“TRY this,” Marcus Samuelsson said, cramming a fragrant morsel of fried chicken into his guest’s mouth. “Good, right?”
Mr. Samuelsson, 39, the chef who first made his name at Aquavit, was at home with his wife, the model Gate Haile, testing recipes for his new restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem, which is to open in the fall.
In his duplex off Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Mr. Samuelsson multitasked in his handsome kitchen, greeting friends and co-workers (in English and Swedish) while flipping chicken, sprinkling bacon in the macaroni and cheese and ladling a tea-and-vodka-based cocktail. “I’ve lived here for five years,” said Mr. Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden. “It is very important to bring a restaurant to Harlem.”
Mr. Samuelsson — who, in the last few months, has completed a book tour, created a series of online videos for AOL and was a guest chef for the Obama administration’s first state dinner — is trying to become a brand in American popular food culture, “to hang with Daniel Boulud,” as he put it.
The restaurant, which will be near 125th Street in Central Harlem, will focus on fresh local food. Though Mr. Samuelsson resists the description “soul food,” the menu will include items like collard greens and cornbread.
Its executive-chef-to-be, Andrea Bergquist, grated cheese next to assorted spice jars, some with mysterious labels like “C-House Rub #2,” evidently from Mr. Samuelsson’s Chicago restaurant, C-House.
Ms. Bergquist, who — like much of the guest list — is half-Swedish, half-something else (Colombian, in her case), has cooked at Gramercy Tavern, Tabla and Merkato 55, the pan-African restaurant, now closed, that Mr. Samuelsson helped to open but did not own.
Mr. Samuelsson steered guests toward Ms. Bergquist’s empanadas, filled with ground beef, pork, coriander, cumin and hard-boiled egg. “We’re exploring American cuisine and what that means when rice and beans is no longer ethnic, and kids are growing up with sushi,” Ms. Bergquist said.
Ms. Haile, who is known as Maya and has been married to Mr. Samuelsson for a year, was double-kissing everyone. She was also born in Ethiopia, but raised in the Netherlands. She is 5-foot-11, and recounted a recent trip to Seoul to shoot an ad. “They used ladders to do my makeup,” she said fondly of the Koreans.
Ms. Haile, 26, wore gray Moroccan slippers with hearts and ribbons, Wolford tights, leg warmers, a beaded black skirt, a matador vest with silver embroidery and a double-looped purple scarf. “Models mix stuff up,” she said.
Finally, Mr. Samuelsson and Ms. Bergquist brought out the bread pudding, a molten affair with chocolate chips, sour cherries and caramelized bananas. Ms. Bergquist untied her apron and whispered in Mr. Samuelsson’s ear. It was her wedding anniversary, and she needed to go home.
She had been cooking all day and night on her anniversary? “That’s horrible!” a guest said.
“That’s beautiful,” Mr. Samuelsson said, handing Ms. Bergquist a bottle of red from Napa, 2000.