A Famous Chef, a Family Affair

Chef Marcus Samuelsson

On Tuesday night, chef Marcus Samuelsson cooked dinner for 35 in his Harlem apartment to benefit the Maysles Institute, a nearby not-for-profit documentary film house and community education center.

“They have a fantastic institution that is both international and local,” said Mr. Samuelsson. “When I opened Red Rooster, I went to them for guidance on how to be an incredible neighbor.”

The event was a family affair for Mr. Maysles, the prolific documentary filmmaker known for such films as “Grey Gardens” and “Gimme Shelter.” His wife, Gillian Walker, selected Indian saris to dress the dinner tables. Their son Philip was DJ and checked coats; their daughters Sara and Rebekah served dinner, along with the institute’s directors and its accountant.

An oyster dish

An oyster dish

“We’re using our money wisely,” said chair of the board Amanda Benchley, who became enchanted with the Maysles after visiting with them in their Harlem brownstone. “About an hour in I started making cucumber sandwiches with Gillian because it was 4 o’clock and that’s what they do everyday at 4 o’clock,” she said. “I stayed for four hours. I roll very easily into that kind of environment.”

The evening’s menu was made up of “all things Albert loves,” said Mr. Samuelsson: oysters on the half shell, fried chicken, Ethiopian ramen, warm farro salad and coffee-roasted duck, as well as dark chocolate and strawberry ice cream made by Ms. Walker.

Albert Maysles chats with Iris Apfel.

Albert Maysles chats with Iris Apfel.

Mr. Maysles, who will turn 86 in a couple of weeks, was seated next to 91 year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel, the subject of one of his work-in-progress documentaries. Otherwise the evening was populated by the friends of Ms. Benchley and her co-hosts, Kate and Andy Spade.

“Al played Santa in our ad campaign,” said Ms. Spade.

How did he fare on the other side of the camera?

“He was fantastic,” said Mr. Spade. “Rather than hire models, we brought in his friends. We paid the institute and got better models than we could have from an agency.”

The dinner table

The dinner table

This week the institute is showcasing a typically eclectic roster of films: “T.V. Transvestite,” a rarely seen 1982 drag culture documentary; “Unseen Tears,” about a Native American boarding school in Western New York; and “The Central Park Five,” Ken and Sarah Burns’s film revisiting the wrongful rape conviction and imprisonment of five Harlem teenagers in 1989.

“We all know that we should love our neighbors,” said Mr. Maysles. “But how are we going to love our neighbors if we don’t even know them?”

A version of this article appeared November 15, 2012, on page A25 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Famous Chef, A Family Affair.

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