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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Times’ The Chefs of the Times (2001);
Magic in the Kitchen (2002), and Hot Chefs Hip Cuisine (2002).
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.
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.
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.”