Who are you? How do you define yourself?
"I am a chef through and through. Everything I do – whether it is cooking for kids in Harlem or cooking in a fine dining establishment – all my days are consumed by food. Every day, whether I am teaching or entertaining – I absolutely love bringing different people and cultures together.
I define myself as American, Swedish, [and] African. I draw on all of my different cultures and experiences and that is who I am today. I am many different things and that is why I am so proud to be American."
What gets you up and going each morning?
"I really enjoy being able to wake up and head to [my restaurant], the Red Rooster. I feel very blessed to be working in a world-class neighborhood, it brings me such happiness. I get to meet really interesting and creative people that live in the neighborhood everyday. I am happy to serve them and give them an atmosphere that they deserve."
How did you get here: winner of "Top Chef Masters," and owner of the Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster?
"It took a lot of effort and team work. A lot of people have helped me get to this place. It just has not been one experience, it is all the things I learned along the way.
My most important job is making Red Rooster Harlem a success. I would like to bring the community together, I would like my neighbors to come in and be proud to dine here. I would like people to rediscover Harlem, and to see and taste it in a different way."
What prepared you for where you are now?
"My parents absolutely prepared me. I also had a lot of guidance from chefs that I worked with during my formative years as a chef. I saw how hard they worked and how tough the hours were. My father was a big influence – it was very important to him that we traveled and he gave me my strong work ethic."
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
"My biggest obstacle was overcoming being adopted. Being in a new place, learning a different language, overcoming poverty [in Ethiopia]. I had to learn how to balance the issue of race on both sides. It was an incredible experience to grow up in a biracial family. I learned so much from my family. I think I am better for it because I always look at the person and who they are and not the color of their skin. I believe I have a very unique perspective because I embrace all different types of cultures because that is the way I was raised."
What is something that everyone should know about you?
"I speak to my mom who still lives in Sweden everyday. I talk to her about everything, and if she doesn't agree with an idea or concept I have learned it is probably not a good idea."
What is something that no one knows about you?
"I know deep down that my sister Linda is a better cook than me (laughs). She is more naturally gifted, but being the younger brother, I just worked harder, observed everything she did and decided I was going to make it my career."
What would you tell your younger self about who you are now?
"I would tell my younger self it is a long marathon. I would say that you have to learn to be very patient. I would tell him to spend more time with your parents and your family. When you are young, you are so busy trying to get to the next stage of your life. We hustle, we move away, work in different environments and sometimes home is not the place you go to often enough. Always make the time for your family, because when your mother or father passes that's it. It is so final and you can not get the time back again. "
How would you advise your younger self about how to get to where you are now?
"Travel extensively! Over the course of five years you should live in a different country for a year. Japan, Africa, France, Spain, America. Learn and absorb everything about the country…With cooking, you are able to learn about their culture and religion.
Don't worry about money. At some point along the journey, become a waiter so you can actually react to people and see what they like and dislike. You should take the time to learn trades that are a bit difficult for you – [perhaps] law or finance. It is important to develop skills that do not come naturally to you. Try to be as well-rounded as possible."
If there’s one thing you could change about yourself what would it be?
"I wish I could speak Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia). My wife is fluent in Amharic and five other languages."
What do you believe in?
"Spirituality, family and team work. My family and my sisters have made me what I am. Working in a restaurant is very tribal. It is all about people and team work."
"How I Got Here" is an occasional In America feature that looks at the journeys of Americans: who they are, where they are, and how they got there. Chef Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, adopted, raised in Sweden and now calls America home. In this piece, he shares how he got here: a top chef, opening Red Rooster in New York City. Find out the biggest obstacle he overcame, and who he thinks is a better cook than him.
Good article. I just read a really interesting piece about reconnecting with your food. http://www.theruggedgent.com/2011/02/27/reconnect-with-your-food-2/
What a lovely interview. I have always enjoyed watching Chef Samuelsson and would love to eat at one of his restaurants. I love that he embraces all of the cultures that embraced him and made him the man, and chef, that he is today.
Thank you for this wonderful story. I love food and the amazing love it brings when we share it together as a family and friends.This is what makes our country strong.
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