Tropics Chefs: Chef Marcus Samuelsson, the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised Chef| TROPICS FOOD

“I feel like I have been cooking all my life. Growing up, my sisters Anna and Linda and I spent summers in Smögen, on the west coast of Sweden. Every morning I went fishing with my dad, Lennart, and my uncles. We caught crayfish, lobsters, and mackerel, and often smoked and preserved the catch. My grandmother, Helga, would gather us in the kitchen to teach us how to pickle fresh vegetables, and make meatballs, ginger snaps, cookies, and apple jam. These experiences taught me to love and appreciate fresh and local food.
Family

My other window into food came from my relatives and my father, Tsigie, in Ethiopia. Spices are the key element driving taste in Ethiopian cooking. In Ethiopia, food is often viewed through a strong spiritual lens, more so than anywhere else I know. I appreciate my Ethiopian roots because I see how hard people have to work there to survive, and I understand just how fortunate I am to live in this country. I am inspired by the way the people of Ethiopia lead their lives, and how everyone tries to help one another in the community. Their drive inspires me to work as hard as I can to take the knowledge I have about food and to share it with those who want to learn how to prepare fresh, affordable meals.
New York City feels so much like home I almost feel like I grew up here. I love all the diversity that this city has to offer. I love meeting new people and learning about different cultures, because this helps me expand my knowledge of different foods, spices, and techniques. Different sounds and colors influence the way I design a dish. The creative process is always fun for me, whether in food, art, music, or fashion. I love to be influenced by different kinds of art, and I try to take those experiences and place them in my creations.
My perfect weekend is to play soccer with my friends and then cook for them. My wife, Maya, and I entertain friends from all over the world, so it is great to cook something that might be familiar to them, yet has been prepared in a completely different way.
My hope is that Red Rooster will build on Harlem’s rich culinary culture, and that people from all over the world will celebrate all that Harlem has to offer. I’m looking forward to this new adventure.”
TIMELINE
1971
Born in Ethiopia.
1972
After the three of us contract tuberculosis, my mother takes my sister Linda and I to the hospital. Sadly, my mother succumbs to the disease.
1973
Linda and I are adopted by Ann Marie and Lennart Samuelsson and brought to Sweden.
1977
My grandmother Helga is the first to teach me how to cook and I’m exposed to lingonberries and blueberries for the first time.
1980
Music becomes an important part of my life. I purchase my first Bob Marley album.
1985
Joined GAIS soccer team and started a lifelong love of soccer. I’m pretty sure I sported a jheri curl during this time.
1989
After studying at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, I apprenticed in Switzerland to expand my culinary knowledge.
1993
I finally get the chance to go to France and apprentice at some of the world’s best restaurants.
1993
My grandmother Helga passes away on the cusp of my culinary career. I owe her my inspiration and dedicate my passion to her.
1994
Arrive in America for an apprenticeship with Aquavit and work my way up.
1995
Receive a 3-star rating from the New York Times while Executive Chef of Aquavit. I’m 23 and the youngest chef to ever so do at the time.
1996
I am finally able to buy my first suit. My dear father, Lennart, passes away.
1999
Awarded the Rising Star Chef Award from the James Beard Foundation.
2000
After nearly 30 years, I return to Ethiopia and I meet my Ethiopian father, Tsegie. I also meet my 18 sisters and brothers for the first time.
2001
The World Trade Center collapses and changes the way I look at cooking and my community.
2006
Harlem calling. I start dreaming of opening Red Rooster as I bike from 145th Street to Central Park North just observing and learning about the neighborhood.
2009
Gate Maya Haile and I marry in Ethiopia in the presence of our families and friends from the US and Europe who have flown a great distance to join us.
2009
I have the honor of cooking the first State Dinner for President Barack Obama for the Prime Minister of India.
2010
Red Rooster Harlem opens on 125th and Lenox Avenue. It fulfills my dream to showcase American comfort food with hints of my Swedish and African roots. I want this to be a place where people from all walks of life break bread together.
2011
FoodRepublic.com launches as a place for men who want to explore new culture of food through stories, interviews, global conversations, and experiences.
2012
Ginny’s Supper Club opens in March. A modern incarnation of glamorous speakeasies, it’s our tribute to the Harlem Renaissance.
“Yes, Chef” is published in June. I hit the road on a multi-city book tour where I meet my incredible fans and do guest chef stints in some of the country’s best kitchens.
American Table Cafe and Bar at Lincoln Center opens late September in Alice Tully Hall. It’s soon followed up by the opening of American Table Brasserie and Bar in Stockholm.

 

Follow me on my website: http://www.marcussamuelsson.com/

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