Marcus Samuelsson is the owner of Red Rooster up in Harlem, co-founder of The Food Republic.com, and, yes, an official Top Chef Master. He’s also recently become a spokesperson for the new Birds Eye “It’s always veggie season” campaign. That’s where I come in. A few weeks ago I caught up with Marcus at the Birds Eye launch event in Union Square, where they turned the turf of our weekly Green Market into a branded “snow” garden. Growing up in Sweden, and then heading off to culinary school at a young age, Marcus didn’t necessarily have the typical American college experience. But he’s all about Ramen, so we know his head’s in the right place. Read on for more of his college cooking (and frozen veggie) tips.
Phoebe Lapine: There’s a lot of stress today on fresh and local. What’s the benefit of going to the freezer isle of your grocery store versus the Farmer’s Market?
Marcus Samuelsson: Well the number one argument is convenience. America is a big country with big cities. There are supermarkets everywhere. If you have frozen vegetables that you trust, like Birds Eye, you know that they were picked and flash frozen at the height of their season. Maybe you decide you want to cook for your friends at 9 in the evening…
PL: Or 4 in the morning?
MS: Right! You said it, not me. But the key is to take those vegetables and make a quick and fun recipe, whether it’s mac and cheese or rice pilaf, the meal will come together really quickly.
PL: Many of our readers at Small Kitchen College have very few resources—time, space, money—what are some easy meals that use frozen veggies that, say, they could prepare in the microwave?
MS: Using pasta is great because people love that. You can just add vegetables to them like I do in my Mac and Greens, with tons of fresh frozen spinach. It can be as simple as ramen noodles! We all have that lying around at home. Adding fresh vegetables to them really changes the flavors. It’s also quick and affordable.
PL: In addition to your frozen vegetables, what would be your go-to pantry ingredient that you always have on hand?
MS: I always have rice. Rice pilaf is really easy to throw together. Or if you keep some potatoes around you can make a simple curry with lots of frozen vegetables. Get some fresh bread, and you’re good to go, even if it’s 4am.
PL: In our cookbook, In the Small Kitchen, the Cooking for One section opens with a story about my secret meal of frozen peas in white wine and butter. Do you have any guilty pleasures when cooking for yourself? For us, some of the simplest, easiest meals we make are the ones we might not want to share with anyone else…
MS: Frozen peas are pretty good! You can just mix them with a little olive oil and some chopped garlic. Puree it together and you have a really nice pea hummus. Corn quesadillas is another good one. If you’re munching that while watching the game, you don’t feel so sorry for yourself.
PL: Let’s talk about your new site, The Food Republic. It’s kind of the man cave of the food blogosphere. What’s your go-to man meal?
MS: When a man’s in the kitchen, it’s really about the gadgets. “My knife is really big” or “my stove is so strong.” The Food Republic is a place to have those conversations with men in the kitchen. Grilling is always the way to go. Some meat and some vegetables so you have a complete meal.
PL: What about romance? Are there any dishes in your repertoire that you would prescribe for wooing a woman?
MS: Just cooking in general is pretty good to start with, no? Cooking and cleaning up. You’ve got it right there. Just have fun. Cook something that you’re really comfortable with.
PL: One final question for the college readers: If you were to go back in time and host a college theme party, what would it be and what would you cook?
MS: I’d have to go back to the ramen idea. It’s so relatable. We’ve all been there. We’ve all been really poor. If you flavor the broth really well and add some vegetables, you’re going to make a lot of people really happy.
Phoebe Lapine is a cofounder of Big Girls, Small Kitchen and Small Kitchen College.