Turning Dining Back Into Eating With Marcus Samuelsson

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Why you should care

Because while food will keep you alive, thriving is all about good food.

I’ve been writing about Marcus Samuelsson for at least the past 20 years. From his days at Aquavit to his current multihypenate badass status with his awards, books, restaurants, shows and most importantly, an out of this world sense of the best things to be put in your mouth whenever your stomach says it’s time to put something in your mouth, Samuelsson is, indubitably, The Man. Which is why he absolutely owns this episode of The Carlos Watson Show. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

How to Cook: Shop Smart

Carlos Watson: Now Marc, somebody told me that you’re going to cook, is that right?

Marcus Samuelsson: Yeah, so a couple of things, when you buy any type of seafood, you always want to buy sushi quality, grade A. No matter what. Whether you’re a chef and you buy for a restaurant, or you’re buying for friends and family. You go to your store … always create a good relationship with your fishmonger … and you want sushi quality, grade A. Buying fresh fish, it can be very difficult because you don’t know …. There’s so much about it that you might not know … how long the boats been out and so on. But I got a beautiful piece of tuna here that I’m just going to quick sear. I’m just going to put my pan on high heat.

Then when I say sear? I’m just kissing it in the pan like that, maybe 30 seconds on each side so we get that rare, almost sashimi quality on the rim, right? I’m just putting this on all four sides so you get that outer, beautiful cooking color, right? In this bowl, that’s really where I got Miami: I got a little bit of heat, a little bit of black pepper … Cuban coffee, and we ground it. A little bit of salt. That’s what I’m going to rub this guy in to get crusted, right? You want to under cook your fish.

Basically I have sashimi quality and texture. Then at the same time, you want to rub it with some great spices.

Watson: All right, Marc … wait. Questions: First of all, what is Marcus Samuelsson’s secret weapon when it comes to cooking? I know you know how to use all of the tools, but what is in your 007 “black box” that has allowed you to do all the magic you’ve done across restaurants?

Samuelsson: Yeah. Absolutely. I can tell you that. Being able to stay curious in my field. I’m super curious about where’s food heading? What’s just around the corner? What’s the intersection between food and tech? Where’s food going next, right? The only way to do that, which has been hard this year, of course, is to travel. You’re talking to a guy that left home home at 18 to go to Japan. A little black kid in Japan, cooking all they can … talk about lost in translation.

Food’s Place in Space

Watson: I’ve been lucky enough to eat there [Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Overtown] and it’s not only delicious food and I’m not saying this because you’re on, but it also, I think embodies you. Meaning that there’s love in the place and there’s good energy and you feel it and you see it in the way people exist in the space. There’s good energy there.

Samuelsson: Yeah, yeah. That’s right. That’s important. Right next to the restaurant, we have this outdoor place and you know what we put in? We put in hydroponics for vegetables, right? In one of the poorer areas in Miami, we have the highest technology, right? Why would we do that? Because, of course, we want the best vegetables and herbs and urban farming for our guests, but also for our staff to learn it. For me, it’s like the intersection where technology and food meets, that’s where the new food is going to come from.

Whether it’s aquaponic, whether it’s hydroponic, we all want to care about the environment. If we’re going to take care of the environment for two things … what we used to be calling food deserts, which are linked to food apartheid in these urban areas, we need to have the best technology in here, so we can change the trends where people of color can get great jobs within the food industry. But also the most interesting job. If you’re a young cook here, you’re learning cooking, what you can do in many restaurants, but you’re also learning about hydroponics.

Watson: You’re making me think of a conversation I had with Will.i.am recently where he was talking about, instead of having little league football or little league baseball, what if you had little league robotics? That he believes that teaching young people of all kinds, but particularly young people often in low-income areas and particularly often young people of color about some of the magic of technology and making it hands-on and relevant and valuable as you’re doing with hydroponics. He thinks it would be a game-changer.

Samuelsson: Sure. It all comes down to exposure. The reason why I know this stuff, it’s because I’ve experienced it, right? This is happening everywhere. Why should we accept that these things only happen outside our community? These things can also happen in our community. Right? So our partners here, the Simpson family has been amazing in investing in these ideas that it’s not just, you can’t just look at that spreadsheet in a linear way and say, “Hey, I want my perfect bottom line.” This bottom line here, you can get both. Just like, we’re going to get both here.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Watson: Marcus, if you could have anyone to dinner. If I told you, you could have three people along with you, so a table of four … across history and across time. No constraints. Who would you love to have at your dinner table for whatever combination of reasons?

Samuelsson: I would probably say definitely Nelson Mandela, right? Because that level of restraint being in jail so long and then coming back out and inspiring the world, changing the world? I mean … it really changed the narrative for all of us in so many different ways. I don’t know if we would have had a Black president without Nelson Mandela. I don’t know where we would be as people of color without him.

I would have a super fun table. I grew up loving soccer so I would probably love having Diego Maradona on that table with a couple of friends and listening to some bad, bad stories with him … and just laughing and shaking my head. I know that would be fun.

I would definitely have another table with my parents. I lost my father, Swedish father, very young. It was a challenge. I had basically went through my 20s without my father and there are so many conversations I would love to have with my father. I just miss him dearly, it’s a long time ago now but it never really healed.

The most amazing thing for me is that my Ethiopian father, my Swedish mother, they turned 90 at the same time. They died within three months [of each other]. I got the chance to spend so much time and I feel grateful for that, but I never really got to know my Ethiopian mother. Just when I was going as a young professional. And I’ve never gotten the chance to have real conversations with my dad. That would probably be a table I would set up for the two of them.