Travel to Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem and you will find a truly diverse, multiracial dining room - where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers and nurses. It is also a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can finally feel at home.
Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister, all battling tuberculosis, walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a new family in Göteborg, Sweden. It was there that his new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food - from a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.
He made his way to the US via some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, taking in some gruelling stints on cruise ships before becoming executive chef at Aquavit in New York, where at the age of 24 he became the youngest chef ever to be awarded a coveted three-star rating from the New York Times. His profile has only continued to grow from there - he's cooked state dinners for Barack Obama, runs seven restaurants including the phenomenally popular Red Rooster in Harlem, and has appeared on numerous television shows including Top Chef Masters, which he won, beating 21 world-class chefs in the process. His profile is set to rise internationally as his reputation grows, and as his incredible story is told.
Samuelsson, the chef and owner of Harlem's famed Red Rooster restaurant, masterfully serves us a delicious banquet full of the ingredients that compose his own enchanting yet poignant story. When he was two, Samuelsson, his older sister, and his mother contracted tuberculosis in rural Ethiopia; after several days journey to the capital Addis Ababa, the three were admitted to a hospital. Samuelsson and his sister survived their mother, and they were soon adopted by a couple in Sweden. With the consummate skill of a master chef, Samuelsson cooks up a steaming stew of his life from his earliest cooking lessons at the hands of his grandmother to his various apprenticeships in Switzerland, France, and New York. From his grandmother's food he learns rustic cooking and the ways that she knew intuitively how to create various textures in foods. When he's 12 and on a fishing trip with his father, Samuelsson cooks his first meal and learns an important lesson about the beauty of food in context and how important it is to let the dishes be reflective of your surroundings. Samuelsson carries readers through his many failures and successes as a cook in restaurants like New York's Aquavit and France's Georges Blanc and in his relationships. Much like life, he delightfully points out, a great restaurant is more than just a series of services; it is a collection of meals and memories.