The Story of Marcus Samuelsson!
“You should always try
and also allow yourself to fail”. This is the principle
that Aquavit’s co-owner and Executive Chef, Marcus Samuelsson,
follows in his creative kitchen, where taste, texture, and aesthetics
are put to the test and the outcome is a crisp taco filled with
smoked herring served on a marble tablet or osetra caviar placed
on broken glass. Innovative taste accompanied by flamboyant presentation
is his trademark.
The Ethiopian-born and Swedish-raised Chef aims to create an
unforgettable experience with every meal he serves by adding a
touch of drama. With his brush, something he has had since childhood,
he displays his artistic talent on plates, tiles, glass bricks,
and other items that exist in everyday culture to enhance his
out-of-the-ordinary presentation. Flavor that invigorates the
palette is what inspires Chef Samuelsson, and to achieve this,
he experiments with ingredients from around the world. He has
revolutionized modern and classic Scandinavian cuisine by blending
uncommon flavors, yet staying true to the basics.
Samuelsson was orphaned in a tuberculosis epidemic in Ethiopia
when he was just three-years-old. After finding shelter in a Swedish
field hospital, he and his young sister were adopted by a young
Swedish couple and taken to Göteborg, Sweden. At a tender
age under the tutelage of his grandmother, who was a professional
cook, he started to learn respect for ingredients as well as the
Scandinavian art of cooking.
Samuelsson's father traveled the world as a geologist and often
took the children along. Those outings enabled young Marcus to
sample Polish, German, Russian, Yugoslavian, French, and Spanish
cuisine. The exposure allowed him to appreciate world flavors,
defy the commonly held notions about the art of cooking and venture
into a realm of discovery.
When Marcus was 16 he joined the Culinary Institute in Göteborg.
He attended classes by day and cooked in local restaurants late
each night, fulfilling his degree requirements in record time.
He proceeded to hone his skills by apprenticing in Switzerland,
Austria, France, and Aquavit restaurant in New York City. In 1994,
he was asked by owner Håkan Swahn to return to Aquavit to
work under the new Executive Chef, Jan Sendel, and just eight
weeks after the pair began working together, Jan Sendel died unexpectedly.
Chef Samuelsson’s adept management skills, cooking prowess,
and unique enthusiasm paid off and he was formally appointed as
the Executive Chef in May of 1995. Just three months later, at
24, he became the youngest chef ever to receive the coveted three-star
rating from The New York Times.
He told us, “I knew that I was going to work hard at it
and I always visualized that I’d own my own business.”
And in 1997, his dream was realized when he became co-owner of
Aquavit. Today, he also focuses his energy on the second Aquavit
in Minneapolis, which was opened in 1998, a location chosen for
its high concentration of Americans of Swedish descent. In addition,
the restaurant has launched a new line of traditional Swedish
prepared foods from recipes Samuelsson himself developed and researched.
In 1999, the James Beard Foundation honored him as best “Rising
Star Chef” (the culinary world’s most prestigious
award), and was rated as one of “The Great Chefs of America”
by The Culinary Institute of America. He has appeared on several
national TV shows, including CNN, ABC's “Good Morning America”,
Martha Stewart’s Living Television, and The Discovery Channel.
His recipes have been featured in Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon
Appetit, USA Today and he has authored an eight-part series column
for The New York Times. Chef Samuelsson has also cooked for the
royal family of Sweden.
Proud to be an Ethiopian, Marcus has in his own way tried to
raise awareness about Ethiopia’s rich culture and history
by publishing his personal journey from Ethiopia to Sweden and
New York. His quest to learn more about his heritage takes him
to Ethiopia every year. There he gives back to the community by
working with an orphanage and educating the youth about the art
of cooking. “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,” he says. Not
only does he teach his profession, but also learns the art of
Ethiopian cooking and suggests that Injera makes a great complement
for smoked salmon or caviar because of its sourness.
Besides cooking, Chef Samuelsson has a passion for art books,
novels, and cookbooks. He spends his free time visiting museums,
exhibitions, and art galleries searching inspiration for his work.
During his travels, he reads extensively to learn the history
of the country and refine his language skills, which include Swedish,
English, some German, Dutch and French.
His charm, youthful spirit and No. 5 ranking on the July 2000
issue of People magazine's most eligible bachelor's list have
heightened his profile. Chef Samuelsson almost bared himself wearing
only a Speedo while strategically holding a blender for a Vita-Mix
advertising campaign. The New York Times said the blender ad featured
some of “the food world's four-star heartthrobs”.
Samuelsson is grateful for the recognition, but he stressed in
his interview with Tadias that “… it’s not the
awards that keep you going. … Your passion for your work
is what drives you.” tf
Follow your dreams…
Become Chef... Do you dream of becoming a star chef like Marcus Samuelsson? Here is a list of schools that will help you embark on an exciting career path. We list these institutions and their contact information as service to our readers, not as an endorsement of their program. You must contact each organization directly and make independent evaluation of their curriculum