THE CELEBRITY CHEF
He has prepared a state dinner for President Barack Obama and won the second season of Top Chef Masters, but those who have followed Marcus Samuelsson’s career know there’s more to the culinary star. The Ethiopia-born, Gothenburg, Sweden-raised chef has also hosted cooking shows, written cookbooks, designed a high-end range for BlueStar and footwear for MOZO, and signed deals with MasterCard, Macy’s, and American Airlines. He owns a restaurant in Sweden, with plans to open another there in 2012. And stateside, the Harlem resident owns three restaurants, including Red Rooster, which opened in the neighborhood late last year.
The Harlem restaurant was “a great opportunity to tell our tale as people of color,” Samuelsson says. “What would be better than the most iconic location for African American culture than Harlem? And then with that, I wanted to be on the most iconic street, Lenox Avenue and 125th Street.”
But before getting to that celebrated location, Samuelsson had to learn a few things. While only in his 20s, he became co-owner and executive chef of New York City’s Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant that existed years before he moved to the States. That didn’t happen by chance. When he arrived in the U.S. in 1995, he contacted three people: Oprah Winfrey, David Letterman, and Hakan Swahn, the owner of Aquavit, who eventually became his business partner. “Whether I knew them or not, that’s how I function,” Samuelsson explains. “I believed that I can work very hard and I can add something. So I thought, ‘Well, if they partner with me, it’s good for them.’ I just needed one to get back to me.” Swahn and Samuelsson have since created Townhouse Restaurant Group, a New York City-based restaurant management and consulting company.
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