At a party in his Harlem apartment, chef Marcus Samuelsson and his co-host Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, are passing around cranberry caipirinhas. Two of their guests, the jazz pianist Jason Moran and the choreographer Bill T. Jones, are exchanging stories about life on the road. Both are touring with new works and in the past six months have been in more than 45 cities, from Rio de Janeiro to Melbourne.
"We’ ve all been everywhere else," says Samuelsson, the chef and co-owner of Manhattan’s renowned Swedish restaurant Aquavit. "What we don’t know is Africa." In an effort to change that, he and Golden have invited more than a dozen friends to an African-accented meal inspired by recipes in his newest cookbook, The Soul of a New Cuisine. Samuelsson is playing a CD called Afrikya that he put together of all the music—African and African-inspired—that he heard as he crisscrossed the continent researching his book; the compilation, to be released this fall by Rasa Music, includes Cape Verdean, Arabic, Afro-Cuban and Bahian sounds. Like Samuelsson’s book, the CD mirrors the cultural exchanges between Africa and the rest of the world—Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia.
Golden, in a mustard-colored dress by Tracy Reese, urges everybody to fill their plates. "I think Bill should choreograph our movements," she jokes as the guests descend on the buffet. Moran and his wife, Alicia, fall in love with the quince sambal served with lamb, Samuelsson’s riff on the fiery condiment that Indonesian and Malaysian slaves brought to South Africa as an accompaniment to rice and curry dishes. It’s spicy and tart with a zesty ginger flavor. Kara Walker, the provocative silhouette artist, likes the crunchy okra in the roasted sweet potato salad tossed with wilted spinach and tangy capers.