Meet Marcus Samuelsson’s Valentine

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“I’m not [at Red Rooster] a lot because I don’t want the people who work here to get tired of me,” Haile jokes. “But when I am here I love having the beef tartare and dirty rice.” Just as she lists her favorite dishes, Samuelsson appears from the kitchen dressed in a freshly pressed chef’s coat. He’s bustling around the main dining room preparing to film a television commercial but then spots Haile and makes a beeline for the bar, landing a soft kiss on her forehead while rushing past. “I don’t want to interrupt you!”

Samuelsson’s passion for food is expected, but listening to a model dish about the suitcases full of pasta and olive oil she lugs back from Milan is a refreshing surprise. Not only does Haile enjoy the fruits of her husband’s labor, but she’s also not afraid to command the burners herself in the couple’s kitchen. “My sister taught me how to make spinach lasagna, and I also make chicken soup and collard greens,” she says proudly. So who’s doing the cooking this Valentine’s Day? Lucky for Haile, her Valentine is cooking for her (and dozens more), as Samuelsson has designed a romantic prix fixe menu at Red Rooster, with dishes such as oysters with ginger mignonette, Harlem Chowder for Two, and white chocolate panna cotta with pomegranate syrup and candied citrus.

When not busy with their careers, the couple dedicates their time to a variety of charities, including the UNICEF Tap Project, for which restaurants ask patrons to donate $1 or more for the tap water they’re served. All funds raised support UNICEF’s efforts to bring clean water to children around the world. Samuelsson is a UNICEF Tap Project Ambassador and a member of the Restaurant Advisory Committee, while Haile participates in UNICEF’s Next Generation program, a group of young professionals committed to promoting the organization’s goal of decreasing child mortality rates worldwide.

With a thriving restaurant, a busy modeling career, and their philanthropic efforts, date nights for the semi-newlyweds have been less prevalent. “I don’t mind the crazy schedule,” Haile insists. “Marcus is doing what he loves, and I am, too, and we support each other in that. That’s why we both came to New York.”

Haile’s family has also fallen for the Swedish chef turned culinary mogul and are fans not only of his food but also of the way his career has shifted stereotypes in Ethiopia. “It’s really a huge thing Marcus is doing for Ethiopian men,” Haile says, explaining that few men in the small African country would have considered pursuing a career in food before Samuelsson. “My mom is a big fan of Marcus and she always says, ‘In Ethiopia, your dad never went to the kitchen even to get water, so you are lucky your man can cook!’”

Kelly Senyei is an associate editor at Gourmet Live and the author of the forthcoming Food Blogging for Dummies (Wiley, spring 2012).

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