Marcus Samuelsson seems at ease just about anywhere. Born in Ethiopia, adopted by a Swedish family and now based in New York, the famed chef has thrived both at home and abroad. But there’s only one place where he finds total comfort: the kitchen at his restaurant Red Rooster Harlem.
Samuelsson invited cameras inside this sacred culinary space in an original short from Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday.” In the above video, he explains how the kitchen represents so many intimate, familiar things all at once.
“My kitchen is my comfort zone, platform, lab, church, playground,” Samuelsson says.
For this James Beard Award winner and author, working in a kitchen is about so much more than just being a chef. It’s like taking on several creative roles at once. “You work with your hands, so it’s a craft. You are plating, like an artist. That’s artistry. You’re telling a story, like a writer, so it’s almost like you’re working like a poet,” Samuelsson says. “And you’re combining all of that, like a magician.”
This passion for the culinary craft began when Samuelsson was young. The first person to help foster his love of cooking was his grandmother Helga, whose name is inscribed above the kitchen at Red Rooster Harlem as a nod to her influence.
“My first mentor was my grandmother,” Samuelsson says. “I learned everything about food and love and curiosity about cooking through my grandmother.”
Then, when he was older, the ever-curious Samuelsson traveled to Ethiopia to meet his birth father and biological siblings. That’s when his eyes opened even more to what else he could learn about food and culture. “The celebration around every meal was incredible to watch,” he recalls. “Every dish, everything had a purpose. It’s something that I always think about today.”
Back in Harlem, Samuelsson incorporates his heritage, culture and curiosity into his cooking. “I represent a tribe, a family, a community. You want to share, you want to tell a story,” he says. “I love culture, I love arts, I love so many different things. But cooking is the core.”
It’s this personal connection to food that helps Samuelsson find calm even in a bustling kitchen. “I’ve seen my world through the kitchen, and I love that view,” he says. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also where the good stuff happens.”