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Harlem’s Queen of Comfort Food: Melba Wilson

Melba

“The way I see it,” says Melba Wilson, “Soul food is the foundation of American comfort food.”

She’d know. For Melba, a Harlem native, or as she likes to say “I am Harlem born, bred, and buttered,” owns one of  most influential soul food restaurants in New York City’s most exciting dining neighborhood, aptly named Melba’s.

Like many children, she grew up watching her mother and grandomother cook and learned to love food, and soul food, in the process. But, Melba actually went into marketing and sales after school, anything from cosmetics to limo driving, finally entering the restaurant business on a lark when the great Sylvia Woods, Harlem’s Queen of Soul Food and owner of the world famous Sylvia’s, called and asked Melba to spearhead the 25th anniversary of the restaurant.

Melba did such a good job that Sylvia offered her a postion at the restaurant, starting her love affair with the hospitality business and eventually leading to her opening her own place.

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Melba’s, on the corner of 114th St and Frederick Douglas Blvd

Opened in 2005, Melba’s was an almost overnight success, with a family style menu that as Melba likes to say, “blends my Carolina heritage (her family is from South Carolina), with a dash of extra spice, a little urban edge, a taste of the melting pot, and a few ‘dee-lish’ twists.” It’s also been covered regularly in foodie magazines, and Melba even “Beat Bobby Flay” with her fried chicken recipe, now renamed Throwdown Chicken in honor of that accomplishment.

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Fried Chicken and Waffles

 

Comfort Food’s reigning authority, Melba Wilson joins us to talk about her passion and new cookbook Melba’s American Comfort (Atria Books) on The Connected Table LIVE Wednesday May 18th at 2:00pmET.

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#1 seller in biscuits and muffins. Click book cover photo for link to purchase.

THE CONNECTED TABLE BANNER WITH TIMES

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Betony’s Chef Bryce Shuman – Life Outside “The Park”

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Betony, 41 West 57th Street in NYC

Restaurants come (and go) at a pretty fast clip in New York City, one of the world’s great dining capitals. Some do so without much fanfare, some do so with lots of it. Betony, which opened in 2013 in midtown Manhattan, is one of the latter.

The brainchild of Chef Bryce Shuman and partner Eamon Rockey, who oversees the front of the house, Betony was

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an immediate hit with diners and critics alike, receiving three stars from the New York Times, and won the title of Esquire Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year honor its first year, a Michelin star in 2015, and in 2016, a Beard Awards nomination for Best New Restaurant.

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Best New Chefs Class of 2015, Shuman Seated in front

 

Shuman, a North Carolina native who had honed his skills under Wolfgang Puck’s team at Postrio in San Francisco and then under Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park, was also thrust into the realm of NYC’s chef cognoscenti, and was tapped as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs in 2015.

Betony’s cuisine is at once comforting and very sophisticated, a stylistic ode perhaps to Shuman’s six years at Eleven Madison, where Humm’s cuisine bears some of the same characteristics. Yet, Betony’s menu is clearly all Shuman, who seems happy to delve into culinary ingredient esoterica, and take more chances with pairing differing elements in his dishes.12417588_833804730078605_8696419413190507105_n

That is not to say that his menu creations are in any way weird or strange, they are far from it, blending flavors into beautifully presented dishes that seem to feed all the senses at once. Yet, through them, one senses a freedom that may not be attainable in a restaurant where 3 Michelin stars were granted, and must be maintained.

And that’s the charm of Betony, and Chef Shuman’s slightly more human view of what sophisticated New York City dining should be.

 

Melanie and David are the Insatiably Curious Culinary Couple
Melanie and David are the Insatiably Curious Culinary Couple

 

Bryce Shuman joins The Connected Table LIVE! on Wednesday April 6, 2016 to discuss his restaurant, path to the top, and if we’re really lucky, maybe even why he collects Analog Synthesizers in his spare time.

 

http://www.betony-nyc.com

Twitter: @betonyNYC

Facebook: facebook.com/BetonyNYC

Instagram: @BetonyNYC

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Chef Marcus Samuelsson- Pushing Boundaries; Uniting Cultures

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With almost two dozen restaurants scattered throughout the U.S., Bermuda, and across Scandinavia, a handful of cookbooks, and a growing list of media and philanthropic interests, Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s reach in the culinary world crosses multi-cultural boundaries

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Born in Ethiopia, adopted and raised in Sweden, from an early age Marcus was taught to appreciate and respect food by parents who were driven to instill those values in their children.

“I feel like I’ve been cooking all my life,” he says. “Growing up, my sisters Anna and Linda and I spent summers in Smögen, on the west coast of Sweden. Every morning I went fishing with my dad, Lennart, and my uncles. We caught crayfish, lobsters, and mackerel, and often smoked and preserved the catch. My grandmother, Helga, would gather us in the kitchen to teach us how to pickle fresh vegetables, and make meatballs, ginger snaps, cookies, and apple jam. These experiences taught me to love and appreciate fresh and local food.”

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Chef Daniel Boulud Cooked Up Our Romance and Never Knew It

Daniel Boulud may not know it, but he is responsible for our marriage. Well, at least in part. Here’s the skinny:

After meeting Melanie at a dinner party thrown by my ex-girlfriend (long story) and vowing to stay in touch, we got together for our first date in February 2003. It went something like this:

Melanie: “I have to go to an event at the Gourmet Magazine Kitchen for a wine client, why don’t you meet me there and we’ll go out to dinner afterwards?”

Me: “OK, sounds like a plan”

So, I met her at the event and while she worked her magic with her clients I proceeded to taste some wines (FYI: they were Spanish wines) and meet some of her colleagues, all of which was new to me, as I, at that point, didn’t really have any idea about what she did or who any of these folks were.

Eventually, the event wound down, and our time to go to dinner arrived. Melanie asked what I’d like to do, and since I had been at a wine event in a food magazine’s corporate kitchen (no lack of beverages and hors d’oeuvres there), I responded that “since we’d been already eating and drinking, why don’t we do something easy, like go grab a burger somewhere and talk.”

Well, Melanie thought that was a great idea. “I have just the place in mind,” she said, “and it’s right around the corner.”

She then proceeded to lead me to a place on 44th Street called DB Bistro, owned by a chef named Daniel Boulud, someone I’d never heard of. “He makes a great burger,” she said, “you’ll just love it.”

The Original DB Bistro Burger- Our first date
The Original DB Bistro Burger- Our first date.