Newark Food Diaries #3: Chef Sean Hassan Bell is coming for your taste buds
Published September 3, 2018 | Laureen Delance
Chef Sean Hassan Bell is the owner of Rhythm N Food, which was recently selected as the official caterer for the Newark International Food Festival. Image courtesy Sean Hassan Bell
There is no question in my mind about the positive impact of arts and culture in a community. Arts- and-culture related industries provide direct economic benefits including job creation, local economy stimulation, and a higher-level quality of life for local residents and visitors.
I recently had an opportunity to chat with a key figure in Newark’s catering industry, Chef Sean Hassan Bell of Rhythm N Food Glocal, LLC (RNF). Bell was recently named the official caterer for the upcoming Newark International Film Festival (September 6th through 9th). We connected for an in-depth discussion about his journey, its impact on the City of Newark, and his advice and inspiration for up-and-coming chefs. Let’s learn a little more about this Newark native!
Laureen Delance: In a nutshell, who is Sean Hassan Bell?
Sean Hassan Bell: Music aficionado, comic book geek, boxing fanatic, football lover…even though I may officially be done watching the sport.
I have a huge affection for life and the people in it. Father, brother, nephew, uncle and son who has reaped unwavering love and support from exceptional women starting with my Mom and Taleiah, the mother of my three sons. Born on 7th Avenue and Stone Street, graduated from Barringer High School and Essex County College and owned all of my business here in the city [of Newark].
Delance: How did you get started in the catering business?
Bell: A fluke in a way.
A friend asked me to cater a brunch for her and some friends after seeing pics of my food on social media, which then was changed to a dinner party for 16–and I had to prepare an eight-course meal. Good thing Taleiah was there to assist, as I was in way over my head.
Delance: I have seen some drool-worthy photos of your dishes, how would you describe your food?
Bell: Brick City Fusion! Newark is a huge melting pot from Hispanic, to Italian, Irish, Indian, Portuguese, Brazilian, Asian and of course African-American. Having the opportunity to eat the various types of food allows me to meld them together.
Delance: What does it take to be a good cook?
Bell: Passion, the want to experiment and sample new flavors, the ability to take a negative critique and grow from it and be as modest as you are with your peers and allow your ego to shine in your food. Know that you are a beast in the kitchen.
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Bell: Great question. Not sure if I quite have a signature dish yet, but some of my more requested dishes are my General Tso’s sliders on a lo mein bun, vegan tacos, smoked salmon fig flatbread, our smoked gouda garlic cheddar nachos, lemon pepper and Starski wings, and our pasta dishes, as well as the Jerk Chicken Mac’N Cheez.
Bell got his start trial-by-fire style, when a friend saw a photo of his food on Instagram and asked him to cater a multi-course dinner party for 16 guests. Photo courtesy Sean Hassan Bell
Delance? [And] what’s your favorite dish?
Bell: Lasagna. I can eat a pan by myself if you let me. (laughs
Delance: Is there a special ingredient you use in all if not most of your dishes?
Bell: I love using fresh herbs and citrus in as many dishes as possible. It brightens the flavor of everything. Also limits my salt use.
Delance: Other than your own delectable dishes, where are your favorite place(s) to eat in Newark?
Bell: Queen Pizza on Broad St–been eating their tuna sandwiches with Russian dressing for years. Vivo Lounge. Marcus B&P has become one of my fave places. Green Chicpea for falafel. Sticky’s for Jamaican food–it’s in Irvington, but it’s all Newark. (laughs)
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Delance: Who is or was your inspiration?
Bell: My grandmother, who was an excellent cook. God bless Ms. Kitty Jane Rogers. My mom, Patricia Rogers, who nurtured my talent but also exposed her five children to food and removed the fear of food from our psyche by introducing us to a myriad of cuisine.
Sean prepares a plate of fresh fruit-topped tartines. Photo courtesy Sean Hassan Bell. Click or tap to enlarge
Delance: Now, you have been named the official caterer for the Newark International Film Festival. Congratulations! What does this mean for you?
Bell: That’s huge for RNF. It was on the target list [of goals] for 2018 and it happened. I’m still dancing.
I’m bringing the “international” to the film festival with this menu. My goal is to be the Chef Sean Hassan of the NIFF as Wolfgang Puck is to the Academy Awards.
[It’s great] that a Newark-born chef is at the helm, and this [is] truly an event created by Newarkers, nurturing Newark artists, inspiring Newarkers—and the food is curated by a bona fide, die-hard Newarker.
Delance: Any words of inspiration for fellow chefs and caterers?
Bell: Do not give in to fear. Use it to get through, meet it head-on and conquer it. I’m not a formally trained chef, yet I have worked with and impressed quite a few of them. If you have a desire to cook, do it often, and I mean at least once a day if [you’re] not working in the kitchen. Study. Play with flavors. And most of all, have fun with your food. Passion is the secret ingredient and you taste it every time.