Sixty-two participating Harlem EatUp! chefs and restaurateurs
Photo Nick Ruechel / Citi
Later this week, from May 14 through 17, Harlem will be all decked out to welcome chefs from around the country for the first Harlem EatUp! festival. “I love Harlem,” says founder Herb Karlitz. “Every week there’s another restaurant opening. There’s great music, great bakeries, and people have smiles on. It’s Harlem’s time to shine.” And shine, he promises, it will.
Together with co-founder and friend chef Marcus Samuelsson, of Red Rooster and Streetbird Rotisserie, and honorary chair Bill Clinton, Harlem EatUp! will feature four full days of incredible eating, with star-studded chef dinners, panel discussions, artists and musicians, culinary demonstrations, and walk-around tastings in Morningside Park. Net proceeds will benefit Citymeals-on-Wheels and Harlem Park to Park, two organizations that actively affect the lives of Harlem residents on a daily basis. More than simply luring big-ticket spenders uptown for a weekend, the festival is “really about giving back to the community,” Karlitz says.
The organizers want to expand that community, though, broadening both the eating and arts audiences, “shining a spotlight on Harlem at a really local scale,” says Karlitz. So they tapped the talent of friends from around the world, pulling together local chefs and small businesses with a few special appearances from talent downtown and afar.
Thursday and Friday evening, chefs at restaurants throughout the area, such as the Cecil and Vinateria, will host outsiders such as France’s Ludo Lefebvre, Charleston’s Sean Brock, and Austin’s Paul Qui for affordably priced multicourse dinners (see below for what’s still available). “We’ve made sure that all guest chefs attending have some connection to Harlem, whether it be that they’ve lived or worked here, or identify with the cuisine or music scene,” Karlitz says.
Saturday sees a combination of Harlem Talks at the Studio Museum, where speakers like Silvia’s Tren’ness Woods-Black, Cecil chef JJ Johnson, television personality Ted Allen, and chef/restaurateur Michael White will tackle subjects like “A Day in the Life of a Chef” and “How to Serve the Community” ($35 each).
In nearby Morningside Park, The Avenue at the Stroll (free admission) has local artisans and purveyors peddling their wares and culinary demos from chefs nationwide. Pay $75 for The Experience at the Stroll (in advance online), and get access to tasting tents from the likes of LoLo’s Seafood Shack, Corner Social, and Madiba Harlem, plus even more culinary demonstrations.
Sunday, return to Morningside Park and grab bites from Seasoned Vegan, Streetbird, Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken, Field and Clover, La Bodega 47 Social Club, and more at A Sunday Afternoon in Harlem, and then head over to meet some of the Knicks or Red Bulls in the Sports Zone. With a focus on “healthy eating and a need for exercise,” per the founders, the Kids’ Zone will have little ones stretching and shaking with Chloe the Yogi, Figure Skating in Harlem, and the Harlem Children’s Zone, with artists and musicians around to keep the adults fully entertained.
Recognizing that the first year of any festival can result in a rocky weekend, organizers promise plenty of shade, floored tents to shield diners from potential rain and mud, and plenty of Porta-Potties to, you know, potty. They promise there will be enough food to last, and have anticipated high-volume food tents by increasing their number of checkout lanes. “We’ve sat around asking ourselves, ‘Would this make me feel good, or piss me off?’ ” says Karlitz. His company has over twenty years’ experience producing festivals as large as Food and Wine, and as such has “a Plan B ready for everything.”
Along those lines, some advice to festival-goers: Buy tickets for everything in advance online, and come hungry. Plenty of non-alcoholic beverages will be on hand to help you stay hydrated, and while booze will be flowing, safety’s still paramount.
“If Marcus and I have done our job,” Karlitz says, “people will walk away from the weekend realizing that Harlem’s a cool place, that it’s beautiful, and that maybe it’s more than they’d thought it was before. Come up — and EatUp.”