Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister—all battling tuberculosis—walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Göteborg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus’s new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.
In this inspiring speech, Samuelsson shares his remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four.
But Samuelsson’s career of “chasing flavors,” as he calls it, had only just begun—in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home. With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens up about his failures—the price of ambition, in human terms—and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet the father he never knew. The audience experiences a tale of personal discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors—one man’s struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen, and in the world.
Marcus Samuelsson is the acclaimed chef behind many restaurants worldwide including Red Rooster Harlem, Red Rooster Shoreditch, and Marcus B&P. Samuelsson was the youngest person to ever receive a three-star review from The New York Times and has won multiple James Beard Foundation Awards including Best Chef: New York City. He was tasked with planning and executing the Obama Administration’s first State dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Samuelsson was also crowned champion of television shows Top Chef Masters and Chopped All Stars , and served as a mentor on ABC’s The Taste. A committed philanthropist, Samuelsson co-produces the annual week-long festival Harlem EatUp!, which celebrates the food, art, and culture of Harlem. Samuelsson is co-chair of the board of directors for Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). He was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. He is the author of multiple books including The New York Times bestselling memoir Yes, Chef, the young adult version-- Make It Messy, Marcus Off Duty cookbook, and -- The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem. In addition, he is one of the founders of the website Food Republic.
Restaurant openings include: Red Rooster Shoreditch in East London; Marcus B&P in Newark, New Jersey; and Streetbird Express at the world-famous Madison Square Garden, and Marcus in Montreal.
Samuelsson also created a TV series titled No Passport Required with VOX/Eater and PBS. He joined Buzzfeed's Tasty as Executive Chef-in-Residence of their talent program.