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Summers spent in Smögen, Sweden, catching crayfish and lobster with his father first sparked Marcus Samuelsson’s interest in food; by 24, he was the executive chef of Aquavit in New York, and the youngest chef ever to garner a three-star review in The New York Times. Now, the Ethopia-born chef – who credits both his Scandinavian and Ethiopian background to his success, having been adopted to Sweden as a child, as well as New York, where he now lives – is best known for Harlem’s Red Rooster, a restaurant which celebrates the roots of American cuisine (and counts Barack Obama as one of its many esteemed guests).
Of his creative process, he says that “different sounds and colours influence the way I design a dish”, and the same could equally be said of his vivid sense of style, which might meld traditional Ethiopian prints with all-American camo and denim, or a varsity jacket with a baker-boy cap (he counts Prince, David Bowie and Fela Kuti as sartorial inspirations, and rejects the Scandinavian restraint of the country he was raised for a clash of colours, prints and eras). A devotee of vintage clothing, in Emily Spivack’s Worn Stories, he admits his favourite item of clothing is a pair of Converse he wore to train during culinary school in Switzerland.
But Samuelsson has also become a vital force during America’s coronavirus outbreak; instead of changing Red Rooster’s menu to take out, he chose to feed those in need in his Harlem community with José Andrés’ non-profit World Central Kitchen, from the homeless to newly released prisoners from Rikers Island, and the area’s black community, disproportionately affected by Covid-19. “When I ask myself what I can do as a chef, I always go back to what I know,” he recently said. “Feed the people.”
Those who wish to contribute to World Central Kitchen can do so here.