Marcus Samuelsson brought the art of Scandinavian cooking to New York long before the recent Nordic craze. As executive chef at New York’s Aquavit (from 1995 to 2010), the Ethiopian-born Swede (who graduated from the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, and apprenticed in Switzerland, Austria, and France) turned an entire city on to gravlax and herring, giving Swedish cuisine a modern, luxurious turn, and receiving three stars from the New York Times in the process. In 1999, he was James Beard’s “Rising Star Chef,” and in 2003 the “Best Chef,” New York City.
The awards just kept on coming, as Samuelsson branched out with Japanese restaurant Riingo. He received consecutive four-star ratings in Forbes’ annual All-Star Eateries feature, was named one of the 40 under 40 by Crain’s, and was hailed one of The Great Chefs of America by the Culinary Institute of America. And in 2009 he planned and executed the Obama administration’s first state dinner for the first family, Prime Minister Singh of India, and 400 of their guests. He has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2000, focusing his advocacy on water and sanitation issues, specifically the Tap Project.
These days, Samuelsson has taken uptown Manhattan by storm with his Red Rooster Harlem, a spirited neighborhood place where the menu has his renowned Swedish meatballs (with lingonberries, of course) alongside fish and grits, and jerk chicken with yucca. Downstairs, sister venue Ginny’s Supper Club brings live jazz, cocktails, and Samuelsson’s food together until the wee hours.
Among his many TV appearances, Samuelsson was the winner on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters Season 2, as well as the winner of the second season of Chopped All-Stars. He is also the author of cookbooks Aquavit: And the New Scandinavian Cuisine (2003), The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa (2006), New American Table (2009) and, most recently, the memoir Yes, Chef.