Black chefs are increasingly visible on TV, but high-profile success in the restaurant world is still rare. These culinary luminaries are defying the odds. This week’s open threads will highlight some of the top restaurants in the United States that are owned by African-Americans.
Marcus ‘Joar’ Samuelsson (born Kassahun ‘Joar’ Tsegie; January 25, 1970) is an Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef and restaurateur. Kassahun Tsegie was born in 1970 in Ethiopia. His mother died in a tuberculosis epidemic when he was three years old. He and his elder sister, Fantaye, were subsequently adopted by Ann Marie and Lennart Samuelsson, a homemaker and a geologist, respectively, who lived in Göteborg, Sweden. The siblings’ names were changed to Marcus and Linda Samuelsson. They also have an adopted sister, Anna Samuelsson. Samuelsson’s biological father, Tsegie, is an Ethiopian Orthodox Church priest and father of eight of the chef’s half-siblings; he still lives in the Ethiopian village where Samuelsson was born.
After becoming interested in cooking through his maternal grandmother in Sweden, Samuelsson studied at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, where he grew up, apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria, and came to the United States in 1991 as an apprentice atRestaurant Aquavit. At 24, Marcus became executive chef of Aquavit, and soon after that became the youngest 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 titles written by Samuelsson are Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine, En Smakresa (“A Journey of Tastes”), and Street Food.
Samuelsson is a Visiting Professor of International Culinary Science at the Umeå University School of Restaurant and Culinary Arts in Sweden. 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. Samuelsson is married to the model Gate (Maya) Haile.
On November 24, 2009, Samuelsson served as guest chef for the first state dinner of the Barack Obama presidency. The dinner, in honor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the country of India, was served on the South Lawn and largely vegetarian. Samuelsson reportedly sought to combine sustainable and regional foods which reflect the best in American cuisine yet evoke the flavors of India. Harvesting fresh vegetables and herbs from the White House Garden, Samuelsson included red lentil soup, roasted potato dumplings, and green curry prawns on his menu.
Samuelsson is an advisor to The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
In March 2011, the Red Rooster hosted a fund-raising dinner for the Democratic National Committee. President Obama attended the dinner. The $30,800-per-plate event raised $1.5 million.
In the fall 0f 2012, Samuelsson, together with Clarion Hotels, launched a restaurant concept called Kitchen & Table. The concept’s first restaurant opened at Clarion Hotel Arlanda Airport and during 2013 and 2014 it will take place at all Clarion Hotels in Sweden and Norway.
Samuelsson has four restaurants with diverse culinary fares. At Red Rooster, diners can enjoy coconut rice and peas, dirty rice and shrimp or fried yard bird. C-House offers surf and turf. At Marc Burger, try a smoky BBQ burger, a pesto burger or Kobe beef sliders. Or, if you’re overseas, you can try teriyaki noodles, BBQ ribs or a Bombay chicken wrap at Street Food in Sweden. In 2012, Samuelsson was named the winner of Top Chef Masters.