Marcus Samuelsson is no stranger to the spotlight. If you’re a “foodie,” you’ve no doubt heard of him. At the age of 24, he was the youngest chef to receive 3 stars by The New York Times, he won a heralded James Beard Award in 2003 as Best Chef in New York City, in 2009 he cooked for President Obama’s first state dinner and in 2010 he took the title of Bravo’s Top Chef Master.
He’s written five cookbooks and hosted numerous television and festival cooking demonstrations, and when he’s not charming food fans with his boyish good looks and eclectic sense of style, he’s working — hard — as executive chef/owner of Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem, where he serves up a mash of Southern comfort-style foods.
On July 18, Samuelsson pays a visit to Austin, one of his favorite U.S. destinations, for a special book signing and cooking demonstration at Central Market North Lamar.
But looking deeper into the life of Marcus Samuelsson, you soon find that this is a man who was born to shine, if for no other reason than from the melange of global roots that influenced him and the vibrant determination to reveal his identity through his food.
In his public life, he’s made no secret of his past. He was originally born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden by adoptive parents. But in his newly released book, "Yes, Chef," Samuelsson shares both his personal and professional struggles and successes in life and how his family and culture have paved his unique path to his current home in Harlem.
On July 18, Samuelsson pays a visit to Austin, one of his favorite U.S. destinations, for a special book signing and cooking demonstration at Central Market North Lamar. Tickets for the book signing (4 p.m.) and the cooking demonstration (6 p.m.) are $75 and include a copy of the book. Check with Central Market’s cooking school for tickets and more information.
It won’t be his first visit to Austin. He’s spent time in the Capital City for chef demos at Austin City Limits, Lake Austin Spa and more recently at the inaugural Austin Food and Wine Festival. CultureMap caught up with Samuelsson last week to talk about the new book and his love for Austin.
CultureMap: You’ve written cookbooks before, so how is this book different for you?
Marcus Samuelsson: In a cookbook, you can tell a story in one way, but this is my journey and it’s one that I hope can inspire other young folks. I’ve asked so many over the years to talk to me about things like adoption, or race, or cooking or family and I just felt like, here’s my chance to tell that story in one place.
CM: Your family influences clearly have shaped the type of cooking that you do. How important is that to you?
MS: Well, for me, cooking based on my family influences gives me a purpose. I was trained to do French food, which is great for the basics, but you don’t have ownership or authorship on that. It’s not until you feel at home and you’re guided by your family that you’ve got authorship on that. And that’s what you should look for, a sense of identity on your food.
For me, I had to learn about myself and Ethiopia and those particular spices. I grew up in Sweden, so I have so much of that soul in my blood. I feel at home in Harlem, so that’s why it’s the right place for me to be right now.
CM: Talking about those family influences, is this a book something that others could look to for inspiration to look into their own family cooking influences?
MS: Everybody can take something from the book. It’s not just about cooking for chefs. It’s about my journey in getting to where I am today. It’s a story about adoption; it’s a global journey; it’s about dreams and passions; and the ups and downs in a creative person’s life. That definitely speaks to a chef, but it also speaks any person who needs inspiration for their personal or professional life.
CM: So because this is a different style of book for you, do you have a different anticipation for its release?
MS: It’s the one time that I’ve done this type of a book. It’s very special and it’s meant to have a different engagement with the people who read it. I want people to know about me. It’s not a victory lap among chefs. It’s very much about the ups and downs of life and it’s in those ups and downs that you learn. And that’s what makes your food even more yummy and delicious.
CM: You’ve talked about how much you love the spirits and vibe of Austin. What do you like to do in Austin?
MS: Well, first of all, I just love the music scene. I went to Austin City Limits the very first time I was in Austin and it was just amazing. I love the vintage shops that you find there. They have so much personality and I always find unexpected things.
When I come to town, I love to stay at the Hotel San Jose or Hotel St. Cecilia because they just have so much character to them. I love dining at places like Uchi and Uchiko. Those are great, not just Austin restaurants, but great American restaurants. It’s a city that has more than just one note.
Prior to the Central Market event, La Condesa chef Rene Ortiz is hosting a special guest lunch with Marcus at the restaurant's rooftop bar, Malverde.
Tickets will likely sell out to this limited seating event, but it will no doubt be a great way to get to know Samuelsson before diving into his memoir. The lunch is $60 and includes a signed book from Samuelsson.