You may think you know the owner of Red Rooster and Ginny’s Supper Club; he, after all, made Scandinavian cuisine cool through his work at Aquavit, won season two of Top Chef: Masters, and cooked for President Barack Obama’s first state dinner at the White House (remember the party-crashers?). But those are just some of the crowning moments in Marcus Samuelsson’s vast cooking career.
Now, after five years, the 40-year-old chef has completed his memoir Yes, Chef, and Samuelsson is ready to tell the world his whole story starting with his journey from Ethiopia to his adoptive home in Sweden. Naturally, many of Samuelsson’s childhood memories revolve around food, and quickly you get sense of the young chef emerging. It’s less of a play-by-play of Samuelsson’s life, and more a game plan on how to reach for a dream, a difficult but delicious dream, speckled with triumphs and failures.
“For me a book like that is inspiring and I can inspire,” the 40-year-old chef said over the phone. “And it can be inspiration whether you are into food or not.”
Another big thing Samuelsson delves into that separates his story from other chef memoirs is his feelings towards growing up black in a world of white people. It’s not an account of bitterness or feeling ostracized, but more one of childlike innocence to race politics—a good kid who gets picked on because he is different—not surprising given he grew up in the land of Vikings. As for his roll as a successful black chef, Samuelsson said, “It’s definitely helped people see that it’s possible, and we all need role models.”
One of my favorite lines in the book about this subject and Samuelsson’s first time in New York reads, “I stepped into the terminal, the first thing I noticed were all the black people, they were everywhere.” He goes on to say, “The second thing I noticed was that no one was looking at me differently. No, scratch that: No one was looking at me at all.”
Today, everyone is looking at the stylish, handsome chef who has seemingly taken over the culinary renaissance of his new home in Harlem. With his two restaurants, Samuelsson hopes to give more opportunities to residents interested in a restaurant or culinary career. “For me it’s about constantly evolving what Red Rooster is,” he said. “We will continue to evolve with our dining scene and we will evolve when Harlem is ready and when we are ready.”
Samuelsson’s book is now available, and this week he celebrates his book with various events across the city including tonight’s discussion at Barnes and Nobel in Union Square with Ruth Reichl, one of his first fans and the New York Times reviewer who gave Aquavit a three-star rating when Samuelsson was at the helm. Other events include a conversation between the chef and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi at Powerhouse Arena at 7pm on Wednesday; a three-course dinner for $125 at Ginny’s Supper Club at 7:30pm on Thursday; and a cooking demo and book signing at Macy’s Herald Square at 6pm on Monday, July 2.