Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson says he’s always felt honored to use his platform to help other black designers get into the limelight.
Known for his iconic Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster, Samuelsson, 50, sees the space not only as a culinary destination, but as a center of community where âwhether you’re a black chef, black musician, or creative artist, here is the walls, here is the kitchen, here is the platform to create and entertain.
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, Samuelsson was first introduced to the power of cooking by his grandmother Helga before studying at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg. His rise was meteoric, becoming the youngest chef to earn a three-star New York Times review at just 24 years old.
Then came other accolades and accolades, including serving as a guest chef for President Barack Obama’s inaugural State Dinner and opening Red Rooster in 2010. New places, cookbooks and other famous restaurants followed.
Over the summer, Samuelsson became a âlaunch curatorâ for Bombay Sapphire as the brand rolled out its new berry-infused Bombay Bramble. Since June, he’s partnered with chefs – Joseph Johnson of Charcoal Venice, Adrienne Cheatham of the SundayBest Monthly Dinner Series and Tristan Epps of Red Rooster Overtown – on âBursting with Berries,â a virtual food and cocktail series. .
He worked with Harlem-based artists Cey Adams and Dianne Smith to commemorate the rich creative lineage of Historic New York City, transforming billboard spaces with large-scale outdoor pieces inspired by Bombay Bramble. The brand will make donations to the NAACP on behalf of the artists.
Samuelsson acknowledged that after the past year of the Covid-19 pandemic and our culture’s late racial reckoning, these initiatives are crucial. For his part, he feels fortunate that his restaurants have survived a tough year for the hospitality industry and is now excited to give back.
Recently, Penta chatted with Samuelsson about some of his passions, his favorite places and what helps him start his days.
One thing in the kitchen that I can’t live without is … I still have my grandma’s cast iron pan, so I still use it a lot. My grandmother Helga is the reason I’m here to talk to you today, I wouldn’t be a chef without her. So to have this with me, this is my vintage piece, one day I will pass it on.
If I could own a work of art, it would be … I am a big fan of Cey Adams and Dianne
]. Also, another would be Julie Mehretu, she now has her exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York. I am already very lucky to have some of these pieces myself.
The best book I read last year is … I actually went back to do an Audible listen to The autobiography of Malcolm X. Laurence Fishburne tells the whole book – it’s amazing when you hear Mr. Fishburne’s voice, his speech is amazing. The book moved me when I was a teenager, but I feel very different when you hear it and you have this amazing voice behind it. It was part of my sanity to block out time, run in the park, and listen to Laurence Fishburne.
One thing that fascinates me and that no one knows is … the Euro Games, I’m a big football fan just because I grew up in Europe, being from Africa, when the matches are on Europe goes crazy. It’s kind of like the NBA playoffs with the baseball playoffs and maybe the NFL all in one. All European countries come togetherâ¦ you don’t have to be from the country to be convinced. It brings Europe together more than the EU or any politician, it’s a good time for small countries to take center stage.
A travel destination that I would like to visit again would be … I always like to go back to Africa to visit different countries. Obviously, I went to Ethiopia, being from there, and I went to South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria, etc. But I have never been to Madagascar, for example. Every time I set foot on the African continent, it’s just something special that connects me, and I just want to plan my next trip home already.
For my next travel destination, I would like to visit … we are opening the new Marcus restaurant in the Bahamas – Marcus in Haha Mar Fish + Chophouse – a lot of surrounding stuff that was on hold in 2020, we are now able to open it.
What wakes me up in the morning is …I have the best alarm clock in the world, his name is Zion, my son, he is 4.5 years old, almost 5 years old. So at 5:45 am my alarm clock wakes me up whether I like it or not. He’s ready to go, so you know that’s what wakes me up, we always try to go to the park or bike in the morning, to fly an hour and a half in the morning before the city wakes up.
My favorite place in my neighborhood is … there’s this amazing Sunday jazz experience going on with this woman, Miss Marjorie Eliot, she’s doing it away from home. She’s 80 years old, it’s called Parlor Jazz. A lot of times, if I have guests, maybe we have brunch at Melba’s restaurant in Harlem and then ride our bikes around 3 or 4 in the afternoon to Marjorie’s house. It’s a two bedroom apartment in New York with a live jazz band she put on and you realize how special Harlem and New York are. It’s for everyone, if you have money you can put money in the bucket, if you don’t have it you can just behave and be a good guest. When you come back on foot or by bike, my guest always says, âWhat just happened, how does it exist? “
If I could have a drink with one person right now, it would be … for me, being a big fan of prince, i just wish i had the chance to sit down with mr purple rain himself, one of the most awesome people who ever lived. I still have many moments to think, “How would Prince solve this?” As I listen to Prince’s records. I went to the Prince concerts. It is always in my head when I think of genius and achievements.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.