Chelsea may be the backdrop to Marcus Samuelsson’s just-opened restaurant in New York, but Hav & Mar’s mission of showcasing Black excellence, whether through the producers highlighted on the menu, the arresting artworks Derrick Adams created for the space, or the culturally diverse staff that is in place. It’s an extension of the genial spirit that Samuelsson has brought to Harlem with Red Rooster.
Presiding over the kitchen is executive chef Rose Noël, formerly of Union Square Hospitality’s now-shuttered Maialino Mare in Washington, DC. Noël, who has Haitian roots, is joined by chef de cuisine Fariyal Abdullahi and head baker Farheen Jafarey, who are of Ethiopian and Pakistani descent, respectively.
Hav & Mar’s menu, a family-style range of plates that pull from Sweden, Ethiopia, and the Caribbean, particularly excites Noël because of its preponderance of seasonal produce sourced from purveyors and farmers that she has relationships with. “If I can start my day at the market, it suddenly feels a lot better,” she says.
But Noël is also aware that Hav & Mar is an educational opportunity as much as a culinary destination, serving dishes that seem familiar yet are new. “Everyone’s had lobster, snapper, or bass, but they wouldn’t have had it this way,” she explains. “We have all these cultures [in the kitchen] where everyone cooks a different way, so we’ll use ingredients that we’ll play off each other. Often, we’ll find combinations that don’t seemingly go together, but are amazing.”
As a chef, Noël is eager to see the world of restaurants become more equitable, and that was what initially attracted her to Hav & Mar. The restaurant allows her to “take everything we’ve learned in the past but leave everything that we don’t want to see in the future back where we left it,” she says. Staff are guaranteed days off at Hav & Mar, and more importantly, the prospect of growth is clear. “For me, walking into a place where people look like me, not only Black, but women, shows that we’re welcoming,” she says.
General manager Franshelis Montalvo, the other half of the female powerhouse leading Hav & Mar, also singles out the comfortable atmosphere that Samuelsson has engendered at the restaurant. “I’m Brazilian and Dominican. I’m from Vermont. That brings a sense of individuality,” Montalvo says. “We’re all from very different backgrounds, and we all grew up in very different places, but we each get to bring a piece of that into [the restaurant] and create that culture.”
Previously, she worked at establishments “where I’ve had to dilute myself, and I felt like I couldn’t be my most authentic self,” she explains. “Now I’m working with Marcus who is always his most authentic self.” Montalvo and her colleagues realize they are in a safe space where they can express themselves in their “truest form and talk like I talk at home and not have to worry about turning something on for the team or for the guests,” she adds.
Montalvo is also accustomed to highly structured professional environments that require navigating various steps before changes can be implemented. But during a recent conversation with Samuelsson, she realized there was a more organic path to “excellence and perfection,” as she puts it. “He was sharing feedback about the venue and said, ‘It’s speaking to me, it’s not singing to me.’ He has helped me put things into a different perspective, taking them not just for what they are, but how we can mold them and create them into what we want them to be through a different lens. Are they singing or are they talking?”
Singing is always the goal at Hav & Mar. Noël envisions it as a restaurant with the soul of the TV show Cheers, one that celebrates its stream of loyal regulars with “bartenders you recognize and who recognize you. You sit at your spot, and you continue the conversation that you left off after the last time,” she says.
The food and service need to wow, but the guests also need to come away from Hav & Mar with the knowledge, adds Montalvo, that “there is a deeper meaning behind everything that’s there.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s November 2022 issue.