Cooking for Obama: Red Rooster Harlem Staffer Dishes on Serving the President

You may not be the POTUS, but you can dine like him at Red Rooster Harlem.

If you were anywhere near New York and its food scene Tuesday evening, you were well aware that the most powerful man in the world (No, not Matthew Weiner!) was attending a political fundraiser at Red Rooster Harlem, Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s new-ish restaurant uptown. Friend of OpenTable and would-be Top Cheftestant (and former culinary school classmate of yours truly) Ed Hardy was behind the line that night, and he shared his thoughts on what it’s like to cook for the President of the United States (again…see last response).

Hi again, Ed! So, first up, how long have you been working at Red Rooster Harlem? Tell us a bit about the restaurant and Chef Samuelsson’s cuisine?

Red Rooster opened in mid-December, and I’ve been working there since mid-January. I’ve worked for Chef Samuelsson before at Aquavit, so I was familiar with his cuisine. The restaurant impressed me from the moment I walked in, with its bold challenge to menu conventions and conventional Manhattan wisdom about location. As a former Aquavit chef and a native Southerner, it was easy for me to wrap my head around the Swedish and comfort food dishes on Chef Samuelsson’s menu. It’s also exciting for me to be able to experience and use some of the African spices that he brings to the table.

You worked the fundraiser for President Obama at Red Rooster on Tuesday night. For a chef, I imagine this is akin to getting to shake the President’s hand when you’re a youngster. How proud are you to have participated?

Very proud, indeed. It’s one thing to cook for a president at the White House or an event; it’s another honor entirely when the President and his advisors make a special trip to the restaurant I’m at every day.

Did everyone at Red Rooster want to be there? How did you get picked?

Not everyone at Red Rooster was there, but I’m pretty sure everyone wanted to be there. We have quite a large staff because we’re open for fairly long hours, and most of those hours the restaurant is packed full of diners. If we had the entire staff on for this event, the back-of-the-house would have been so packed with people in chef jackets that we wouldn’t have been able to move, much less put food on a plate!

Continue Reading

Chef Ed Cotton Watches as Top Chef Crowns a Season 8 Winner

"Am I good enough and smart enough? Do people like me? Oh, yeah, I figured this out last week. I am, and they do! Whew!"

Oh, Top Chef…parting is such sweet sorrow. We’re glad that Richard Blais took the title, but we’re sad to see the season come to a close. Thanks to Ed Cotton for indulging our questions, serious and silly, along the way. And, on behalf of everyone at OpenTable, we’ve got a special good wishes for Ed. Plein Sud, the Manhattan restaurant at which he’s executive chef, is celebrating its one year anniversary. Stop into Plein Sud the week of April 25th to join in on the festivities.

Hey, Ed! Congratulations on year one! Quite an accomplishment. So, the finale’s final challenge tasks Blais and Isabella with opening their dream restos. That’s a tall order, but I imagine they had a good idea going in?

Every chef has planned out in his or her head what type of restaurant would be our “dream” to have one day.  They both looked like two great concepts.

They are yoked to a four-course tasting menu. Are the finalists wanting more courses or fewer? Is this format ideal?

In my opinion, four courses are easy to execute and allow a chef to really showcase what they can do. The format is ideal; it is the perfect amount of food. Multiple courses show exactly what you’re made of — and if you crack under pressure or not. Currently, I am in the process of creating a four-course tasting menu to celebrate my restaurant’s anniversary. If any OpenTable diners are in New York the week of April 25th, please join us for a celebration.

How about the CDO? Can the CDO come? Pretty please! Okay, so the whole cast shows up for sous jobs. Who DO you want as your sous and why?

I thought that it was very cool that the whole cast showed up and got to prepare something to determine who will be sous chefs and who won’t. I was nervous watching who was going to get whom! I would have wanted Carla, Jen Carol, and Angelo (Yes, I said it! Angelo!). Jen is an amazing chef and knows flavors; she is a master technician. Angelo also has a lot of experience and has a great palate. I’d want Carla because she has some good pastry skills. I think that would be a winning team.

Continue Reading

Chef Ed Cotton Picks Winner of the Top Chef Finale, Reveals His Last Supper

"I'll make you a deal: If you stop calling me 'Spaetzle Lakshmi,' I'll stop calling you Wolfie."

As we whittle down the cheftestants’ list to just two, Ed Cotton, Executive Chef at Manhattan’s Plein Sud, returns to serve up unique insights on his friends and former co-competitors.

Wolfgang Puck: What does he mean to you? His food? His approach? Have you dined at any of his restos?

It’s great to see Wolfgang Puck! When I was younger, I remember hearing about this chef who cooks for all of these movie stars in L.A and has a popular restaurant named Spago. I would read about his food and his restaurant all the time. I loved his take on pizza in the 90’s. I guess you could say he was the first celebrity chef. I have only been to one of his restaurants, but I loved his take on food and his approach to it. He’s clever and smart!

Continue Reading

Who Failed This Week’s Top Chef Test? Chef Ed Cotton Walks Us Through the Ep

Dear Padma. We get it. You're hot. You can stop trying so hard now. Signed, Management.

With just two eps left, Top Chef is getting more and more contentious. Chef Ed Cotton of  Manhattan’s Plein Sud reflects on this week’s challenges and eliminations and looks ahead to what’s in store for the competitors.

When someone exits, how hard is that for their co-competitors, emotionally and missing their presence in the apt? How long is it between challenges?

I never found it that hard on me or got emotional at all when people were sent home. Sure, you miss people, but you can’t forget that it’s a competition, and you’re not there to make friends. Challenges happen every single day; it is very demanding and long hours.

The QFC asks competitors to replicate a dish. Can you talk about how this might be tough if you haven’t actually tested something? And, at Plein Sud, can I assume your new dishes are tested and re-executed for just this very purpose?

The ability to replicate a dish is extremely important. At my restaurant, it is all about consistency and that is exactly what Richard said. You want a person to come back to your restaurant because they love the Cassoulet, Steak Tartare or whatever dish might be their favorite.  Yes, all our new dishes are tested for consistency and flavors and I am currently in the process of doing that for our spring menu. For breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, our guests dine at Plein Sud because the food is consistent.

Regarding the QFC, is a cold dish a cop out?

I didn’t think a cold dish is a cop out – anything is fair game. It was not specified whether the dish should be hot or cold; it just needed to be consistent. Tiffany and Antonia made consistent-tasting dishes that the judges praised.

Continue Reading