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My LES – Marja Samsom

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This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.


Dutch performance artist Marja Samsom arrived in New York’s East Village in the 80’s with a passion and dedication that enabled her to transform weekly prix fixe dinners for friends into The Kitchen Club which became an iconic destination for European-Japanese cuisine. Later Marja would expand with Chibi’s Sake Bar, named after her darling French bulldog, Chibi, and most recently transformed herself into “The Dumpling Diva,” providing enlightening cooking classes at a variety of venues throughout the city.

What do you do?

I am a conceptual/performance artist and I started working as a private chef and then I moved in to catering, as well. I did a lot of private parties from 1981-1985…until I opened my restaurant (The Kitchen Club) but I made a name for myself doing catering. I did a lot of parties for CBS, Epic Records, Gloria Estefan – Miami Sound Machine, it was called then – Cyndi Lauper…and at the time of course, everyone was still going out and going to places like the Mud Club…but eventually I progressed somewhat away from the art world as a participant, more in to a person who was becoming a supplier of food and style, and also someone who was giving other people work.  When I first opened my restaurant I started with two or three people and eventually I had like 15 – 20 people working there.

How long have you lived on the LES?

Since the early ’90s. (The decade) before that I lived in Alphabet City. I lived here on (Norfolk street) while I was starting the restaurant and living here, walking to the other corner of Prince and Mott, I had a very clear picture of what it represented economically (each block was a level up and up).  But it took a good ten years to make that happen. We moved from the E. Village to the LES because the E. village was becoming too much like mid-town, too established, we thought. I mean it was difficult (here) even in the early 1990s. There wasn’t really anything happening. You know WD-50 didn’t open up until, before 9/11, a year or so before…

Favorite block in the hood?

Sara D. Roosevelt Park: from Houston to Grand street…

Favorite date spot in the hood?

2nd Floor on Clinton.

Favorite coffee in the hood?

Panetteria Falai.

Favorite slice in the hood?

Rosario’s.

Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?

East River Park Esplanade.

Favorite dive/locals bar in the hood?

Schiller’s.

How has the neighborhood changed in the last few years?

Many more International young ‘professionals’ that stimulate the ‘hood.

Favorite LES memory?

Observing  President Obama in his Motorcade on Houston street…

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