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BIOGRAPHY

Marcus Samuelsson, chef and co-owner of Restaurant Aquavit, has received more accolades than most chefs receive in a lifetime: He was the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times from Ruth Reichl in 1995. In May of 2001, Aquavit was awarded another excellent, three-star review from The New York Times’ restaurant critic William Grimes. In 2003, Samuelsson received the great honor of “Best Chef: New York City” from the James Beard Foundation. In 1999, the James Beard Foundation also honored him as best “Rising Star Chef.” Samuelsson is proud of Aquavit’s consecutive four-star ratings in Forbes’ annual “All-Star Eateries” feature. He was individually recognized in Crain’s New York Business’ annual “40 Under 40” at age 29; and was celebrated as one of “The Great Chefs of America” by The Culinary Institute of America. Most recently, Samuelsson has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the “Global Leaders for Tomorrow” (GLT). The award, given out annually since 1993, recognizes young innovators from all corners of the world in the arenas of business, government, civil society, the arts and media. Both Samuelsson’s talent in the kitchen as well as his successful business achievements continue to be recognized locally, nationally and globally.

In 1973, three-year-old Samuelsson was orphaned when his parents fell victim to a tuberculosis epidemic that raged through his Ethiopian homeland. He and his sister found refuge at a Swedish field hospital in nearby Addis Ababa, where they were taken in by a nurse who arranged for their adoption by a young Swedish couple from Göteborg, Sweden. Samuelsson describes his childhood on the West Coast of Sweden as an idyllic time spent with family and close friends. At a young age, he also discovered his passion for cooking alongside his grandmother, who was a professional cook.

Unlike their American counterparts, young Swedes choose their career path at age sixteen. For Samuelsson, the choice to pursue cooking was an easy one to make. His first summer job at a local bakery was followed by several cooking jaunts in small restaurants. Passionate about his studies at the Culinary Institute in Göteborg, Samuelsson attended classes by day and cooked in local restaurants late each night, fulfilling his degree requirements in record time.

Following graduation from the Institute, Samuelsson apprenticed first in Switzerland and later in Austria, where he learned how to craft fine pastry. In 1991, he returned to Switzerland for almost a year before fate intervened: Aquavit owner Håkan Swahn was hard at work in New York City establishing an identity for Scandinavian cuisine in the U.S. and selected the young Swedish chef for an eight-month apprenticeship at his restaurant. This was a great honor for Samuelsson, considering the restaurant’s international reputation. In addition to its burgeoning popularity in the United States, where it’s been called the “grandest of New York’s Scandinavian restaurants,” the venue is also held in high regard in places like France and Sweden.

Following his stint at Aquavit, Samuelsson returned to Europe to take a position at the world-renowned and three-star Michelin restaurant, Georges Blanc in Lyon, France. “At Georges Blanc I learned that to be a top chef you have to have a passion for success as well as a passion for food,” Samuelsson says. “It’s not enough to be able to prepare delicious food. You have to be consistent as well, and serve two outstanding meals a day to each and every guest.”

In 1994, Håkan Swahn commissioned Samuelsson to return to Aquavit to work under the restaurant’s new executive chef, Jan Sendel. Sendel and Samuelsson found they shared much in common and eagerly began to work on their new menu. Sadly, the two chefs were not able to pursue their ambitions; just eight weeks after they began working together, Sendel died unexpectedly. Perhaps as a sign of things to come though, shortly before his death, Sendel confided in Håkan Swahn that he intended to make young Samuelsson his sous chef. Samuelsson rose to the challenge: He worked diligently, demonstrating his management skills and cooking prowess and, in May of 1995, Swahn formally appointed him Executive Chef of Aquavit . Just three months later, the young chef earned that coveted three-star rating from The New York Times.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Samuelsson continually revolutionizes Aquavit’s menu, crafting innovative interpretations of classic Scandinavian cuisine that marry the traditional with the contemporary. His menu offers dishes that embody, complement, and revitalize the foundations and building blocks of Swedish cuisine. Focusing on texture and aesthetics, Samuelsson incorporates the traditional seafood, game, and pickling and preserving techniques that have been adored and savored for years by Scandinavians.

And Samuelsson’s cuisine continues to win national praise. He has been featured in numerous publications: Gourmet, USA Today, Food & Wine and The New York Times, and Bon Appétit, to name a few and has appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Martha Stewart Living Television, CNN, The Food Network, The Discovery Channel, UPN’s “The Iron Chef USA,” and several New York television programs. He was the third chef to ever write for The New York Times’ “Chef’s Column,” and is a contributing editor to Savoy magazine.

Marcus Samuelsson also oversees the new AQ Café at Scandinavia House (opened June 2001), a casual lunch destination in Midtown Manhattan, serving some of Aquavit ’s favorite dishes. Additionally, Aquavit launched a new line of traditional Swedish prepared foods from recipes Samuelsson developed and researched.

In the spring of 2002, Samuelsson saw the release of his first Swedish cookbook, En Smakresa: Middagstips Från Marcus Samulesson, which was released alongside his work with Sweden’s major television network, TV4, which aired a series of global food-themed segments, Samuelsson co-created. The TV4 book celebrates Samuelsson’s love of Swedish food and features an array of traditional and innovative preparations beside stunning visuals. En Smakresa was awarded “Cookbook of the Year” in Sweden in 2002; one of many accolades the book has received to date.

Samuelsson’s first American cookbook Aquavit and The New Scandinavian Cuisine was released by Houghton Mifflin in October 2003. He has also been published in The New York TimesThe Chefs of the Times (2001); Magic in the Kitchen (2002), and Hot Chefs Hip Cuisine (2002).

On the philanthropic front, Samuelsson furthers his commitment to children by acting as the official spokesperson for a partnership between Dawn Dishwashing Liquid Antibacterial Hand Soap and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. As an ambassador for the cause, he will help provide support for tuberculosis initiatives in developing countries—an issue close to his heart, and the very disease that robbed him of his birth parents. Most recently, Samuelsson conceived and spearheaded the first annual “Gourmet/UNICEF Trick-or-Treat” program which brought on board restaurants across the country to donate $1.00 per diner to UNICEF on Halloween: helping unite the country’s best restaurants, a global charity, and the highly-respected food magazine. Planning has already begun on an even wider program for Halloween 2003.

Marcus also dedicates his time and talent to the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), a non-profit organization that provides inner-city high school students with training, scholarships and jobs in the restaurant and food service industry. Samuelsson also serves on C-CAP’s advisory board and as the restaurant chairperson for the annual spring benefit.

Marcus Samuelsson spends his free moments painting, reading cookbooks, visiting museums, and playing soccer. When asked about his goals for Aquavit , Samuelsson says, "I want to ensure that each guest has the ultimate three-star experience, and leaves Aquavit feeling like they’ve taken a little trip to Scandinavia without leaving New York.”