Kassahun Tsegie was born in 1971 in Ethiopia. He was raised in Göteborg, Sweden by his adopted parents, Lennart and Marie Samuelson—thus his subsequent name change to Marcus Samuelsson.
Marcus became interested in cooking at a young age and went on to study at the Culinary Institute in Göteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden.
He apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria, and then came to the United States in 1991 as an apprentice at Restaurant Aquavit.
At age 24 his skills, training, and youthful exuberance allowed him to grab the opportunity to become the executive chef of Aquavit.
Soon after that Marcus became the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times. In 2003 he was named “Best Chef: New York City” by the James Beard Foundation. The same year he started a second New York restaurant, Riingo, serving Japanese-influenced American food.
In addition to his recognition as a world-class chef, Samuelsson is an award-winning cookbook author with titles in both English and Swedish. His 2006 African-inspired cookbook The Soul of a New Cuisine received the prize “Best International Cookbook” by the James Beard Foundation.
Other books authored by Samuelsson are New American Table, The Soul of a New Cuisine, Marcus Off Duty, Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine, En Smakresa (“A Journey of Tastes”), and Street Food.
In 2012, Samuelsson released Yes, Chef, a memoir about how he became a chef. The book gained favorable reviews. In 2013, he won the James Beard Foundation award for writing and literature related to food.
In 2015, Samuelsson published Make it Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life, aimed at young adults.
Samuelsson is a Visiting Professor of International Culinary Science at the Umeå University School of Restaurant and Culinary Arts in Sweden. He is also an advisor to The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
Marcus & President Obama
On November 24, 2009, Samuelsson served as guest chef for the first state dinner of the Barack Obama presidency. The dinner, in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was served on the South Lawn and largely vegetarian.
He combined sustainable and regional foods which reflected the best in American cuisine yet evoke the flavors of India. His menu for this occasion included fresh vegetables and herbs picked from the White House Garden and combined with red lentil soup, roasted potato dumplings, and green curry prawns.
His restaurant, Red Rooster, opened in December 2010 in Harlem, and in March 2011, Red Rooster hosted a fundraising dinner for the Democratic National Committee. President Obama attended the dinner. The $30,800-per-plate event raised $1.5 million.
In the fall of 2012, Samuelsson and Clarion Hotels launched a restaurant concept called—Kitchen & Table— at Clarion Hotel Arlanda Airport and continued through 2014 to Clarion Hotels in Sweden and Norway.
He had a television show, Inner Chef, which aired in 2005 on Discovery Home Channel and yet another program in 2008, Urban Cuisine on BET J/Centric. His cooking combines international influences with traditional cuisines from Sweden to Japan and Africa.
In 2015, he appeared in an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown with Ethiopia being the focus of that episode’s visit.
Some of his other television presentations were on CNN, MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show, Good Morning America, as a judge on Top Chef, Iron Chef USA, Iron Chef America, Chopped, and frequent guest appearances on Today.
After appearing consistently as a culinary judge on the Food Network show Chopped, Samuelsson competed in and won Chopped All Stars: Judges Remix. He was awarded the grand prize of $50,000 for his charity, the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program.
His mission to help others
“I took the first step in my career by training at a local culinary school in Sweden, and while I’ve come a long way since then, I’ll never forget how I got started… That’s why I’m so proud to be involved with Careers Through Culinary Arts Program. C-CAPmakes an enormous impact on the lives of at-risk students by helping them build careers in the culinary industry,“ stated Marcus http://www.marcussamuelsson.com/category/ccap
In a recent article— This is the Year When Chefs Will Become Front-of-House Educators—he also states that:
As restaurants fill their seats with more experienced and savvy diners, the industry is facing a shortage that impacts us all; skilled workers. One of the organizations I spend time working with addresses this directly and will be hugely influential in 2016. C-CAP, Careers through Culinary Arts Program, provides culinary training for under-served youth and helps students to gain entrance to culinary schools, find scholarships and eventually jobs in the work force.
They do so by asking industry leaders what training should be mandatory and then turning this into a teaching strategy. The success rate is high and the personal stories coming out of the program are incredible and inspiring. C-CAP benefits not just the restaurants like my own who are challenged with finding reliable and passionate employees, but it benefits the student, the culture of urban American cities and it chips away at the jobless rate in neighborhoods like my own.
By Karl A. Haughton