Harlem is one of New York’s most dynamic and culturally rich neighborhoods. In recent years, Harlem has become a platform for trends in food, dining, music and entertainment. Award-winning opera singer-turn-restaurateur Alexander Smalls is considered to be a major catalyst for this recent renaissance.
After much success in the world of music and opera (winning both Tony and Grammy Awards for his role as Jake in “Porgy and Bess,”) Alexander Smalls followed his passion for food and opened Café Beulah in the Flatiron District in 1994. Taking inspiration from his childhood in South Carolina, Smalls focused on “low-country” southern cooking.
Although Café Beulah closed in 1997, Smalls realized he was onto something with these simple, southern dishes. In 2013 he took his love for soul food uptown to Harlem and opened The Cecil, where his chefs serve “southern revival” and “Afro-Asian” cuisine. In the same year, Smalls renovated and revived one of the most legendary and historical jazz clubs, Minton’s Playhouse. The new Minton’s is a formal supper club featuring live music and a sophisticated prix fixe menu.
Alexander Smalls’ influence has stretched beyond the borders of Harlem; Zagat named him as one of the “19 NYC Restaurant Power Players You Need to Know” in 2014. The Cecil was named Esquire’s “Best New Restaurant in America” in 2014.
Smalls is author of Grace the Table, his acclaimed memoir and cookbook. He is also an integral part of non-profit organizations such as Harlem Jazz Enterprises and Careers through Culinary Arts Programs (CCAP.)
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