Written & Anchored By 1010 WINS’ Larry Mullins
Produced for 1010 WINS Radio by Sharon Barnes-Waters
NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised, and Harlem-rooted — it’s apparently the perfect recipe for one of the country’s most renowned chefs.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson came from meager beginnings — he was born into poverty in Ethiopia — before becoming the youngest chef to achieve a three-star rating from the New York Times in 1995.
The food at his restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem, isn’t your typical Harlem fare. But then, Chef Samuelsson isn’t your typical chef.
He was orphaned at two when his mother died of tuberculosis. A Swedish family adopted him, and he said it was his Swedish grandmother who made cooking a regular part of his life.
“She taught me about where cinnamon came from, she taught me about where specific cheese from Italy came from,” he aid. “So I learned about the world through food, through my grandmother.”
In fact, Grandma Helga’s authentic Swedish meatballs top the menu at Red Rooster. (Not surprisingly, they also top our picks for the city’s best meatballs).
But he’s come a long way since cooking in the kitchen with “Nana.”
Chef Samuelsson served at President Obama’s State Dinner in 2009. He said the Obamas, like many who visit his restaurant (including former President Bill Clinton), crave his signature corn bread.
“It’s the highest honor to work for the president and the first lady,” he said.
His diverse background serves as inspiration for his menu.
“I have windows into three different worlds,” he said.
He’s won many awards — including the 2003 James Beard Award for the best chef in New York City — but his biggest trophy, he said, is the diversity of folks that visit his Harlem eatery.
Today, Chef Samuelsson also teaches, bringing in young people from schools throughout the city and educating the same way Grandma Helga taught him.