Marcus Samuelsson is one of the coolest chefs. Sartorially, he’s hard to match, and he’s also a great writer, which he demonstrated in his memoir Yes, Chef. As executive chef of Aquavit in Manhattan, he made Nordic food fashionable long before the rest of us were talking about it. (Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia but raised by adoptive parents in Sweden where, as he puts it, “My chicken was salmon.”) In 2010, he opened Red Rooster in Harlem, the iconic and ever-changing New York City neighborhood. In the book’s preface, Samuelsson sheds light on what compelled him to leave the world of foie gras and foams to cook, literally and figuratively, closer to home. The result is a restaurant-and now a cookbook-featuring his style of soul food, embracing American, Ethiopian, and Swedish comfort dishes. To understand where he’s coming from, read the chapter called Birdland, in which he traces the birth of his best-selling menu item, the Yardbird. It includes his friend, the singer John Legend (I told you the chef is cool) yelling at him to “just fry the damn bird!” Legend is far from the only musician featured in the book as music, specifically jazz, informs Samuelsson’s neighborhood, his writing, and given its many riffs and collaborations, his cooking style, too.
One to try: Catfish and Pecans. Samuelsson makes fried catfish shine in a dish that includes pecans, apples, raisins, capers, and-in a nod to his roots-dill.