being an Ethiopian, paved or hampered your success?
Being raised Ethiopian and having been
taught pride and dignity has definitely helped.
you to become a chef?
I can say my grandmother. She always cooked
and when I was young I was always surrounded by food. My grandmother
on my father’s side owned a bed & breakfast. My family
is from two different regions so the food was also different.
My grandmother on my mother’s side came from a more rustic
environment and my grandmother on my father’s side grew
up by the sea.
At 32 you have
received more recognition than most chefs receive in a lifetime,
including high ratings by the New York Times and Forbes magazine.
What is the secret to your success?
When you work hard and apply yourself to
your craft then you will succeed no matter what you do. You will
be successful. The important thing is to work on your craft.
You have also
been celebrated as one of “The Great Chefs of America”
by the culinary institute of America. Have you received similar
accolades in Europe?
Yes I have gotten awards for my cookbook
but it’s not the awards that keep you going. You don’t
walk around thinking about that stuff. Your passion for your work
is what drives you. Success is defining what are your short-term
and long-term goals and then achieving those goals.
How did you
feel when you were honored as the “Rising Star Chef”
by the James Beard Foundation in 1999? What other awards have
It’s always nice to be recognized
by your peers. Our team worked hard and again it’s not really
getting the award that’s important as much as it is setting
your goals and achieving them. There are many goals some are personal,
some are business, or spiritual. But usually when people talk
about goals they are talking about professional or business goals.
When you were
on an eight-month apprenticeship at Aquavit, did you ever dream
that one day you would become executive chef and co-owner of the
I was always very clear on what I wanted.
I knew that I was going to work hard at it and I always visualized
that I’d own my own business. It’s important to visualize
and be clear on what you want from the start.
already written one book and you are in the process of coming
out with an American cookbook. Can you tell us a bit more about
The Aquavit Cookbook is being published
in October 2003. It is a reflection of Aquavit and the recipes
that the restaurant uses. However, it is also tailored for the
home cook. My first book came out in Sweden entitled ‘A
Taste Journey’ and it’s about my life and my personal
journey. It’s about Ethiopia, Sweden and New York. I wanted
to show Ethiopia to Swedes, that it’s rich in culture and
not focus just on the hardships and famine. The book did very
well. My second book that will be coming out soon follows the
life of Aquavit restaurant and I’m also working on a 3rd
book focusing on Africa as a continent. I want to show the rich
diversity and differences in culture between North Africa, East
Africa, and West Africa. When someone says “do you speak
African?” for example then you know they don’t know
what they are talking about. So, I want to show the distinct cultures
that make up Africa, that it’s not just one homogenous lump.
Is there a recipe
that you have not shared with anyone yet?
[laughter] There are thousands of recipes
to come. You should always try and also allow yourself to fail.
There will be good things and bad things that come and they’re
all experiences. But yes, there will be more to come and the point
is to keep working hard and trying new things.
Who is your role
This changes all the time. When I was
younger and into sports, Pele was my role model. And when you
get older and in your professional career your advisor becomes
your role model. So this changes from time to time. When you are
in Ethiopia and you see people working at the orphanages you admire
these people a lot and they too become role models.
Have you ever
returned back to Ethiopia? If so, what was your impression?
Yes, I go back every year. I like working
with its food. I show people that cooking is a craft. Cooking
has a very central place in Ethiopian culture but professionally
as a career it’s not really there yet so I go out and do
cooking on the street, at merkato, at shelters to show that it’s
What is your
role as a UNICEF ambassador and when did you become one? What
kind of projects do you focus on?
I became a UNICEF ambassador in 1999.
We work with big American companies and I am willing to do press
conferences or advertisements to raise money to go to projects
on Polio, TB, and HIV. This year we started a Trick-or-Treat for
Adults and on Oct 31st restaurants all over the U.S. would donate
1 dollar for each meal and the proceeds would be given to UNICEF
for their children’s programs against Polio, TB, and HIV.
I also closely work with Anna Getaneh and her Ethiopian Children’s
Fund. She has an amazing orphanage.
What is your
view on the current famine in Africa, and are you involved in
any alleviation projects?
I was in Ethiopia in December and I visited
the Awash region that is considered the breadbasket of Ethiopia.
The lakes and ponds were all dried up and what I saw was terrible
and very real. To raise money I’ve approached the Swedish
–Ethiopian community in Sweden and we have put together
an event that will raise some funds to help.
Do you ever
cook Ethiopian food? If so what is your favorite dish?
Yes, I cook my version of Ethiopian food
all the time. I think, for example, that Shiro is great for lunch,
it gives you a clean meal. For those who have not had Ethiopian
food before Tibs would be good. And for those who have had Ethiopian
food Kitfo is also a good dish. I sometimes make kitfo with fish
(salmon, tuna). There is also Doro Wat which is great too. One
thing about Ethiopian food is that it’s very distinct. You
can love it or hate it, but you will always remember that you
have had it. And that is a unique aspect of Ethiopian cuisine.
What are your
leisure time activities?
I like sports, I like playing tennis.
But I also like art and going to museums and art galleries. Speaking
to Tadias is also my leisure time activity. [laughter]
you would like to share with our readers?
I definitely think that being Ethiopian
is something to be extremely proud and happy about. For me, I
appreciate the way that the Ethiopian community has embraced me
and my work.