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Rockefeller Center Chefs Share Their Favorite NYC Food Memories for This Year’s Flag Project

By Paulina CajigalApr 3 2023
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193 flagpoles circle The Rink at Rockefeller Center. Though they’re permanent fixtures, the flags that adorn them change every so often. For most of the year, the poles carry the flags of the United Nations member states; during the winter months, they’re replaced by charming white-and-gold weaving to match the holiday decor.

But as April rolls around, Rockefeller Center’s annual Flag Project gives the billowing banners a deeper meaning. For this year’s event, Rockefeller Center partnered with City Harvest, New York’s first and largest food rescue organization, to give the public a chance to see their artwork displayed on Center Plaza throughout April. This year’s theme commemorates the city’s diverse cuisine and the way food has the power to bring people together, asking participants: “What was an unforgettable food experience New York City has given you?”

Whether it was a celebratory dinner at one of the city’s many Michelin-starred restaurants or a serendipitous discovery of a hole-in-the-wall eatery, hundreds of people from all over New York let the crowd-sourced art exhibit help them recapture their favorite memories. Among them were culinary notables Ted Allen, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, and Eden Grinshpan, as well as members of the Rockefeller Center community — including the acclaimed chefs behind Five Acres, 21 Greenpoint, Pebble Bar, NARO, Jupiter, and more.

Read on to see a few of their entries and, in their own words, the memories that inspired them.


JP & Ellia Park, NARO

“One of our most meaningful food memories of the past year is our first meal at NARO after its opening at Rockefeller Center. To prepare and showcase a modern vision of Hansik, a part of our Korean culture, in this historic American institution is truly a meaningful experience.

We can't wait to see how Hansik will evolve and the forms it will take in the future. NARO restaurant and its cuisine, to us, represents a new beginning. A new journey, a new world. We hope that NARO is able to share this heartfelt message to our guests.”

Homer Murray, 21 Greenpoint

“A few long years ago, after working a particularly miserable shift as a line cook (the kind that leaves you questioning not only your life choices but also your sanity), I was tasked with walking a few blocks to our neighborhood sandwich shop Saltie to pick up some extra focaccia for the restaurant. I probably walked in looking as bad as or worse than I was feeling. (This, admittedly, would have been hard to do because I felt awfully rotten.)

As I walked in, Chef Caroline Fidanza took one look at me and asked if I had eaten that day. I shrugged and she told me to ‘stay put.’

What happened next could only be described as a miracle. Chef Caroline took time out of her busy day, without hesitation, to make me the most incredible sandwich. She handed it to me without a word and I shoved it in my pocket for the walk back.

When I got back to the restaurant, I unwrapped the sandwich and inside was the perfect blend of scrambled eggs and ricotta on warm fresh focaccia. I stood alone in the kitchen eating this wonderful sandwich and crying — I kid you not.

I didn't quit that day and I still haven't.”


Eli Sussman, Samesa

“I'd love to shout out Yonah Schimmel Knish [on] 137 E Houston. I have often gone there to pick up a knish with family and friends when they visit NYC. As a Jewish-American chef who has worked in Jewish delis in NYC, I feel a strong connection to the food culture and history of the Lower East Side. Yonah Schimmel is an institution that has been there since 1910 and should be mentioned in the same sentence as Russ & Daughters and Katz's. It’s an iconic LES Jewish institution that has stood the test of time and continues to make a delicious product.”

Greg Baxtom, Five Acres

“This is one of my favorite memories since opening Olmsted. This was from one of our first parties where I felt like the neighborhood really showed up for us, and cemented Olmsted as a welcome addition to Vanderbilt Avenue. Of course, being me, it involved one very large tree branch.”

Matt Abramcyk and Akiva Elstein, Smith & Mills

“There are a few foods that are synonymous with NYC, like the black and white cookie, the bagel, and the hot dog. But for us, there is nothing more New York than smoked fish. Specifically, Acme Smoked Fish. At Smith & Mills, one of our signature dishes will be a traditional smoked fish platter inspired by our childhood visits to the store. One never forgets that Friday morning rush to the ACME store in Brooklyn, cash in hand, stocking up on the classics: a little smoked salmon, herring, kippered, and smoked trout. Breaking bread in New York City, to us, means diving into a smoked fish platter.”

The Pebble Bar team

“Right after the opening of Pebble Bar, a woman saw the New York Times article about the opening in the old Hurley's space, which meant so much to her because her husband worked there for something like 50 years. She felt so moved that she sent the team three items from the time they both spent here."

  1. A photo of the entire staff and some guests at Hurley's in 1933, the day after Prohibition was lifted
  2. A Hurley's menu from the 1940s ([our] guess based on cocktail prices)
  3. A signed photo of Maureen O'Sullivan and Greta Garbo

Find the full catalog of The Flag Project 2023 participants here.

In honor of The Flag Project 2023, Rockefeller Center’s special Earth Day event will feature activities and activations sponsored by City Harvest. Along with a selection of coloring pages with tips on how to reduce food waste, children will also have the opportunity to color in and design their own flags.

Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

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