Samuelsson's Berbere Roast Chicken, which will be served at his book launch dinner at Solé East this Saturday
Taste of Gravlax, also on this Saturday's menu
“Through struggle comes a lot of yummy—a lot of deliciousness,” said Marcus Samuelsson of putting his life story onto paper for his new memoir, Yes, Chef. Born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and catapulted into chef stardom in New York, Samuelsson’s journey is a page-turner. At age three, he left his birthplace of Ethiopia, where his mother had recently died of tuberculosis, a disease he also had and overcame, to live with an adoptive Swedish family. At age 16, charged with culinary inspiration from his grandmother Helga’s kitchen, he set his sights on becoming a chef. At age 24, after landing in New York and taking over the kitchen at Aquavit, he was awarded a three-star rating from then New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl. Today, he’s the chef and restaurateur behind Harlem’s Red Rooster and a newly minted author embarking on a cross-country book tour. First stop: the Hamptons. In advance of a celebratory book dinner at Solé East this Saturday, we spoke with Samuelsson about writing, cooking, and the East End.
What time period of your life does the book cover? MARCUS SAMUELSSON: My whole life, from when I was born to where I am today; coming from Ethiopia to being raised in Sweden to having the opportunity to cook at the White House to opening Red Rooster in Harlem.
You had a very diverse upbringing—born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden. What about that most inspires you as a chef today? MS: The fact that we cooked together as a family. My grandmother’s house was almost like a little factory—you have to pickle, you have to preserve. She taught me how to butcher a chicken, how to clean a cod. We were a mixed family: my cousins are Korean, my aunt is Jewish, my parents are white, I’m black. So our dinner table was also preparation for the world. The meatballs that I did when I was eight are the same meatballs I do now at Rooster.
When did you find the time to write this book and how long did it take? MS: I’m a chef first so I had to write it when I could, and then in the middle of that I had to open Red Rooster, which was a big commitment. It was good to write a little bit and put it down, write a little bit and put it down. Life happens, right? I got married in between, I found my biological father. It wasn’t just sitting down and writing. It was reflecting on all of this and adding to it in a compelling way.
How often do you go out to the Hamptons? MS: A couple of times a summer. I love it. It’s nice to be close to the water. I always do Chefs and Champagne with the James Beard Foundation.
What do you get up to in your free time out East? MS: I love going to antique shops—I love vintage—and maybe going out for lobster rolls on the way to Montauk. I also like to grill, run on the beach, go to the wineries, and pick up fresh strawberries and corn.
What do you have planned for this Saturday’s dinner at Solé East? MS: A four-course menu that is based on Sweden and New York, with some nice African touches. It’s our first tasting event, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
To purchase tickets for Marcus Samuelsson’s book release dinner at The Backyard Restaurant at Solé East on Saturday, June 30, email firstname.lastname@example.org