President Clinton, Chefs Announce First Annual ‘Harlem Eat Up’ Food Festival

PHOTO: A general view of Red Rooster as celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson speaks with guests at the restaurant on December 10, 2013 in New York City.

Celebrity chefs, politicians and a former president gathered in the jazz lounge of a popular New York City restaurant to announce a new food festival coming in 2015.

Harlem EatUp! will be the first annual three-day food and wine series spotlighting the new culinary destinations, rich heritage and diverse community of a Manhattan neighborhood known worldwide for its soulfulness.

As the neighborhood currently experiences a renaissance of small business development, celebrity chef and author Marcus Samuelsson along with event co-founder Herb Karlitz felt the moment was right to cook up the festival.

“Why now? We feel like this is such an exciting time to be a part of Harlem, to live in Harlem and to visit Harlem,” Samuelsson said this week. “We’ll have food, art, music, and celebrate the great people of Harlem."

One such person would be chef Tren'ness Woods-Black, whose mother Sylvia opened her eponymous restaurant at 126th Street and Lenox Avenue in 1962.

"Thousands and thousands of people come to New York to see what our culture is about,” said Woods-Black, who now runs Sylvia’s. “We’re excited to share and be a part of this great opportunity.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio echoed the sentiment.

"I remember my mother and her sisters talking about the Harlem of the 1930s and '40s with really a sense of magic in their voice,” said de Blasio. “It’s one of the quintessential New York City neighborhoods, it’s globally famous for good reason, and it represents all of what’s good in us… There is so much to cherish and protect while we continue and evolve."

While festival ticket prices have yet to be released, organizers said they would aim to keep them affordable and accessible to a wide range of visitors. Proceeds will be donated toward City Meals on Wheels and Harlem Heart to Heart.

Event lineup details for the festival, which will take place from May 15 to 17, 2015, will also be released in the coming months. But at least one of the culinary experiences will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"My friend Frank Pellegrino, the owner of Rao’s, has agreed to turn over his restaurant for one entire night of the festival,” said Karlitz, who has helped launch various food and wine festivals in New York, California, Miami and Las Vegas. “That doesn’t just happen.”

Even New Yorkers have trouble securing a seat at the –century-old Italian-American restaurant. A favorite haunt of Frank Sinatra and Woody Allen, Rao’s offers two dinner seatings per night and reservations are nearly impossible to come by unless you known someone who knows someone who knows someone else.

But with Harlem EatUp!, Karlitz is that someone and he is inviting the general public.

Honorary Chair of the festival President Bill Clinton was also on hand to share his support for the neighborhood where his Foundation has kept its offices for more than a decade.

"This is a great day for our city,” said President Clinton. “I believe the Harlem EatUp! Festival will lift all of Harlem in ways that will not only have permanent economic benefits, but also showcase all of the culture this community has to offer.”

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