I got a chance to go to an event at Brooklyn’s bookstore and event space, powerHouse Arena featuring the world renowned chef, restaurateur and entrepreneur, Marcus Samuelsson, who talked about his new and very well reviewed memoir, Yes, Chef. He was interviewed by an unconventional yet perfect choice, one of my favorite people on the planet, designer Isaac Mizrahi! I’m a big fan of Samuelsson, and love Mizrahi. I get a kick out of watching the designer on QVC. I also love the fact Mizrahi taught me the term “wine-thirty”, as in, “Somewhere, it’s wine-thirty!” LOL!
Mizrahi, with his effortless and entertaining way of relating to people asked Samuelsson about his journey from his beginnings in Ethiopia, where he was essentially orphaned and subsequently adopted by a Swedish family, to becoming the youngest chef at the time to ever receive a three-star rating from the New York Times, while in his game changing position as an Executive Chef of the distinguished Manhattan restaurant, Aquavit. Highlights of Samuelsson’s career include serving as the chef for President Obama’s initial state dinner, and going on to win Top Chef Masters on Bravo. And now of course, Samuelsson is in his second year with his restaurant in Harlem, Red Rooster, in addition to his ongoing hospitality and food brands. Hearing Samuelsson richly and eloquently recount the struggles and triumphs of his career and life was completely inspiring.
Samuelsson and Mizrahi talked about everything from the chef losing his mother at three years old to tuberculosis, to meeting his father as a grown man, to traveling the world and working in all kinds of kitchens and perfecting his craft, manifesting his passion to create inspired food. I love it when Samuelsson told the audience how, for various reasons he had to outdo everyone to be noticed. If he had to be at work at 8 a.m., he was there at 7 a.m., telling the audience that 7:15 “was too late for me”. Samuelsson kept it very, very real!
I appreciated Samuelsson’s candor regarding the difficulties he faced being black and trying to move up the ranks in the culinary world. He spoke about being discriminated against with a matter-of-fact frankness that was devoid of self pity. Samuelsson recalled an instance where he and his mother sent out thirty-five letters a year to top tier restaurants. He did this for three years and only got one response. When Samuelsson went to have the meeting, they took one look at him and turned him down. But Samuelsson’s experiences transcend race and speak to the resiliency of the human spirit. I myself felt completely encouraged to continue putting one foot in front of the other on my own path.
I loved it when Mizrahi asked Samuelsson if he ever experienced self-doubt. “Doubt in my own skills?” Samuelsson said, “Never!” He went on to explain, “There’s been rejection many, many times, but I never believed that I’m not the chef I am.” Those are words to live by! I also loved it when Samuelsson recounted times of extreme financial strain, but because of the experiences he was having described it as being “beautifully broke”. But the talk wasn’t all about tough times, as Samuelsson made us laugh too.
Mizrahi asked Samuelsson something I was curious about myself, “What is your favorite food?” It turns out that Samuelsson adores sushi, and respects the art of making it. “Sushi should be delicate. A woman should be able to eat a piece of sushi, keep her lipstick on and not have to open her mouth so wide that you can see down to her stomach!” His description was hysterical, and true!
When asked about what aspiring chefs should do to sharpen their skills Samuelsson recommended that one should “Love the work and travel!” Bringing a passion to your craft and getting a myriad of cultural experiences under your belt seem to be major aspects of becoming a well-rounded and successful chef. Having a relentless approach to your dreams, and making it a priority to give back are also central themes of Samuelsson’s life that are expressed in his book, and can be utilized by all of us.
It was a great night with Mizrahi, an engaging fashion maven and skilled interviewer, and the guest of honor, Samuelsson, who openly shared his life, the trajectory of his career, and his love of community. Samuelsson connected with us while displaying a refreshing and dignified humility. To learn more about Samuelsson and his brands click here!
I had a fantastic time, and Yes, Chef is definitely on my summer reading list! Check out some videos and photos of Samuelsson and Mizrahi below!
Marcus Samuelsson talks about the central message in Yes Chef!
Marcus Samuelsson talks about why he chose Harlem for Red Rooster
Isaac Mizrahi discusses style as it relates to life
|Isaac and Marcus share good talk!|
|Marcus opens up about his life and career!|
So happy to have met Isaac Mizrahi!
All photos and video were taken with the Samsung 4G Epic Touch phone by Sprint!