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post Marcus Samuelsson: Celebrity Chef in New York

December 9th, 2007

Filed under: Who is Who? — Waltenegus @ 00:36

Marcus Samuelsson
Celebrity Chef in New York City

Born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden by adoptive parents, Marcus Samuelsson has always bridged cultures and cuisines. The critically acclaimed chef rose to prominence in New York for his cooking at Aquavit, the Scandinavian fine-dining destination, and now owns two additional restaurants in New York: the casual AQ Café, at Scandinavia House, and the Japanese-American fusion restaurant, Riingo.

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Marcus Samuelsson is no stranger to traveling. He could have opened a restaurant anywhere. Today home is New York City, where he is chief creative director for New York City-based Townhouse Restaurant Group, which operates Aquavit and new, pan-African brasserie Merkato 55.

The creative force behind Aquavit and Merkato 55 shares his views on what makes America an exciting place to be a chef.

Q. You’re one of the chefs who participated in the James Beard Foundation’s Taste America event in September. How do you define American cuisine? What differentiates it from what you see elsewhere?
A. What you have is true diversity in this country. You have true diversity of landscape, true diversity of climate and true diversity of its people. There’s also the history of the country; the idea that people are constantly moving here means that the food is constantly changing. With that, you don’t always have to be cutting-edge, but you always have to be aware of your surroundings.

Q. You could have opened a restaurant in any city. What keeps you cooking in New York?
A. What makes New York City exciting is that it’s constantly challenging in the sense that new people are coming, new restaurants are opening. You always have to keep working in New York City just to be mainstream. And that’s what makes it very exciting on a food level. But also you have the diversity of your customers.

Q. What is the biggest change you see in how Americans eat today versus how they ate five or 10 years ago?
A. There are a couple of big changes. When I started fine-dining cooking, it was only a matter of French restaurants. Now France is one of many inspirational countries. What you want your restaurant to be conceptually goes beyond one specific country. Then the customer has changed, and with that, customer demands [have changed]. People want more flavor. They want the experience to be quicker. Customers are telling us all the time what they want.

Q. Do you feel a “celebrity chef” pressure to make yourself visible in your restaurants?
A. I never look at myself as a celebrity chef. I don’t think I ever will. I don’t spend time figuring out how I am viewed. I came to this country to cook; I’ve been cooking all of my life, and I’m going to continue cooking. It’s very basic for me. My story keeps evolving because I keep working on it. As long as you do that, you always have something to communicate.

Q. You partnered with Starbucks to develop new coffee blends and promote your latest cookbook, “The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa” (Wiley, 2006). Will you continue working with Starbucks?
A. It was a promotion we did for this year, and it was a lot of fun. I got to travel the country and talk about pairing coffee with food. Coffee has different flavors, and it’s not just in the roast. That’s the story we know with wine, but we might not know it about coffee.

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Q. Is this an example of how the role of a chef has changed? Do you need to know details about all of your ingredients?

A. The consumer is very demanding; the consumer wants to know. So you have to be prepared. You have to be committed and passionate, and I think a lot of chefs are. I feel that young chefs in particular are very committed.

Q. What guidance can you offer to the next generation of chefs?

A. It’s basic: Keep working, keep traveling. If you can get a cheap ticket, you get it and go. Because whether you stay in California, Hawaii, Miami or New York City, you can always come in, talk to the chef, roll up your sleeves and work. It’s not like a major law firm where you need credentials. Here your credentials are yourself and your attitude.

Q. How would you describe your latest restaurant, Merkato 55?
A. It is the first major pan-African restaurant in New York City. I’m very excited to introduce African food into a fine-dining experience. I hope Merkato 55 can be an introduction to the continent of Africa, just as I felt that [Douglas Rodriguez’s now-closed restaurant] Patria introduced Latin food into the fine-dining vocabulary. Which it well should be. It’s fantastic food.

Source: R&I Restaurants and institutions

November 1, 2007
Interface: Marcus Samuelsson

By Kate Leahy, Senior Associate Editor

Link to recipe videos

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Samuelsson’s just-released book, The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, finds him exploring the culinary traditions of his homeland. From Morocco to Ethiopia and Senegal to South Africa, Samuelsson spans the continent, feasting on home-cooked meals and street foods, and then adapting those recipes for the American kitchen.

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Here, Samuelsson shares travel tips and highlights from his African adventures, and tells Fodor’s where to find the best Ethiopian cuisine in New York.

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For those of you who visit or live in New York, here are the addresses if you want to give it a try and have a special culinary experience.

MARCUS’ RESTAURANTS

Merkato 55
55–61 Gansevoort St., New York, NY 10014
nr. Greenwich St

AQUAVIT — Scandinavian
aquavitrestaurant.com
65 East 55th Street (between Park and Madison), New York, N.Y. 10022
212.307.7311

AQ Café — Scandinavian
aquavitrestaurant.com
58 Park Avenue (at 38th Street), New York, N.Y. 10016
212.847.9727

RIINGO — New American and Japanese
riingo.com
205 East 45th Street (at 3rd Avenue), New York, N.Y. 10017
212.867.4200

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