Chef Marcus Samuelsson Shows Just How Diverse African-American Cooking Really Is in New Book
"This is a way for us to learn about America's culture and Black culture when it comes to food," he told Travel + Leisure.
Even though chef Marcus Samuelsson has restaurants all over the world, he says diversity in food can be found just outside your door.
"Think about what we've learned through other cultures that are not our own through food — all those mom-and-pops," chef Marcus told Travel + Leisure. "I'm not from an Indian background, but going into an Indian restaurant or Vietnamese restaurant has taught me something about these cultures in this country, and it's the same with African-American culture."
The celebrity chef who's no stranger to merging cultures in his cooking — as his career has quite literally touched all corners of the globe — is showing just how diverse African-American cooking is with his latest book, "The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook."
"This is America's food," he said. "When you look at traditional American food history, the Black experience is completely written out, and this is a way for us to learn about America's culture and Black culture when it comes to food."
The book, out on Oct. 27, highlights recipes by fellow chefs, including Jessica Harris, Nyesha Arrington, and Edouardo Jordan, that go way beyond what a foodie may think of when it comes to traditional soul food.
Of Ethiopian and Swedish descent himself, Samuelson tells T+L, "You can have a Haitian background, an Ethiopian and Swedish background, or a Filipino background, and that's what makes this book so diverse and creates another level of diversity on top of it."
"I link it to American music that very often comes from Black culture, but it's for everyone. Whether it's gospel, hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, or jazz, it's America's music, but very often has a deep root in African-American culture," he added. "We've learned as listeners to enjoy that and it's the same with food."
And even in his personal life, a symbolic representation of America is in his very own home in Harlem, New York, home to his famed Red Rooster restaurant.
"My son is Ethiopian and Swedish, but he's also a Harlemite, and when I speak to my sister, who’s also Black, we speak Swedish — life is full of surprises," he said. "I think America [is] at its best when it's surprising, when it's forward-thinking, and when it opens up doors into [a] culture that you may or may not think about."
The chef, also known for his travel-themed cooking show, No Passport Required, and various appearances on the Food Network throughout the years, recently partnered with seafood brands Genova Premium Tuna and King Oscar and showed off just how to use their products in a James Beard Foundation virtual cooking demo last week.
"Something that is very familiar to one country can be very foreign to another — it's all about trusting the brand," he said of cooking with fish like mackerel and tuna. "I’m sharing a bit of my background: I grew up with mackerel just like King Oscar's, so I’m very familiar with it and use it as a spread, stuffing, next-day meal, or snack."
Speaking of brands that chefs and home cooking amateurs alike can trust, Samuelsson mentioned that companies like King Oscar and Genova Premium Tuna were especially helpful during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when convenience was key during a trip to the grocery store.
"Especially now during the pandemic, I remember from my own experience, it was scary to go shopping. [You wanted] to be fast when you got to the store, [and] you have brands that translated to trust," he said.
As the pandemic continues to have an effect on not only travel, but also on hotels and restaurants, Samuelson told T+L that he's "worried" for the future of his business, but he's also proud of how the industry has united to help people in need. He specifically partnered with World Central Kitchen to provide meals to frontline workers and converted Red Rooster into a community kitchen for the neighborhood.
"This is the toughest time we've gone through," he said. "For me, I've seen the best in the industry at the worst of times and that's something I take an enormous amount of pride in."