Ethiopian-born chef Marcus Samuelsson grew up in Sweden, attended the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, and then came to New York City to apprentice at the famed restaurant Aquavit. When he was only 24, The New York Times gave him a three-star review (making him the youngest chef to ever receive that designation); at just 33 he won the Best Chef: New York City award from the James Beard Foundation. Samuelsson now owns three restaurants. He also has written a number of acclaimed cookbooks, including The Soul of a New Cuisine, Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine, En Smakresa, and Street Food, and has hosted two televised cooking shows: Inner Chef and Urban Cuisine. Recently WebMD the Magazine caught up with the ever-busy Samuelsson and asked him about his latest book, his food philosophy, how he stays in shape, and his best and worst health habits.
Born in Ethiopia and raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, you arrived in this country as a restaurant apprentice, and have been one of the hottest chefs in New York City for nearly two decades. Now, at 42, you own several restaurants, including Red Rooster, the celebrated Harlem flagship eatery you opened in 2010. On top of that, your memoir, Yes, Chef, is due out this month. What inspired you to write your own story?
I just felt that it was a great time to look back over my life so far, from where I am now to where I came from on the way here, and to document that journey. I realized that my story might be different. After all, not everyone is born in Ethiopia and grows up learning to cook from his Swedish grandmother! Now, at this point in my life, with my restaurant Red Rooster, with Twitter and Facebook, I have a very big audience. I thought that maybe there is something that I can share about my journey that will mean something to readers.
What is your food philosophy and how does Red Rooster reflect that?
I am always asking myself questions, and my food answers them. When I'm thinking about food, I focus my thoughts on diversity, on social responsibility, on farmers' markets and local ingredients. That's what you find at Red Rooster.
You like to teach kids and parents how to cook healthy foods -- in your restaurant, in the iPad app Big Fork Little Fork, and elsewhere. What do you emphasize in your classes?
We focus on how to prepare vegetables and on how to cook things simply. I like to teach kids, but it's truly a matter of getting the parents interested. When it comes to healthy eating, parents are the gatekeepers. Most kids don't eat enough vegetables, but that's not their fault. That's on their parents, so I try to get to them first.