Twenty years ago, I had a definite idea about my career path: I would master French cooking, become an expert in the French method, and go back to Sweden to create a high-end fusion of French-Swedish food.
After graduating from the culinary academy in my hometown of Gothenburg, I set off for Austria and Switzerland to train in the classic style. The tradition still existed in the 1980s—if you wanted to be a serious and successful chef, you cooked French food. The next step was to intern at a top restaurant in France. I knew very little French but had lots of passion, so I was thrilled when I was accepted at Georges Blanc, a three-star-Michelin restaurant in Vonas, Lyon. The only hitch was that there was no spot available for the next nine months.
I was looking for a way to fill the time before starting at Georges Blanc, when a friend recommended that I intern at Aquavit, the preeminent Scandinavian restaurant in the United States. When I told the wise and talented French chef who was my mentor of my plan, he expressed himself in no uncertain words, “You can’t go cook in America. All they eat is burgers!” With that as a bon voyage and three hundred dollars in my pocket, I set off for New York.
But a month later, I already saw that my wise mentor had been wrong. The cooks I worked with in Aquavit’s kitchens showed me ingredients and cooking techniques I’d never seen before. Curious about the amazing flavors around them, they had ventured out beyond the cooking they’d grown up with and the classic techniques learned in cooking school to make food that tasted good. In the dining room I felt that same energy coming from the New Yorkers I cooked for. They turned out to be the most adventurous diners I’d ever met. One night they’d have a five-course extravaganza at a four-star restaurant, and the next they would dig into a cheap meal at an ethnic hole-in-the-wall.
America may have once been the land of meat and potatoes. From what I’ve seen of it, it’s now a land of couscous and noodles, dolmas and tiraditos, tacos and sushi, dumplings and ceviche. As cultures and food traditions from all corners of the globe converge in one country, I was wowed to find Czech food in Texas, Lebanese food in Detroit, Portuguese food in Newark, and Ethiopian food in Washington, DC.
The world is taking notice of the good things that come from America, too. Europeans, who once considered Paris and Lyon the only places for serious eating, plan trips to New York and San Francisco. Some of the more daring go in-country to find further rewards, new chefs, new foods—quite simply, change. They go home inspired and start mixing things up like we’ve done it here.
Check out the following recipes from Marcus Samuelsson’s book New American Table:
1. Tomato Bruschetta
2. Vegetable Fritters with Chile Mayonnaise
3. Buffalo Burger with Spicy Ketchup
4. Barley Salad
5. Lemon-Chocolate Madeleines
Excerpted from NEW AMERICAN TABLE by Marcus Samuelsson, copyright © 2009 by Marcus Samuelsson, reprinted with permission from Wiley