Marcus Off Duty
In Marcus Off Duty, chef, award-winning author and TV host Marcus Samuelsson steps out of the restaurant and into his home kitchen, where he teaches readers to cook global, flavorful and approachable recipes. It’s a beautiful book, filled with funky illustrations, stories, personalized playlists, and his tips and tricks for tackling ethnic cuisines at home. Below, we talk with Samuelsson about his new cookbook, why it’s important to go off the grid on vacation and what he thinks about Minneapolis.
AndrewZimmern.com: This cookbook seems really personal, almost like a journal with the scribbled notes on the side. Why did you decide to go this route versus a more formal restaurant cookbook?
Marcus Samuelsson: Well, two things. When I started cooking, it was at home. I also feel, as a chef, I want to share my journey and the lessons I’ve learned. Once you know how to cook, it’s very liberating and I wanted to share that with people. And I think that sometimes you need a bridge, and I want this book to be the bridge and encourage people. “Oh I haven’t cooked with coconut milk, what is that?” Well it’s in here. “Can I use kimchi and not do Korean food?” Yes you can. You can use miso in a non-Japanese dish. Sometimes you just need that door opened and I feel like Off Duty can do that.
This book took three years to do. At that point Red Rooster was only a year old. I worked eight years at Aquavit before we dared to do a cookbook. Gramercy Tavern just came out with a cookbook. It takes a little bit more character and I think we’re going to age well.
AZ.com: The notes on the side of each recipe are coaxing people to experiment beyond the recipe. Why did you decide to do that and why is it important to improvise?
MS: Because so much of life is an in-between stage. I felt like a recipe has to be, not formal, but pretty structured, and the good stuff is right in-between. Isn’t life just a little better when you feel like you’ve been let in on a really good tip or advice? That’s what that is, it’s like one of those ‘Did you know’ moments.
AZ.com: There are a lot of recipes and tips for cooking with kids. How young were when you first started to cook or show interest in the kitchen?
MS: Very early on. When we were with family, we made simple things like meatballs and ginger snap cookies. As we got older, we learned to pickle and preserve. I grew up on the water so fishing was something you just knew how to do, and fishing means you have to know how to butcher the fish. You know, they throw you in the water and you learn how to swim. I grew up in a way where land and nature was part of life. Mushroom hunting, picking lingonberries, preserving blueberries, were all just part of life. Then I was a teenager when I went to cooking school.
AZ.com: The cookbook is filled with the faces of those who’ve influenced you. Who are these people that you’ve focused on?
MS: Wow, that’s a great question. There are a lot of people, a lot of cooks, and a lot of artisans that are anonymous but they are incredible and very relevant and important in their community. And they come to it from every walk of life, but they come to it with a very smart character and the will to make great stuff for their community. America is so diverse and it’s never been more delicious. I wanted to show that this book is a celebration of the great food in this country, so when you think there’s not good food in your community, I challenge you, there is. Just go and find it, because there are amazing families that are invested in this and you are the benefiter. It’s there.
AZ.com: As a frequent world traveler, where have you been recently that has surprised or impressed you?
MS: I’m loving LA as a food town for its diversity, with little Thai town, incredible Mexican food of course, and also K-town. I love a place like San Francisco–which is known for its restaurants–but I challenge you to try a place like Richmond, where you have food from Burma and a German bakery right next to each other. That’s something to celebrate, only in America can that happen. When you go to these cities, go off the grid and go to a real neighborhood. I mean we all know what’s happening in Austin, but have you thought about Houston? It’s also a great food town. Do some research online. It’s not just coastal, it’s happening across the country.
AZ.com: You’re no stranger to Minneapolis, what do you think of the food scene here?
MS: Gavin Kaysen opened his restaurant and that’s really big. Gavin is a true chef, a young man with an old soul. Five to ten years from now you’re going to have very good chefs coming out of that kitchen. That’s what you get out of a restaurant besides the medium, you get a whole family tree of young cooks opening restaurants in other parts of the city and that’s how neighborhood restaurants improve.
Get Samuelsson’s recipe for Roast Chicken from his new book Marcus Off Duty.
About Marcus Samuelsson
Award-Winning Chef, Restaurateur & Author Chef Marcus Samuelsson is an internationally acclaimed chef who has thrilled the food scene with a blend of culture and artistic excellence. Marcus caught the attention of the culinary world at Aquavit. During his tenure as executive chef, he received an impressive three-star rating from the New York Times, the youngest person ever to receive such an accolade.
In addition to being a successful cookbook author, Marcus released his New York Times Bestseller and James Beard-wining memoir Yes, Chef in 2012 to rave reviews. He has been featured on a number of media platforms including Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the Martha Stewart Show, Today Show, Regis and Kelly, and Charlie Rose. Marcus was the winner on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters Season Two as well as the second season of Chopped All-Stars. Marcus also serves as a recurring judge for Chopped, one of Food Network’s highest-rated series with a following of over 20 million viewers a month, and serves as a mentor on ABC’s The Taste, guiding a team of new culinary talent through a series of challenges. Marcus will host a new original show on FYI network titled The Feed starting in July of 2014 alongside Gail Simmons and comedian Max Silvestri.
In 2009, Marcus was honored as a guest chef at the White House under the Obama Administration, where he planned and executed the administration’s first state dinner for the first family, Prime Minister Singh of India and 400 of their guests. He has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2000, focusing his advocacy on water and sanitation issues, specifically the Tap Project. Marcus also had the honor of speaking at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and TEDxHarlem in 2012. In the fall of 2012, Marcus was also named to the US State Department’s The American Chef Corps, a group of chefs committed to Secretary State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s message of “smart power” diplomacy, which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools, by utilizing food, hospitality and the dining experience as ways to enhance how formal diplomacy is conducted, cultivating cultural understanding and strengthening bilateral relationships through the shared experience of food.
His iconic Red Rooster Harlem celebrates the roots of American cuisine in one of New York City’s liveliest and culturally rich neighborhoods. It has earned two-stars from the New York Times and countless accolades for its food, style and connection to the community. Named the Best Neighborhood Joint by Time Out New York, Red Rooster continues to amaze Harlem with the opening of its downstairs supper club Ginny’s. Marcus is also the chef behind Norda Grill in Gothenburg, Sweden, American Table and the Kitchen and Table concept; all partnered with Clarion Hotels.
Most recently, Samuelsson partnered with Mayor De Blasio, former President Bill Clinton, and Tren’ness Wood-Black to announce Harlem EatUp!, a food and cultural festival coming to Harlem, New York in May 2015. Marcus is also a co-founder of FoodRepublic.com – a website for men who want to eat and drink well, and to live smart.