Long before “New Nordic” was on the lips of the world’s fine-dining cognoscenti, Marcus Samuelsson was doing modern takes on Scandinavian cuisine at Aquavit restaurant in New York to wide acclaim. The James Beard Foundation named him the Rising Star of the year in 1999 and best chef in New York City in 2003, the same year that his first book, “Aquavit: And the New Scandinavian Cuisine,” was published.
Since then, Samuelsson has explored other aspects of his life and culture. The chef was born in Ethiopia and adopted by Swedish parents at age 3, and he explored those roots and published his findings in his 2006 book, “The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa.”
After cooking for years in the United States, his book “New American Table” was published in 2009. The following year, having left Aquavit, he opened Red Rooster, a modern American restaurant in Harlem, and downstairs from that he opened a modern speakeasy reincarnation called Ginny’s Supper Club.
Now Samuelsson’s restaurants include a global street food concept in Stockholm and American Table Café and Bar in New York City and Stockholm. He recently opened a third location in the Swedish City of Gothenburg, where he also operates Norda Bar & Grill, a concept that combines the city’s seafood with American steakhouse fare.
Among other honors, Samuelsson cooked President Obama’s first state dinner with White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford.
He opened a pastry shop inside Red Rooster this week, and last weekend he hosted a demonstration of a classic Ethiopian coffee ceremony at the New York City Food & Wine Festival. During the festival Samuelsson talked with Nation’s Restaurant News about his concepts and American cuisine.
What are you selling in your pastry shop?
It’s a reflection of Red Rooster and Ginny’s menu that people can take home: Red velvet stuff, homemade bread, the cornbread that everyone wants, our corn madeleines, chocolate chip cookies with Ethiopian berbere. That’s what people have been asking for, for a long time at Red Rooster, and now we finally have it ready.
How about at American Table?
We celebrate the diversity of America. To bring that to Scandinavia is fantastic. Obviously I was inspired in the ’90s by restaurants like Gramercy Tavern [in New York City], and before that by what happened in California and New York. I’m bringing that sort of adult American restaurant environment to Europe — American food that’s not fast food but references the modern culture that’s happening in America.
Now all the European chefs come to America every year to see what we’re doing. Before, it was the other way around. We’re celebrating that. We’re going to do a Thanksgiving dinner in Stockholm this year. It’s going to be great.
Are you doing anything with the New Nordic cooking that everyone’s so excited about?
Well, I like to say that I’ve been creating New Nordic cooking for a long time. But I’m so happy to see that friends of mine that I came up with are doing well. We just had Mathias [Dahlgren, of restaurant Mathias Dahlgren in Stockholm] and Björn [Frantzén of Frantzén/Lindberg restaurant in Stockholm] over here. I knew for a long time when I was coming up that Scandinavian chefs were really talented, and now I’m happy that they are in our vocabulary here.
Magnus [Nilsson, of Fäviken Magasinet, north of Stockholm] is also incredible chef. He and Matthias trained with really skilled cooks and now through the Internet and through traveling more, we can really expose them. It’s great.