Talking with Marcus Samuelsson

[ 0 ] December 10, 2014 |
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A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to see Marcus Samuelsson give a talk at Sixth & I, which was connected to his new cookbook release:  Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook At Home.  The talk was less about his recipes, and more about his background, influences and unique perspective when it comes to food.  In short, Samelsson was born in Ethiopia, adopted as a young child and grew up in Sweden.  He started cooking with his Grandmother, whom he says “never cooked down to the kids.” He grew up eating typical Swedish dishes such as herring, meatballs, mackerel and pretty much no red meat; and fruit served as candy. He said even though he was the product of a cross-racial adoption, he was still connected to his Ethiopian roots (youngest of 3), and maintained that his “curiosity and love for food has never changed.”

Samuelsson talked about the differences between eating in the US and Ethiopia.  Here, Americans eat fast, eat alone, throw away large amounts of food and there is a huge child hunger problem.  However, in Ethiopia, folks eat with a “spiritual compass,” share food and the country does not have a child hunger issue.  In fact, he stated that the image projected around the world about Ethiopia is wrong – it is, in fact, a plentiful nation, and grows food for India and other countries.  In the end, Samuelsson thinks the countries can learn a lot from each other when it comes to food.
He further spoke of how teaching someone to cook is just as important as teaching other skills, such as those having to do with technology. (I couldn’t agree more! Kids go to college and can’t boil water!)  Samuelsson stated that restaurant attendance is down in favor of more quick options, but questions how can we get people to cook more. He says we have to value it, value the art.
He spoke of how he tries different recipes at home and then will sometimes serve them in his Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster.  He lives within walking distance! When asked whether he would open up a restaurant in DC, he wouldn’t commit, but said he “could.”  (I hope this means it’s in the works.  Red Rooster is fabulous!)
Overall, Samuelsson is more than a chef.  He’s fashioned a great career based on some basic principles, which has also led to a great relationship with POTUS and FLOTUS, and resulted in his cooking the first State Dinner in the Obama Administration.  He said that “everyone has a cookbook in them” and we should preserve our family recipes.  He urged that we all eat with that “spiritual compass,” travel the world with new foods and recognize the power of food.  I second that.

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Category: Cookbooks, Washington D.C.

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