Swede-iopian. That’s how Chef Marcus Samuelsson describes his food, and rightly so. What I love about this term is that, yes, it aptly reflects his Ethiopian birthright, and Swedish upbringing, but also the playfulness with which he sees food – the way in which his globally-fused flavors color outside the lines of any specific type of cuisine. His notable breakthrough as executive chef at Aquavit lauded him as the youngest chef to receive a three star restaurant review from the NY Times. He was just 24 years old. And then there was his praise as “Best New Chef” by the James Beard Foundation in 2003 that set the stage for the endless (and well deserved) accolades he continues to receive: his The Soul of a New Cuisine being hailed by JBF as “Best International Cookbook” as well as praising his memoir, Yes, Chef with a writing and literature award; then there’s his title as winner of Top Chef Masters, his critically acclaimed & layman loved Harlem resto Red Rooster, and his reputation for being as kind as he is talented. And lest we forget that he cooked the first State Dinner under President Obama’s term – evidently green curry prawns and fresh picked herbs from the White House garden made the cut. With his new cookbook, Marcus Off Duty he shares the meals he cooks at home with his wife, Maya, and their kids – the meals laced with memories and comfort, and unquestionably with a world of flavors.
- What’s the staff meal your kitchen gets most excited about?
Every once in a while, our pastry chef Melissa Camacho puts out her sweet and crispy waffles, which are so delicious they don’t need anything on them. We’ve had homemade pizza a few times too, which always gets the team excited.
- What is the one knife you can’t live without?
I love a good, quality medium-sized chef’s knife. It’s a workhorse that can help with anything from filleting fish to chopping fruits and vegetables. Also, you can’t beat a really great bread knife.
- What’s your naughty food indulgence?
Swedish licorice. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, but I can’t say no to the candy that reminds me of home.
- What’s your mini bar go to?
If I’m in a pinch and hungry while traveling, I’ll grab granola and granola bars from the mini bar, though I do my best to seek out fruit. I try to keep it simple but healthy.
- If you could stage at any restaurant in your city, where would it be and why?
I would love to spend some time with chef Daisuke Nakasawa at Sushi Nakazawa. His background is so interesting and I think there’s a lot to be learned from the discipline and artistry of highly skilled, serious sushi chefs.
- After a long day at work you go home and…?
I love to cook and enjoy a comforting meal with my wife, Maya. One of our favorites is her lamb lasagna. Most people make it with pork, or poultry, or a combination of the two, but the lamb adds another layer of richness that I love. The recipe is in Marcus Off Duty, as are lots of others that we love to cook at home.
- If you weren’t working in a kitchen, what would you be doing?
It’s hard to say, as cooking is such a prominent passion for me, but I like to be on the move, so I’m sure it would involve a busy schedule. I might be playing soccer, or pursuing another creative path, like visual arts or film, which I’ve always loved and been drawn to.
- Drink of choice?
A cold beer in the summer and a glögg, a Swedish mulled wine, in the winter.
- One cookbook you can’t live without/most referenced?
I have a cookbook that’s more just a recipe book of all the recipes my grandmother used to cook. I draw a lot of inspiration from her and traditional Swedish methods.
- What’s the most overrated ingredient?
Anything flavored artificially. For example, so many people don’t realize that truffle oil isn’t really made with truffles, but it is used in so many things.
- Describe your cooking in one word:
Swede-iopian—It’s a word I made up, but it still counts, right?.