This Harlem Dinner Series Celebrates Black Excellence Year-Round
History, like memory, can be evasive and fleeting, highlighting some moments while erasing others. That's often the case during Black History Month, where a few figures are celebrated while many remain in the shadows, their achievements yet to be publicly acknowledged. Take Nathan “Nearest” Green, a master distiller who taught a young Jack Daniel how to make the now-ubiquitous whiskey. Or Edith Fossett and Fanny Hern, who at 15 and 18 were enslaved master chefs at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, where they learned how to cook under the French tradition. While their cooking was praised as “in good taste and abundance” by Jefferson, his family members, and guests, Fossett and Hern were never credited for their work.
For Marcus Samuelsson, these individuals served as the inspiration for the Green & Fanny dinner series, which honors the often-overlooked stories of Black historical figures from February through the end of the year.
“I wanted to start something that began to tell more of these stories, and this was something that always stuck with me,” Samuelsson said. “How can it be that these incredible people are not acknowledged more, and what can I do in modern time to sort of do that? As part of the African diaspora, I wanted to talk about how many things that we have inspired but not gotten acknowledgement for.”
The inaugural dinner was held at Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem, the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance and one of the most significant (and historic) Black cultural institutions. The aesthetic at Ginny’s — low ceilings, dim lighting, leather banquette seating — evoked imagery of 1920s Harlem, a place where the Black literary and cultural cognoscenti of the day gathered to discuss current events. Co-hosted by Samuelsson and Kendra Dandy, an illustrator and textile designer, the featured guest was André Mack — renowned sommelier, winemaker, and creator of Maison Noir Wines — whose wines were paired with the five-course menu.
The menu was inspired by the ingenuity of African-American families, who used creativity and knowledge passed down for generations to make meals with limited resources. One dish, a bright and earthy cured turnip with smoked peanut shiro, was a tribute to Southern matriarchs in the kitchen.
“Turnips are legendary in the South, and grandmothers and aunties have been working with turnips and doing wonders. We wanted to start with something very humble and making it salty and weird and interesting,” Samuelsson said. The nod to resourcefulness was also seen in another course, a bluefin tuna set atop a crispy dirty rice cake, complemented with an umami-packed bone broth aioli.
“When I think about rice, I think about the Gullah Geechee culture and how important rice is," he continued. "The bone broth aioli is made with leftover bones; I just wanted to show that we’ve always been cooking with nothing — with scraps — and made it excellent."
Each course was paired with a wine from Mack’s Maison Noir line, with wine names including O.P.P (Other People’s Pinot), which highlights his love for hip-hop culture. For Mack, a former Head Sommelier at Per Se, the history of African-Americans working in rarefied spaces — like Fern and Fossett — has influenced his work, and it's not something he takes lightly.
“I wear it with a badge of honor. I know that I’m carrying on their legacy in what I do,” he said. As one of the most well-known sommeliers and African-American winemakers in the industry, Mack understands the significance of his visibility among younger wine professionals who see him as a mentor.
“The responsibility doesn’t feel like a burden," he said. "I feel like it’s owed, and it’s really fulfilling for me; it makes me feel great about my place in our history. For me, I celebrate Black History Month every day through who I am and my work, and our history is something to be celebrated more often."
The next dinner in the Green & Fanny series is slated for April, celebrating spring and the history of black farming. (Tickets are not yet available.) The menu will reflect the theme with courses and cocktails showcasing seasonal produce. Forthcoming dinners will also feature guests that will be announced in the coming months.
For Samuelsson, the goal of the dinner is not only to connect people from various industries, but also to foster dialogue among others. “It's all about connecting people and sharing their stories," he said. "I can't assume what your journey or your parent’s journey was, but we likely share commonalities. Breaking bread is not a bad way to get to know each other.”
According to a rep, the best way to stay updated on forthcoming dinners is to follow the social handles for Red Rooster and Ginny's Supper Club.