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It’s easy to think of food as anathema to fashion. Anyone who loves lasagna and Balenciaga can tell you so.
But Marcus Samuelsson and Zac Posen see it differently. They say the two disciplines are extraordinarily similar, since both rely heavily on quality materials and presentation — not to mention ego.
“I think food and fashion make complete sense together,” says Samuelsson, zipping around his kitchen one sunny afternoon as he whips up a late lunch of seared tuna with tomato salad for Posen and himself. “You really appreciate somebody that uses good fabric or uses good ingredients. I don’t know how it is for Zac, but for a chef you constantly ask, ‘Doesn’t it taste good? Doesn’t it taste great?’”
This story first appeared in the October 6, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“How does it feel?” Posen says by way of agreement.
On Saturday, the two friends will cook a dinner together with Giada De Laurentiis as part of the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival. (Tickets are $325 and benefit hunger relief organizations.) Posen may seem out of his league in the company of Samuelsson, who coowns Aquavit in New York, and De Laurentiis, a star on the Food Network. But it turns out he’s an enthusiastic home cook. As a kid, Posen sculpted copies of his mom’s cakes out of clay and viewed endless hours of cooking programs after school, such as Jacques Pépin’s public television series. “I was a very depressed middle-school student and I watched [those shows] avidly,” says Posen. “And then Martha Stewart changed my life. Her first cookbook [‘Entertaining’] was given to my mom, but I took it.”
These days, Posen is more likely to be found stitching than sautéing, but he makes it a rule to cook dinner at home at least three nights a week. (He even went back to his apartment after the Costume Institute gala in May and fired up the oven for puff pastry.)
Samuelsson dabbles less so in the fashion world, but his interest in it is evident. For one thing, his wife of almost a year, Maya Haile, is a model. “I’ve been backstage at a fashion show, and it’s like a kitchen,” Samuelsson says. “It’s a very similar energy.” The couple’s Harlem apartment has a mannequin standing in the middle of the living room and one of their dining room chairs is decoupaged with images of Kate Moss.
Like fashion, Samuelsson says, food is very rooted in the visual. “We taste through our senses. Aesthetics, then texture and then sour, sweet, salt and all these different things. But aesthetics, for me, are extremely important.”
Despite the similarities between their chosen professions, there’s a fat chance either man will step on the other’s turf. Just before clearing his plate, Posen turns to his Samuelsson with a smile and a quick reminder: “I don’t do dishes.”
Maple Glazed Tuna With Yellow CousCous
This dish, from Samuelsson’s new cookbook “The New American Table,” is a version of the meal he made for Posen.
FOR THE TUNA
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Juice of 1 lime
¼ cup olive oil
4 6-ounce tuna fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cilantro sprigs
Yellow couscous salad (recipe follows)
Whisk together the mustard, maple syrup, lime juice and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and set aside.
Season the tuna fillet on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add the tuna and cook for 30 seconds on each side. Remove from the pan and brush both sides of the tuna with the maple-mustard glaze. Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with the cilantro and serve with the couscous.
FOR THE COUSCOUS
1 cup uncooked semolina couscous
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 red finger chilies, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
4 saffron threads
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 head frisée, leaves separated and roughly chopped
Bring 1 ½ cups of salted water to a boil. Add the couscous and bring back to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chilies and sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, saffron and cumin and sauté for another 30 seconds. Remove from the heat. Add the couscous, cilantro, salt and lemon juice and mix to combine.
Toss together the onion and the frisée in a medium bowl.
To serve place couscous on plate and top with the frisée onion mixture.