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Q & A With Marcus Samuelsson

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Anne Marie Panoringan
Dirty rice & shrimp

We had six minutes to converse with visiting chef Marcus Samuelsson before he went downstairs to commence his cooking demonstration inside Macy's South Coast Plaza. Instead of discussing his memoir or line of cookware, we kept digging. Were we able to learn more about him than his Facebook, website and Twitter feed? Yes. We also included pics of two of the finished dishes Samuelsson created for his hungry audience.

Tell us more about the Ambessa tea line.
I thought about all the great meals that you have. When you go into another person's culture, you try the food. But then, very often, you sit afterward and drink tea. It's almost like breaking bread with friends -- we're now going to talk about something. That's done all over the world with tea. Specifically in Africa, tea has a very powerful, important meaning. I wanted to share the African ideas about teas with the world. Ambessa also means "lion" in Amharic, the language in Ethiopia.

Where was your most recent meal, and what did you have?

We were in Little Saigon, and we had wonderful street food. It was really delicious. I love when we can go into a culture I am not exposed to as much. There are no frills; there's just the food. We asked the server about everything, and she gave us these summer rolls with California sausage, wonderful pho and shrimp powder with rice cake. It was great. You just close your eyes, and you're in a different world.

We read about your love of football. Do you have a favorite food to eat when you're watching it?
When I'm watching with my soccer buddies, we're mostly doing it in an Irish bar. It's very often simple things such as burgers and not-so-healthy food. But if I'm watching in Sweden, it's sitting with my family, eating meatballs.

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Anne Marie Panoringan
Coconut fried chicken with collards & gravy

What is the hardest lesson you've learned, culinary or otherwise?
The hardest thing is also the most enjoyable: That's cooking, my life. Because it's a long road. It was very tough, but it is also very enjoyable. There are a lot of minefields. I feel like every day you have to be a guide through that. It's very rich and yummy and delicious and sticky. It's like life.

What is your earliest food memory?
Eating fish and going out fishing with my uncle. In the summertime, I grew up in a fishing village. I went out with my uncle to fish for some mackerel. We had to preserve some of it and cook some of it for lunch. 

We'd like to learn more about your involvement with C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program).
It's helping inner-city kids to learn life skills through food. I've been a part of it for 13 years. Now, C-CAP has gone from helping inner-city high school kids to actually being a resource for work. It's my first phone call when I want to hire staff. We have so many success stories of people owning their own restaurant, of actually becoming chefs. In every walk of life, I think C-CAP has gone from just being a charity to being a source of hiring young cooks. 

Have you made any recent food finds during your travels?
As I travel, I'm so excited about how ethnic food in America is not looked upon as strange or weird; it's really looked at as the new normal. I love that. It makes me so happy because it's pointing toward our acceptance of other cultures. And what better way to see it than through food?

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