Friday, April 24, 2015

Marcus Off Duty Recap

Marcus Samuelsson and moderator Pam Caragol Wells (r)

Marcus Samuelsson should run for political office. If he's half as smart & charming as he was last night at Marcus Off Duty, he's a shoo-in to win. The Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef extraordinaire spoke with National Geographic Studio's Pam Caragol Wells about family, food and life in general. It was a fascinating discussion with one of the biggest & best celebrity chefs in the game.

The 45-year-old James Beard award winner joked about having to eat two dinners a night, growing up... First with his adoptive mother, "My mom was a horrible cook," and the second with his maternal grandmother, who put Samuelsson on the path to culinary stardom. Marcus' passion and love for cooking/life was readily apparent throughout the night; and he didn't mince words when discussing the necessary ingredients to becoming a great chef, "Cooking is instinct. If you don't got it, you don't got it." Samuelsson clearly has it, and then some.

He's also very savvy when it comes to life lessons, overcoming barriers early on, "Kitchen hierarchy is detrimental to women and people of color." Marcus knew he had to be the best... "not by a little, but by a lot." He moved on to Switzerland to start "the next chapter of his career," before eventually setting up shop in America (but not just anywhere.) His dad explained, "You're not going to the States: You're going to New York City." That's where his career took off in earnest, becoming the youngest chef (24) to receive a three-star review from The New York Times during a successful run at Aquavit.

Perhaps even more important, Samuelsson showed a true understanding of how food affects different cultures/people. This includes patterns and traditions, "The rest of the world eats on a spiritual compass; but not in the U.S., except for Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl," which earned big laughs (a common theme for the night) from the Grosvenor Auditorium faithful. "We (Americans) eat for convenience."

Samuelsson also embraced street foods, "There's an honesty to street food. There's no supersize in street food." Having followed his career for some time, I can safely say McDonald's rarely comes up in the discussion. Instead, his eyes light up when reminiscing over familiar spices from his Ethiopian homeland. This prefaced a series of insightful comments about Africa in general, and how it can improve, culminating in "Africa needs a new marketing director." I can't think of anyone better for the job than Marcus Samuelsson. If only he wasn't such an amazing chef...

The evening concluded with a fabulous tasting, featuring a select few bites included in his latest cookbook Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home, which Samuelsson was only too happy to sign afterwards. Missed last night's discussion? Fear not. Click here to see what's coming up during the remainder of National Geographic Live's spring session.