A Man of Three Continents
Marcus Samuelsson, arguably one of the most talented and celebrated chefs of our time, is a star in the global culinary firmament. An exacting cook, Marcus takes time with all the dishes he creates. He may be satisfied with the flavor, but five other qualities must fall in line before he signs off on the final product: quality, texture, aesthetics, temperature, and top-notch raw materials.
Marcus first came to the United States in 1991 as a young apprentice for New York City's renowned Aquavit, and then left after his designated eight-month stint to cook in France at the famed restaurant Georges Blanc in Lyons. He returned to Aquavit in 1994 and has never left. A short time after his return, he became the youngest chef to earn three stars from The New York Times, and the accolades just keep coming.
"The concept for a restaurant is the chef's journey and philosophy," he explains. "All chefs have different means for developing a dish. For me, it could start with something I tasted on a trip, or else I might just get creative with a familiar dish. Some recipes start with a foundation, for example, plain couscous. Then you build on the dish by adding spices, fruit, or meat until you are satisfied with your creation."
His own journey has been fascinating. Born in Ethiopia, he and his sister were adopted by a Swedish couple when Marcus was only 3 years old. He describes his Swedish childhood as idyllic, and when he was a teenager, his serious study of the culinary arts led him to other European countries before he finally landed in the United States. Today, he cooks sophisticated food rooted in the traditional and contemporary gastronomy of Scandinavia. continues
Now he is turning his attention with increasing frequency to the continent of his birth. His book The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa has a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Marcus says he hopes Americans will come to see the link between American and African food.
"We only hear about war and famine in Africa," he says sadly. "But it has proud, fantastic food."
Whether he is discussing various European or African cuisines, or the cooking of the United States, he sees food as an opportunity to enlighten others. When he comes up with recipes, he tries to make sure they "reveal a sense of my culture and a sense of my restaurant."
He urges home cooks to pay attention to the right tools (how can you slice salmon very thin if you don't have a sharp, flexible knife?), the temperature of the heat under the pots, and the temperature of the food when it is put on the table. He also advises home cooks to pay attention to the aesthetics of serving and eating the food, with a well-set table and good lighting as the place to start.