IN MIAMI AND CONVERT IT RIGHT AWAY TO COMMUNITY KITCHEN OPINION IT WAS CLEAR, 'A' IT'S NO LONGER ABOUT US, IT'S ABOUT THE COMMUNITY WE OPERATE IN, RIGHT, AND URBAN AMERICA ALWAYS GOES THROUGH SOME TYPE OF CRISIS, BUT THE FOOD INSECURITY EVEN DURING THE CORONAVIRUS EPIDEMIC -- PANDEMIC, SO WE PRETTY QUICKLY DECIDED, YOU KNOW, LET'S SHUT DOWN FOR OUR REGULAR CUSTOMERS, LET'S CREATE A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR OUR STAFF AND FOR THE NEED OF FOOD AND WE PARTNERED WITH WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN IN COSIANDRES AND SERVING ABOUT 500 PEOPLE A DAY IN RED ROOSTER HARLEM, 300 IN OVERTOWN AND ABOUT 215 IN NEWARK, ALL TOGETHER WITH WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN, AND WHEN I WORK THE LINE, I REALIZE THAT THIS IS PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT WORK WE'VE EVER DONE IN THIS RESTAURANT, SO IT'S, THERE IS, THAT'S THE SILVER LINING IN ALL THIS, RIGHT, THAT WATCHING THE PEOPLE THAT COME THROUGH THE LINE, THAT WHEN OUR MOOD IS DOWN, THEY KEEP IT UP.

THEY'RE LIKE, YOU'RE RIGHT, CHEF.

WHAT'S GOING -- RAIN OR SHINE, THEY MAKE SURE WE SMILE.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I WANTED TO SORT OF RE-TOUCH ON WITH YOU, BECAUSE YOU TALKED ABOUT THIS A LITTLE BIT WHEN WE FIRST STARTED THE ROLE FOOD PLAYS IN NOT JUST NOURISHING PEOPLE.

YOU'RE NOT JUST KEEPING PEOPLE ALIVE.

FOOD PLAYS AN EMOTIONAL ROLE IN PEOPLE'S LIVES AND I WAS WONDERING IF YOU COULD TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHY IT'S WORTH IT FOR NOT JUST PEOPLE TO HAVE LIKE A HAM SANDWICH, BUT TO HAVE RESTAURANT-QUALITY PREPARED FOOD.

YES, I MEAN, THE WORD 'RESTAURANT,' RIGHT, IT REALLY MEANS TO RESTORE YOUR COMMUNITY, AND WHEN YOU HAVE A CRISIS LIKE THIS, AS A CHEF, YOU REALLY GOT TO GATHER AND REALLY THINK THROUGH YOUR ROLE, RIGHT, AND PART OF THE CHEF IS TO WORK WITH A CREW AND TROUBLESHOOT AND ORGANIZE IN THE MOST DELICIOUS WAY IN MANY WAYS, RIGHT, AND I FEEL LIKE YOU KNOW, PART OF OPENING RED ROOSTER HARLEM WAS TO BE PART OF A LARGER FOOD CONVERSATION WITH FOOD AND IDENTITY AND FOOD AS A SENSE OF JOY AND CHARACTER, BUT IT ALSO NOW HAS THIS ROLE OF THE CENTER OF BEING JUST FOR THE IMMEDIATE AND THESE WEEKS HAVE REALLY REAFFIRMED OUR ROLE, IS JUST NOT -- I MEAN, WHEN I WORK IN MIDTOWN, I SPENT 20 YEARS TO COOK FOR THE 1% OF THE 1%, AND THIS IS NOT WHERE MY JOB AS A CHEF TODAY LIES.

TODAY IS REALLY ABOUT SAVING AND WORKING IN THE COMMUNITY THAT MY WIFE AND I AND MY SON AND I LIVE, BUT ALSO, WE HAVE TO HELP OUT.

WE CANNOT JUST RELY ON THE GOVERNMENT.

IT'S NOT GOING TO WORK.

THEY'RE NOT COMING FOR AMERICA, SO WE HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF THIS ON OUR OWN.

AND BEFORE WE PIVOT AND TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE, I DO WANT TO ALSO ASK ABOUT WHAT IT IS ABOUT RESTAURANTS THAT MAKES THEM SO DEFINITIVE OF A COMMUNITY, BECAUSE OF COURSE, WE'VE HEARD ABOUT THE STIMULUS PACKAGE THAT'S SUPPOSED TO BE COMING OUT, SMALL BUSINESSES AND RESTAURANTS DEFINITELY ARE ENCOURAGED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SOME OF THESE LOANS SO THEY CAN KEEP THEIR STAFF ON HAND.

I'M JUST WONDERING, FOR, YOU KNOW, RESTAURANTS, SPECIFICALLY AS A SMALL BUSINESS, WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT THAT THEY ARE ABLE TO STAY ON THEIR FEET AND COME BACK?

WHAT IS THIS THEY MEAN TO A COMMUNITY?

HOW DO THEY HELP DEFINE IT?

RESTAURANTS ARE OFTEN THE SOUL, HEART, ENGINE AND THE DRUMBEAT OF THE COMMUNITY.

WHEN YOU HOFF INTO MAY NEIGHBORHOOD, COME TO A NA NEIGHBORHOOD, A RESTAURANT DEFINES IT.

WE'VE HAD ICONIC RESTAURANTS LIKE PAN-PAN AND SYLVIA'S AND MELBA'S AND RED ROOSTER AND DEFINES YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD IN SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS AND IT CREATES JOBS, LOCAL JOBS.

AT RED ROOSTER WE HAVE 108 EMPLOYEES, EVERY WEEK, YOU KNOW, WORK AT RED ROOSTER, RIGHT, SO THAT'S 250 PEOPLE IN THE WORKPLACE BUT THEN THINK ABOUT ALL THE OTHER HIDDEN JOBS THAT ARE THERE, THE PLUMBER, THE PERSON THAT CLEANS OUR WINDOW, THE NIGHT CREW, THE CAULIFLOWER DELIVERY, THE SALMON, THE CHICKEN GUYS.

LIKE ALL OF THIS, YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE THAT ARE, THAT WORK WITH ONE RESTAURANT.

ON TOP OF THAT, THE 4,000 OR 5,000 CUSTOMERS WE HAVE EVERY WEEK SO IT CREATES OBVIOUSLY A TRAFFIC THAT IS MUCH LARGER THAN JUST ITSELF.

AND THE OTHER PART OF THIS IS THAT OUR SUPPLY CHAIN IS COMPLETELY INTERRUPTED.

THINK ABOUT THAT, MOST RESTAURANTS, 90% OF RESTAURANTS ARE SHUT.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO THE FARMERS AND THE PEOPLE THAT ARE PART OF THAT SUPPLY CHAIN, RIGHT?

THERE'S FOOD THAT HAS BEEN, THAT IS SITTING IN WAREHOUSES THAT'S GOING TO SIT THERE FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS AND GO BAD.

SO PART OF WORKING WITH WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN IS TO MAKE SURE THE SUPPLY CHAIN DOESN'T COMPLETELY GET RUINED BECAUSE THAT'S GOING TO TAKE DECADES TO BUILD BACK, YOU KNOW, AND THE JOBS THAT ARE WITHIN THE SUPPLY CHAIN, RIGHT, AND THE LAST PART IS, WHEN YOU CLOSE THE RESTAURANT IN YOUR COMMUNITY, AND I'M TALKING ABOUT THE NEIGHBORHOOD INDEPENDENT RESTAURANT, THE MOM AND POP.

YES.

SO GOES RETAIL ON ALL ASPECTS, YOUR BARBERSHOP, YOUR NAIL SALON, THAT BEAUTIFUL LITTLE SHOP THAT YOU LIKE, THE PERSON THAT MAKES THE CANDLES, EVERYTHING THAT WE DEFINE AS A NEIGHBORHOOD, RIGHT, SO IF 70%, 80% OF THE WORKFORCE IN TERMS OF RESTAURANTS ARE UNEMPLOYED, THINK ABOUT THE OTHER LAYER OF RETAIL, ALSO NOT WORKING RIGHT NOW.

YOU'RE TALKING 45%, 50% OF AMERICAN WORKFORCE ARE SMALL BUSINESSES.

MOST OF THEM ARE UNEMPLOYED RIGHT NOW.

WHAT IS THAT GOING TO DO TO OUR SOCIETY?

THOSE ARE ALL SOLID QUESTIONS.

I'M SPEAKING WITH MARCO SAMUELSON, AWARD WINNING CHEF, PHILANTHROPIST, OWNER OF RED ROOSTER IN HARLEM, SEVERAL OTHER RESTAURANTS AND HOST OF 'NO PASSPORT' REQUIRED ON PBS.

I WANT TO RETURN TO YOUR RESPONSE TO THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE.

I DID ASK YOU A QUESTION ABOUT THE STIMULUS PACKAGE INTENDED TO HELP BUSINESSES, SMALL BUSINESSES LIKE RESTAURANTS, BUT I'M WONDERING HOW YOU SEE WHAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS DONE, AND NOT OVERALL, BUT SPECIFICALLY IN NEW YORK, BECAUSE NEW YORK HAS BEEN HIT SO HARD BY THIS VIRUS.

WELL, I MEAN, IT'S A VERY LAYERED, COMPLEX QUESTION.

FIRST OF ALL, I MEAN, OF COURSE I'M GRATEFUL FOR THE, I CALL IT THE FIRST TRANCHE OF THE STIMULUS PACKAGE, BUT THERE HAS TO BE MORE.

UM-HUM.

AND THE SMALL BUSINESSES AND RESTAURANT COMMUNITY WE ARE SIFTING THROUGH HOW IT IMPACTS OUR TYPE OF BUSINESSES, RIGHT, BUT THERE HAS TO BE A SECOND AND THIRD TRANCHE, BECAUSE LIKE I SAID, YOU CANNOT HAVE 40%, 50% UNEMPLOYMENT IN THIS COUNTRY, SO MANY OTHER ASPECTS AND JUST GOING TO, IT WILL JUST COLLAPSE AND WE ARE ON THE VERGE OF THAT RIGHT NOW SO I AM GRATEFUL FOR THE FIRST TRANCHE, AND I LOOK FOR THE GOVERNMENT TO DO MORE, AND WE STARTED AN INDEPENDENT RESTAURANT COALITION TO HAVE A DIALOGUE IN TERMS OF THE BILLS AND HAVE PEOPLE REPRESENTED AT THE SEAT OF THE TABLE, AND YOU KNOW, YOU HAVE PEOPLE LIKE THAT DANNY MEYER AND TOM COLICCIO THAT ARE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT OUR NEED, OF COURSE, BECAUSE I WORK WITH THEM AND ALSO HAVE A DIALOGUE AND A PIPELINE IN TO WASHINGTON.

THIS IS VERY, VERY IMPORTANT, WHEN THE GOVERNMENT TALKS VERY OFTEN ABOUT RESTAURANTS, THEY TALKED ABOUT THE CHICK-FIL-AS AND THE McDONALD'S AND THEY ARE ONE TYPE OF RESTAURANT BUT THE MAJORITY OF THE RESTAURANTS ARE SMALL BUSINESSES, MOM AND POP, SO INDEPENDENT RESTAURANT COALITION IS WORKING ON THAT, AND WHAT I CAN SAY IS THAT I'M EXTREMELY PROUD OF OUR HOSPITALITY COMMUNITY.

WE ARE WORKING TOGETHER, AND I HOPE THE POLITICIANS CAN REALLY BE INSPIRED BY HOW REGULAR AMERICANS ARE COMING TOGETHER, HELPING EACH OTHER OUT.

I MEAN, I DRAW INSPIRATION FROM THE HEALTH CARE WORKER AND THE FIRST RESPONDERS RIGHT NOW.

THOSE ARE THE REAL, REAL HEROES HERE.

AND YOU KNOW, I CAN'T REALLY COMMENT TOO MUCH ON WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS DOING, BECAUSE YOU KNOW, WE'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGE THAT I'LL NEVER FACE IN A GENERATION.

I THOUGHT 9/11 WOULD BE THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGE ANYONE FACES.

I COULD NEVER IMAGINE ONE THING WOULD BE TOUGHER THAN THAT, AND BEING IN IT, IT'S TOO EARLY TO DO A POST WHAT WE COULD AND SHOULD HAVE DONE, BUT THERE WILL BE A TIME FOR THAT AS WELL.

OF COURSE.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON, I FEEL I WANT TO PUT PHILANTHROPIST BEFORE AWARD-WINNING CHEF, JUST IN MY TIME SPEAKING WITH YOU.

YOU ARE SO PASSIONATE ABOUT NOT ONLY WANTING TO HELP BUT SUPPORT AND BE THERE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY AND THE WAY THEY'VE BEEN THERE FOR YOU AND RED ROOSTER, SO THANK YOU.

I CAN JUST SAY, WE'RE ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW, MOVING TO HARLEM AND LIVING IN URBAN AMERICA, IT'S REALLY INSPIRED ME IN A WAY THAT I DO FEEL LIKE BEING IN IT, AND BEING IN YOUR COMMUNITY HAS REALLY GUIDED ME TO WHAT IS, HOW SHOULD WE TAKE ON THIS CHALLENGE, ME AND MY TEAM, AND WORKING WITH CREATING A FESTIVAL LIKE HARLEMEDA AND WORKING WITH SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS, PEOPLE THAT HAVE A COOKIE STAND OUTSIDE TO A JUICE BAR TO MAYBE EMPLOYEE THREE PEOPLE, MAYBE THEY'RE THE ONLY EMPLOYEE IN THIS COMPANY, PEOPLE LIKE MELBA, 22 EMPLOYEES, I'M TALKING ABOUT REALLY MOM AND POP STORES.

THAT IS THE REALLY THE PEOPLE THAT HAS KEPT THIS COMMUNITY TOGETHER, AND THOSE ARE REALLY THE HEROES THAT I WANT TO DO THIS FOR.

SOMEONE LIKE MYSELF, I HAVE MANY OPTIONS, AND I'LL BE OKAY, MY FAMILY WILL BE OKAY.

AS HARLEM GOES, SO GOES AMERICA AND WE WORKED TOO HARD FOR THIS AND WE'RE BETTER THAN THAT AND THIS IS REALLY THE TIME TO STICKAT TOGETHER.

NAR CUSS, THAT IS AN EXCELLENT NOTE TO LEAVE IT ON, AS HARLEM GOES, SO GOES AMERICA.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON, RED ROOSTER, THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON 'METROFOCUS,' AND TALKING, HELPING GIVE A LITTLE MORE PERSPECTIVE WHAT'S GOING ON LOCA LOCALLY, SO THANK YOU.

THANK YOU.

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