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The Inspiring Journey: How Marcus Samuelsson Found His Culinary Passion

The real reason Marcus Samuelsson developed a passion for cooking

Marcus Samuelsson, the world-renowned chef known for preparing President Barack Obama’s first state dinner and appearing on various television shows, has a unique culinary journey that led him to where he is today. Born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson’s path took him from his birthplace to Sweden and eventually to New York. But it was his adoptive Swedish grandmother who ignited his passion for cooking.

A difficult start

Samuelsson’s early life was marked by tragedy. His biological mother died during a tuberculosis outbreak in Ethiopia when he was just 2 years old. Before she died, she made an incredible effort to ensure Samuelsson’s survival by carrying him more than 75 miles to a hospital. This poignant story is recounted by Samuelsson in his memoir, Yes, Chef.
Separated from the rest of his family, Samuelsson was fortunate enough to be adopted by a Swedish couple named Samuelsson. This adoption would prove to be a pivotal moment in his life and set the stage for his culinary journey.

A culinary inspiration

Growing up in Sweden, Samuelsson found his love for cooking in the kitchen of his “mormor,” which is Swedish for grandmother. In a recent tweet, he revealed that his passion for cooking was sparked by his grandmother, Helga. Her traditional Swedish cuisine of fish, potatoes, berries and apples left a lasting impression on Samuelsson.
In his grandmother’s kitchen, Samuelsson learned the joys of foraging for ingredients and preserving them in different ways. Helga ran her home like a farm-to-table restaurant, making jams from berries grown in her front yard and nearby woods. Her menus were based on the ingredients at hand, demonstrating a resourceful approach to cooking and ensuring that nothing went to waste.

A Journey to Success

Samuelsson’s early culinary experiences and his grandmother’s influence propelled him into a successful career in the food industry. He first made a name for himself at Aquavit, a world-renowned Swedish restaurant in New York. Eventually, he would establish his unique culinary identity and open Red Rooster Harlem.
The menu at Red Rooster Harlem reflects a blend of influences ranging from Swedish cuisine to Southern black cooking. All of these culinary inspirations can be traced back to Samuelsson’s beloved grandmother, Helga, and her Swedish cuisine. Her ingenuity, creativity and passion for cooking have left an indelible mark on Samuelsson’s approach to food.

A passion ignited

Marcus Samuelsson’s journey from Ethiopia to Sweden to New York was shaped by personal loss, resilience, and the influence of his adoptive Swedish grandmother. Her love of cooking and commitment to using fresh, local ingredients inspired Samuelsson to pursue a career as a chef. Today, he is not only a renowned culinary figure, but also a judge on “Chopped: Martha Rules” and owner of the acclaimed Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.
Samuelsson’s story is a testament to the power of passion and the profound impact that family and cultural heritage can have on shaping one’s culinary journey. Through his experiences and the flavors he brings to the table, Samuelsson continues to inspire aspiring chefs and food enthusiasts around the world.


What inspired Marcus Samuelsson’s passion for cooking?

Marcus Samuelsson’s passion for cooking was ignited by his adoptive Swedish grandmother, Helga. Her traditional Swedish cuisine and inventive use of fresh ingredients left a lasting impression on him.

How has Marcus Samuelsson’s grandmother influenced his culinary career?

Marcus Samuelsson’s grandmother, Helga, ran her home like a farm-to-table restaurant. Her emphasis on foraging for ingredients, preserving fruit, and creating menus based on what was available influenced Samuelsson’s early career and approach to cooking.

What role did Marcus Samuelsson’s grandmother play in his restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem?

Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant, Red Rooster Harlem, features a menu inspired by a mix of culinary influences, including his grandmother’s Swedish cooking. Her ingenuity and creativity continue to shape the flavors and dishes served at the restaurant.

How did Marcus Samuelsson’s early life shape his culinary journey?

Marcus Samuelsson faced personal loss and adversity at a young age when his birth mother died during a tuberculosis outbreak in Ethiopia. His adoption by a Swedish couple named Samuelsson gave him a new family and the opportunity to explore his passion for cooking.

What are some of Marcus Samuelsson’s notable achievements in the culinary world?

Marcus Samuelsson is a world-renowned chef who prepared President Barack Obama’s first state dinner. He regularly appears on television shows and is a judge on “Chopped: Martha Rules. He also owns and operates the acclaimed Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.

How does Marcus Samuelsson’s story inspire aspiring chefs and food lovers?

Marcus Samuelsson’s journey is a testament to the power of passion, resilience and the influence of family and cultural heritage. His story encourages aspiring chefs to pursue their culinary dreams and demonstrates the impact that personal experiences can have on shaping one’s culinary journey.

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