August 15, 2011

Chef Marcus Samuelsson Gives Back

I just got back yesterday from a family reunion.  On the airplane, I read about a young man who did some amazing things.  His name is Marcus Samuelsson, although it once was Kassahun Tsegie.  He was born in Ethiopia in 1970 to parents who struggled with Tuberculosis.  His mom died when he was just 3 years old.   He ended up in a Swedish-sponsored orphanage, where a young Swedish couple saw him and adopted him and his older sister.  They renamed him Marcus and his sister they renamed Linda, and they gave the two their last name of Samuelsson.  
Marcus had a completely different life in Sweden than he had experienced in Ethiopia.  In Ethiopia, food was scarce and the people worked hard to survive.  In Sweden, food was more abundant like we’re used to here in America.  Marcus learned to fish and cook the fish he caught.  His grandmother was a chef at a restaurant, and he loved to watch her cook.  He started to cook with her, and he learned how to make delicious Swedish meals from her.
At age 16, Swedish children choose their career paths, and he chose cooking.  He took the proper courses at a culinary school by day and practiced at local restaurants by night, as his career training dictated.  He was ambitious and worked hard.  After graduating, he apprenticed (or practiced being a chef in restaurants under guidance from an actual chef) in Switzerland and Austria, and then in New York City.  After his apprenticeship ended, he worked in New York City at a restaurant called Aquavit at the age of 20.  He rose quickly to the position of ‘Sous Chef.’
The goal of every chef is to become the Executive, or head chef at a restaurant.  It usually takes years of cooking and working under the Executive chef’s direction before a cook becomes an Executive chef.  Marcus proved himself quickly, becoming the youngest Executive Chef ever at the age of 24 at Aquavit in 1995.  If you’ve watched the Disney movie, ‘Ratatouille,’ you can appreciate how hard he must have worked to become the head chef so young. He also won the coveted ‘Best Chef New York City’ award.  Imagine how hard that would be in such a large city with so many great restaurants!  And he has written several cookbooks, appeared on TV shows including ‘Martha Stewart Television’ and written columns for the New York Times.  
But Marcus had other goals as well.  Coming from a country that struggles to feed it’s citizens, Marcus has always wanted to help out.  He said, “I always think, how can I give back?  I have an obligation that’s larger than myself.”  He donates time to the Careers through Culinary Arts Program in New York, which teaches young people how to cook so that they can find work to support their families.  
On an international level, Marcus has served as an Ambassador for UNICEF for over 10 years.  His emphasis is raising money for the treatment of Tuberculosis, the disease that affected his early life so dramatically.  The money is used to develop programs to treat victims of the disease in developing countries like Ethiopia.  
He said, “I appreciate my Ethiopian roots because I see how hard people have to work there to survive, and I understand just how fortunate I am to live in this country. I am inspired by the way the people of Ethiopia lead their lives, and how everyone tries to help one another in the community. Their drive inspires me to work as hard as I can to take the knowledge I have about food and to share it with those who want to learn how to prepare fresh, affordable meals.”
The next time we go to New York City, we are going to look for his new restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem and try to meet the owner.  He came from a rough beginning, took advantage of his opportunities and worked hard to made a better life for himself, and he shares it with others through his charity work.  


“Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster:  Biography.”  Star August 2010: n. page. Web.  15 Aug 2011.
Samuelsson, Marcus.  “About Me.”  Marcus  Web.  15. Aug 2011. 
Zimmern, Andrew.  “Three Chefs Who Give Back.”Delta Sky Magazine, August 2011:75.  Print.

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