Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson is known for his work on Food Network’s Chopped as well as the multiple cookbooks he has authored. But it was his celebration of delicious-yet-simple comfort food that made him famous.
Samuelsson owns several restaurants in NYC’s Harlem, including the landmark Red Rooster, and he’s recently taken his comfort food concept to his latest restaurant and first DC spot, MARCUS, inside the MGM National Harbor, where he also oversees the hotel and casino’s entire in-room dining program.
The chef took some time to chat with The Feast about everything from his favorite restaurants to how to kick your own kitchen up a notch.
Where to Eat in NYC
Chefs always have their go-to spots where they eat at the end of the evening. We know they know good food, so what's Samuelsson's favorite places around New York City to visit when he has the night off?
1. Estela — “Ignacio Mattos is an amazing cook and I love the location. It sits on the second floor off a busy Soho street and it feels like your in someone's home, it's great,” he says.
2. Wildair "I'm really proud of what they created and think they are super talented guys. They've done an outstanding job with the food and the wine program."
3. Mission Chinese — “I love what Danny and Angela are doing there. It's such a happy place and has a cool vibe.”
4. Forget Me Not — “This is a great casual spot in the Lower East Side, good for catching up with your friends.
5. Sammy’s Romanian Steak House — “Also on the Lower East Side, has delicious Jewish comfort food.”
Must-Have Pantry Items
You don’t have to be a celebrity chef to be a master in your own kitchen. When asked what items should be in everyone’s pantry at all times, Samuelsson gave us a list of his staples: “Variety of vinegars, a spice rack, hot sauce — a local kind that you've purchased while traveling to a different regions, pickled foods, preferably ones bought during your travels, and a cutting board.”
How to Stay in Shape
When one of your most famous dishes is an epic fried chicken, staying fit can't be easy. “I take every opportunity I can to walk instead of riding in a car or train. I also enjoy riding my bike and try to go for runs as often as possible,” he says.
The Importance of Global Cuisine
Samuelsson is an immigrant, having left Ethopia as a child and growing up in Sweden before coming to America in the early '90s. His personal history shapes his view of current world politics, but his distinctive roots have also flavored his cooking. His new restaurant MARCUS has a southern menu, but there are Ethiopian and Swedish influences in the dishes. He maintains that without global inspiration, a lot of the flavors and ingredients America takes for granted can be lost. “I was deeply saddened when the immigration situation came up a couple weeks ago. I am an immigrant and I see it as a privilege to be here. So many of the best restaurants in America are owned by and employ immigrants. This country's food scene thrives on the diverse cuisines and I can't imagine America without immigrants. It certainly wouldn't taste as yummy!” he says.
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