Interview with Cookbook Author & Chef Extraordinaire,
Marcus Samuelsson

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Marcus Samuelsson Notes

In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar, challenges his Food Network colleague, and revered chef, Marcus Samuelsson, to select 5 people that should join the Eat My Globe Culinary Pantheon. The fascinating selection is made from Marcus’ journeys around the world and in search of the roots of African American food.

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TRANSCRIPT

EAT MY GLOBE

INTERVIEW WITH COOKBOOK AUTHOR & CHEF EXTRAORDINAIRE,

MARCUS SAMUELSSON

 

INTRO MUSIC

 

Simon Majumdar (“SM”):

Hey everybody. This is Simon Majumdar and welcome to a brand-new episode of Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn't know you didn't know about food.

 

And I have to tell you, today's episode really is a very special episode because not only am I going to introduce you to one of the most renowned chefs in the United States. Someone who you will know if you watch television, if you watch “Top Chef Masters,” if you watch “Chopped,” where I think he is the most erudite judge on that show and someone who has created a very important show more recently, “No Passport Required.” Someone who has created some of the most important restaurants in the United States, including where I first met him, even though he won't remember this, at “Aquavit” many moons ago, and “Red Rooster” in Harlem, and in a number of other places. Someone who champions the Black culinary world, not just here in the United States, but around the world more than just about anybody I know.

 

It is an absolute honor for me to introduce on to Eat My Globe. The one and only, Marcus Samuelsson.

 

Hi Marcus.

 

Marcus Samuelsson (“MS”):

Hi Simon. So happy to be on your show. Uh, I know that we're going to talk lots about delicious food and, and our journey. So I'm excited about it.

 

SM:

Well, I, I'd love to do that. I know we're going to go on and talk about something very specific history related. This is a food history podcast. But let's talk your own personal history first. Because I think you have one of the most remarkable journeys from where you started to whom you've become. And it's happened, not just because of you, but because of the help you've received. And I think that's the big, you're always getting the shout out. I want our listeners to find out more about you before we move on.

 

MS:

Yeah, no, I might be the only Swede-Ethiopian you know, uh, you never know, you might know a couple of more people. There's plenty of us out there. And I was born. I was born in a hut in, uh, a place called, Abrugandana, outside, uh, about two hours right outside Addis Ababa, the capital in Ethiopia. And, um, my sister, my mom, mother, and I, we, the three of us had tuberculosa. Uh, my mother, our mother walked us into the capital, eventually got us into Swedish hospital. Um, and she passed away. But here's really where the story. . . Really, I think, this is like sort of a counterpoint in my life. Um, I'm here because the goodness of others.

 

Many, many random acts happen after this that shows you that when someone says I'm here because my own success, no one has built anything by themselves. And me and my sister were two and a half and five and a nurse at the hospital with three single mother nurse, three kids of her own took us in.

 

SM:

Wow.

 

MS:

And she said, I cannot put these two kids out on the street. I'm better off taking them into my house and eventually setting them up for adoption. So she, she did that. It took about four months for her to. . . We stayed with her and eventually she found a Swedish adoption agency. And we went. . . I went from being Kassahun Tsegie to Marcus Samuelsson in a plane ride.

 

SM:

[Chuckle]

 

Wow.

 

Wow. And from there, your, your culinary training took you off on a whole different journey because you trained in Europe, didn't you initially?

 

MS:

Yes.

 

SM:

And then before you moved to the United States. Tell us a little bit about that journey.

 

MS:

Yeah. I mean, my grandmother, uh, I would say, I also wouldn't be here without my Swedish grandmother, right. Because, um, she, she had a regular kitchen, but she had that pantry basement that so many Scandinavians have where it's stored with jars of lingonberries. . .

 

SM:

Uh-huh.

 

MS:

. . . and blueberries and mushrooms and all of these different things. And there was always a season for something. Whether that was plum jam being made or apple or mushroom being pickled. So, we were always working with her in our kitchen around food.

 

And, uh, summertime, I grew up on a fishing island with my family and my uncles. So, I literally grew up around food. The craftsmanship around cooking was always around us. And when I started cooking school in Gothenburg in Sweden, the west coast of Sweden, um, I realized quickly that I've been cooking for a long time and I knew very often more than the other kids. Uh, not because I worked so much in restaurant because of really my, my training with my grandmother.

 

I got a scholarship and went to Japan when I was 17 years old, 18 years old, 17, 18. And, uh, out of. . . . When I came back from Japan, I knew I wanted to be a chef because I just had that. . . . Through those three months, I started to taste food that I. . .  It was just so odd to me. I started to realize what umami was for the first time. . .

 

SM:

Uh-huh.

 

MS:

. . . I ate raw fish. Um, I ate blow fish. You know, stuff like that, that no other Swedish, 18-year old kid I'd been around. . .

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MS:

. . . and continued. And I got a scholarship to go to Switzerland to work in Victoria-Jungfrau, worked there for two years and eventually to go to France, through a 3-star Michelin restaurant called, Georges Blanc. Uh, and it was transformative experiences in my life.

 

SM:

And for me, when I've looked at your career, and as I said, I've been eating your food now for many years because I've, you know, my coming over to New York. I've always seen your culinary, uh, progression as being a search for identity.

 

I think of all the chefs I know, you really root who. . . how you cook in who you are and finding out who you are. And obviously because you come from so many different places. And, and tell me about that before we move into your book. Because I think the, the book that we're going to talk about here and use as the basis for this episode, I think really is your kind of ultimate expression of your identity. Not that you've reached it yet, but it's a really great kind of joyous expression of who you are.

 

So, you. . . you moved over to the United States and cooked at Aquavit, which was just a remarkable restaurant. Uh, one that certainly I, I loved visiting. But tell us about your time coming to the United States and then following that and your introduction and your kind of passion for supporting the Black communities.

 

MS:

Well, I mean choices, um, and how they randomly happened to us in life. Right? I was told after I thought I was done in France, I told my chef that, thank you so much, but it's time for me to go and find my own way. And he says, why, where, what do you want to do? I said, I want to own a restaurant at some point, just as nice as an establishment as yours. And he said to me, that's not possible.

 

SM:

Wow.

 

MS:

What do you mean? It's not possible? Um, well, do you know any Black-owned restaurant that speaks to Michelin? I said, no. Do you know anyone in France or in Europe? And I said, no. He said, that's your answer. You can work in, in a restaurant. You cannot own one. And that was kind of the wake-up call for me. And I, I mind you, I didn't feel that he was a racist. He said it because that was the world that he knew, right?

 

SM:

He was talking about his reality.

 

MS:

He was talking about. . . . And also the reality of what it looked like in the mid-nineties.

 

SM:

Yep.

 

MS:

Right. But I realized that was, um, I could not lower my ambition and I just had to go and find another place. Right? And I, I took the plane, a train ride, ride home from Lyon to Gothenburg, was a 40 hour train ride, lots of time to think about, uh, your next step. And when I got home, my father said, you know anyone in New York? And I said, I do. You should go to New York. They had recently a Black mayor in New York City. And if they can support a Black mayor, they will also support a Black chef at some point. And that's really when I went to New York. Uh, at that point I had a good resume. I got a job at Aquavit and eventually became the chef, uh, 23 years old. Way too young.

 

But, uh, it changed again. Once again, the projection of my life. We got three stars. Um, and, uh, the world in New York City and America opened up to me. And I'll tell you identity and. . . You know, at that point, Swedish food is a minority cuisine. The new Nordic thing hasn't really taken off, this is pretty bad.

 

SM:

Absolutely.

 

MS:

But Swedes in America, they don't see themselves as minorities. And I always said, how can we express this cuisine? Because it's so good, but I want more people to understand that. And it's, you know, internet is obviously happening at that time, but the link between internet and food really starts happening around 2002, 2003, 2004, et cetera. And this is the late nineties now. And I started to build my own building blocks. That wasn't necessarily around Swedish ingredients was more around Swedish. . .

 

When I looked at new Nordic, and it was pickling, preserving. . . We had based it around our incredible game and seafood and thinking about aesthetic, we have this minimalistic approach and of how we cook, uh, and textures that are very unique because how we pick [inaudible]. To me, it wasn't whether it would be herring or tuna. That was almost secondary to me. You could. . .  It was the cooking techniques that we applied to it. And, um, uh, I really loved cooking that up for me. But when you think about it, Ethiopian cuisine, it's a cuisine of 120 million people. So, the minority cuisine was not Ethiopia. The minority cuisine was actually Sweden. The same for me was I didn't know enough about my Ethiopian roots and I didn't know enough about my African heritage in terms of food. And I really have to go on that journey myself. No one else could do that but me, and I have to do that. And that's really where I started to develop my next sort of chapter.

 

SM:

And for me, that's again, where, you know, we’d encountered each other on television, you know, doing “Next Iron Chef,” and obviously I'd followed your food. And I still remember the very first time I went to Aquavit, uh, was actually, I think it was with a friend from. . . who worked for Drew Nieporent. And she called Cathy Loup and she was like, this restaurant, you have to go. And we went and I think I even bought the book. I was so impressed with my meal and bought the book at Aquavit. I've still got it in London.

 

Um, and let's, let's go on there, from there to talk about books, because I think you've published books. And again, I've seen the development in the books that you've published. You've obviously published a few. And the reason that I wanted you to come on this show now is that, very kindly, when we were filming a show, quite recently, you came to my trailer when we were together and you gave me a copy of this book and it's called, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food.”

 

And, you know, I'm, I'm very lucky. We're in this business. A lot of people send me their cookbooks either because they want me to show them on my social media or, you know, they, they're just being kind and they want me to have the books. And yes, they're often very lovely and they're well put together. And yet this is the first book in years that I literally sat down in my trailer to begin. And then when I got home and I read cover to cover, not just because of the recipes, not just because of, um, that you were kind enough to give it to me. Because this was to me, one of the most important books in the culinary world that I'd seen for years. And it's, as I said, “The Rise,” and because it's a book that truly does what you do – champions, not just the history or the current status, but the future of Black cooks in the world. And so, I really wanted to talk about this book today and to pick out some people from it, which is why I asked you on.

 

So, perhaps you could tell us about the motivation for writing this book, because this feels like it's been kind of wrenched out of your soul when I read this.

 

MS:

Sure. Well Simon, I think there's another reason that you forgot that why people give you the book. You’re also extremely knowledgeable about food, right? So, when people give you, it's a bar and people want to give you a book also because your knowledge, you know, that knowledge is worth so much. I know we will live in a time of social media and so on, but knowledge, it’s still king. You know what I mean? So, we want to give you the book because. . .

 

SM:

Thank you.

 

MS:

. . .uh, because of that reason too.

 

So, but Simon, I feel like, you know, for me, it's a conversation between anonymous labor and visible labor. And as people of color, we have constantly done the work without the recognition.

 

SM:

Yes.

 

MS:

I think when you are a chef that I have a platform, you're a person that has a platform. It’s your job and duty to champion.

 

And that's what you do with your voice here. And that's what you do in other places too. You bring forward narrative that we all know are great, but a lot of people in the public. . . doesn't know about it. Not because they don't want to, it's just because they might not have access to it or no one presented it. So, for me as a chef, it's very important as a Black chef to present and broadcast. And, you know, um, you cannot talk about American cuisine without talking about the continent of Africa and link. . . and the linear between West Africa, specifically, and the Carolinas and the South. And I think most people understand that when it comes to music, you know, the link between blues from Mali in West Africa, we understand jazz as an art from Africa, but truly an American art form through Black excellence, hip hop, even rock and roll, bebop, gospel.

 

But when it comes to food, it’s vague. And I felt like, let's unpack this. And there are five original cuisines that are all part of the American experience, but also linked to the African-American experience – barbecue, Creole, Cajun, Southern, what we really very often discuss as soul food. Um, and so, so, so, and Creole as well. You have Creole, you have Southern, you have barbecue, you have Cajun, and these cuisines are all part of the Black experience without. . .  Sometimes you think about it. And sometimes you might not think about it, right? It could be ingredient driven. It could be, uh, that the history hasn't written in the Black experience into the ownership of that. Right? And if the history is not right written, then how are you going to be able to have memories that are correct? And for me, it was so much about giving the authorship of Black craftspeople, chefs, writers. If you give the authorship to the people, to people that are due, then the memories that the audience will have will be correct. And therefore, then, that decide or want to have these experience will then go on the works, right? And there's numerous experience of where these are all misplaced. And that's what we don't know enough of this. And this is really the job of the book.

 

SM:

And how do you set out? I mean, that's a huge, broad scope you had to look at. I mean, that's a big task because it's something that people have been working on, you know, for many years, and you had a platform to approach it. How do you even begin? I mean, I don't think as even as a writer, I would go, okay, I'm just going to sit in a room and scream for a while because I don't even know how to approach that.

 

MS:

Yeah. Well, the great thing is, I mean, first of all, it took four years and shout out to Little Brown every year when we were delayed. Mike said, hey, take your time. And Osayi, that, when my coauthor. . . I mean, Osayi came from. . . uh, her background, her background is Nigerian. And it helped so much, right. Her understanding obviously about American culture, but also Nigerian culture, West African culture. So, we could really go back and forth, uh, on this. And, um, I thought it out with really breaking down my, my own experience and the people in my orbit and then looking outside. So, people from the continent who was doing the most interesting work, people from the Caribbean. Where is the work, where’s derivative from the Caribbean. And then obviously looking at the food that we know from the migration, but also that Blackness is not monolithic.

 

And that's why sometimes you have to label stuff to show that there are plural of states. And, um, you know, I was looking at incredible people like Greg Gourdet that is obviously Haitian background through. . . via New York but working in Portland. Looking at someone that is not as known, but as a craft person, incredible – Eric Gestel – been the Chef de Cuisine at Le Bernardin for 25 years.

 

SM:

Extraordinary chef. Extraordinary.

 

MS:

Extraordinary chef. And arguably one of the most talented chefs in the world. And, and, and so just showing that sometimes they exist in restaurants. Sometimes they exist in that. . . in an institutional kitchen, maybe in a school. Sometimes they exist in a pop-up. And our food and our culture is not always in restaurants because we never had the same access to institutional money.

 

That doesn't mean our food didn't matter. So, when you think about tradition, like, think about, you know, Mr. Scott, Rodney, right? He's been arguably one of the best barbecue chefs in the world, not in the country, in the world. So, his tradition is oral the way he now came out with his cookbook, but the way he was taught by his father was oral. So how do you capture this beautiful oral culture, right, into a recipe form?

 

So, it was really looking at these incredible people, um, and chefs and colleagues and friends, and then learning that Blackness can go in many different directions. Nyesha Arrington that is both Korean and African-American right. And, and living in California. Now you're talking. That is exciting for me as a chef. I, that, that, so it was all these different versions. Mashama Bailey moving from New York to Savannah. Uh, you know, uh, just all these incredible stories.

 

So, um, I wanted to broadcast, I wanted to highlight and I wanted to do books. I'll tell you one thing about this, Simon.

 

When I was coming up in the early nineties, I was so starved of books that were not French. So, one of the first books that I bought and I loved because he wasn't French and he was just representing other to me was “White Heat” by Marco Pierre White.

 

SM:

Of course, yes.

 

MS:

Because you. . . I didn't even know. You could have long hair, you could be that young. . .

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MS:

. . . you could smoke. I'm buying that book. And then eventually I bought the Charlie Trotter cookbooks because I've never seen photography. . . food photography in that way. And eventually five years later, Charlie Trotter, he started mentoring me. But I'm telling you that, “The Rise,” is really, for me, has two audiences. One is for chefs that looked like me that knows there is a breadth of. . . . our industry is filled with incredible talent and wherever you live, whether you're in America or in Europe, you can go and seek out these incredible people. And they’re here in the industry. And then for people who don't look like me and say, hey, support Black chefs in every neighborhood. And not only do we focus on 45 Black chefs in the book, we also listed another 200 Black chefs. So, no one can say, well, I don't know how to find them.

 

SM:

You did give that shout out at the end. I will, I will say this. And you know, me, Marcus, I have no filters. If I didn't think this, I wouldn't say it. “White Heat” is one of the most important books, I think, in culinary history in the way that it changed everything. And I used to eat at Marco's restaurant, Harvey's. So, I know it. I think “Nose to Tail” by Fergus Henderson is another one of those that every chef or every food person should have. Charlie Trotter's is. And I will say this to you now that I, and I was saying it to my colleagues here in the studio, this book that you've written, “The Rise,” should be up on the shelf with those books. And it will be, I think this is a book that has a lot of legacy.

 

The two words I used about this when I was describing it – one, it's celebratory. There's no apology for this. This is not, oh, where'd this and this, this is, this is who we are. And this is how we've stamped ourselves upon the world, whether you know it or not.

 

And the second, I think about this, is it's absolutely, uh, the, the, and I'd like to ask you about this, the way that you set out the book is so unusual. So traditionally, if you're writing a book that has some history, or it has a pre. . ., you would start with the history and then you'd come forward to the present day. And then you'd go. . . . You start with looking off into the future. I'd just love to know just about that structure of. . . before we go into talk about some of the amazing people you want to share with us from the book.

 

MS:

I wanted to start. . . . It's funny, right? Because, um, I really wanted to start with some positives. I really had that emotion in my head. It's like, you're waiting on, uh, in Europe or maybe it would be a soccer field or in America would be a basketball court where you. . . these, these young teenagers are waiting for, we got next. You get off the court, and we got now.

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MS:

. . . and that there is a whole generation of incredible young Black chefs that they may be. . .  they did not grow up, maybe on Julia Childs, they grew up on Food Network or on YouTube or on TikTok or whatever. And they just want back in. . . . they just want in the game. And there are some incredible young talent that, uh, uh, are here and I wanted to present that there is. . .  this book, like you said, it's not apologetic. It's also very positive. There's a generation coming in. And there's many more people that are not in the book that could have been there. So that was important to me.

 

Then at the same time, it's not an either or. And one of the biggest issue in Black culture is that we get this very slim narrative. And maybe you hear about it through music. And that's it. This is an opportunity to show that you can honor Edna Lewis and Leah Chase and Patricia Gonzalez that was 17 years old when we started the book. You can do both, you know.

 

SM:

I think you really did that.

 

So what we always try and do, when have folks come on and we share time with them, not a challenge so much, because we're not that kind of show, but ask you to give us kind of four or five people that you've chosen from. You've chosen five here that we can put up into what I call the Eat My Globe Culinary Pantheon.

 

We had Alton Brown on earlier, and he was giving us some of his folks from history, which was really fun. And you sent me a really remarkable list. So, with your permission, I'd love just to go through those. And what we're not doing is negating any of the other people in this book, because you could have given. . . you could have given me a hundred, like you said, you listed another 200 chefs at the end of the book. And I. . . I have to say, I was reading through them going, well, I, I don't know this person. I need to go and find out. So, it's a book that I think sets a challenge as well to everyone who's interested in this community.

 

But let. . . . If you don't mind just sharing about the people, who've obviously touched you enough that when I asked you for a list, you said, oh, I must include. . . . So, would you mind sharing some of those with us from the book?

 

MS:

Sure, of course. So, um, I think someone like Nyesha Arrington that a lot of chefs know and some chefs, um, have cooked with her, but she is a very, very, very special, uh, young chef. She is, uh, African American and Korean American, works out of Los Angeles, but really came up through Josiah. And, and the list in Los Angeles has this beautiful craft of French culinary training, but also is diving into Asian American, African American background. One chef that is an amazing talent is Tristen Epps, which is our chef at Red Rooster in Overtown. Tristen is, um, Trinidadian. His mother’s Trinidadian but he grew up in Houston and grew up in the Carolinas and he's watching Tristen becoming. . . . he's really becoming this incredible chef. And I've worked with Tristen for seven years and watching his evolution.

 

SM:

What do you think it is about chefs and, uh, like Tristen? And I went to read about him and I know he had his own restaurant in Houston for a while, and was somewhere that was getting remarkable reviews. What do you think it is about them that makes them connect in a way? Is it a personal curiosity? Like an intellectual. . . . Something you have is intellectual curiosity. You're always reading. You're always asking. . . .

 

MS:

Yeah.

 

SM:

What is it about Tristen that you think kind of rings out?

 

MS:

Well, what I feel when Tristen and Nyesha, for example, they're young, but they're old souls. They're really in love with their craft. They're not fast people, right? They really love their craft. Like Tristen can text me and say, I tried this technique that he read about in a book from the sixties. And you know, we're going to do that at our next event. And we’re doing it, right?

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MS:

And it could be things like, we're gonna butter poach something, but maybe we butter poach it in an Indian ghee or an Ethiopian kibbeh or something like that, because when he wants to do that technique, because he's just read about it, right. He's not fast, but he's really studying.

 

Nyesha, the same thing. Right? So there's that curiosity of reading old recipes, matching it with ingredients that are modern and obviously searching for flavors, but also searching their own ideas.

 

SM:

Wonderful.

 

So, tell me, who else you’ve. . .  You gave me such a great list and I had such a fun time working through it. Who else would you like to share with us?

 

MS:

Well, I mean, there's a, there's many, many, many people, but I. . . One of the chefs that I love the most is Greg Gourdet from, from, uh, Portland. Greg is opening his Haitian American restaurant this year and his vocabulary and cooking is completely fluent. He's just incredible. Like, he's like one of those musicians that can play every instrument. And he does that in the kitchen. And, you know, he was trained here in New York with, uh, chef Jean Georges and, uh, had his restaurant, Departure, in, in, in, um, Portland for years. And then took a year off just to focus on his opening of his restaurant this year. And, um, also taking a lot of time to lend his voice to independent restaurant coalition during this year. And that's the other thing that I can tell when both. . . all these chefs are also find time to lend their voices to other things that are part of their community, right?

 

SM:

Yes. They're building up.

 

One of the chefs that you did share with me is someone from a tradition – from a country that I visited and enjoyed the food a great deal – from Nigeria. Chef Michael Elégbèdé. I mean, tell me a little bit about, uh, his, his cuisine, a Nigerian cuisine. Cause a lot of people might not know that, but as a cuisine, I think it has a lot of influence.

 

MS:

Mike. . . . Michael is. . . . Talk about who got next. Michael is amazing. And Michael did his training here, uh, at Eleven Madison. We worked together with, uh, Kwame at the same time and, uh, what's happening now. . . . And it would have happened even more if it would have been for the pandemic, but what's happening is that a lot of chefs are not going back to the continent to train the way we went back to France, the way we went to Japan. And Michael, very often, because I get so many calls from my chef and say, connect with Michael. And that's how we work as chefs, right? We have one connection in Lagos in the city of 20 million people. And Michael is now that guy that we all connected. And then Michael sets up this four-day trip for the chefs and they come back completely transformed. And, um, you know, um, Michael is just a beautiful soul cause he shares, he has an incredible kitchen studio in Lagos. And if you want to know some of the most exciting food in the world right now, it's happening in Michael's kitchen in Lagos,

 

SM:

I need to go. I have to say I've been to Lagos and I've been to Abuja and you know, a lot of traditional food. But what I saw was. . .  and this is sometimes I think people forget, they think of. . .  I get it within India a lot because obviously my family is from India. People think that it's this kind of ossified food that's just sitting there in history, and they don't realize that there are young chefs there who are just as creative and just as exciting as everything that's going on in the United States. And there was food that I was seeing when I was in Lagos, which was many years ago. That was, that was completely blew my mind because I'd never seen these techniques before.

 

MS:

And Michael is that guy. And sometimes, you know this. It started with somebody that changed the projectory. I mean, think about Fela Kuti when he changed the projectory of music. And now 30 years later, you have Afrobeat, right?

 

SM:

Yep.

 

MS:

But we didn't have that then. Wouldn’t it be someone like Fela and say, hey, I've been to America and here's my African sound and how could I go back and forth? And that's what Mike was doing. He's techniques are a blend between sort of Western but also with. . . steeped in with Nigerian and West African techniques. So, this tennis match becomes sort of global, which is beautiful. And obviously now with technology, I get so excited following, uh, Michael's uh, Instagram and see what he's up to.

 

SM:

Now, there is. . .  I would like to ask you about a couple of other chefs. There's one I had to ask you about because, on “No Passport Required,” and I remember watching this when you said it, you said this person was the most subversive chef in the country. Do you know who I'm talking about?

 

MS:

Jonny Rhodes?

 

SM:

Yes, it is. So, I wanted to ask you why you thought this person was.

 

MS:

Well, what I love about Jonny is that, uh. . . . You know, you know this Simon. We would tell our chefs, leave your town, go to another city, whatever your city is. . . do. . . when it's not. . .  it's not. . . great food. You have to leave. Jonny said, I'm going to go to New York, but I'm going to come back to my town. Not only am I going to come back to my town, I'm going to come back to my part of the town. Right? And he built his urban garden on that corner. And, uh, when people would say, a rough neighborhood, but for him, it's his neighbor. And also the way he thinks about food is free. You know, he might not serve the sweet potato until six months later. He air-dried them for six months. So, he's really going back. And if you walk into his kitchen, there's tons of tins and jars. So you're not allowed to touch because it's all about pickling and serving and leading us back to flavors of food that really goes back to maybe two, 300 years. And, and, and that's, for me, is so beautiful, the way he thinks about flavor, the way he links it back to his narrative and his journey. And they really express himself as a high, truly original. And that's what I love about that. And Houston have always had appreciation. . . . First of all, Houston is the most diverse city in America, is one of the sort of like under the radar cities that are amazing in food.

 

SM:

Yes.

 

MS:

And, and, and, and Jonny is one of the people that contributes to that.

 

SM:

And you said, I, you said pers. . . Just a quote. I think someone said in a review, each dish is paired. It's like an educational moment in African American history. So, for me, when you eat, it should be giving, not just as you said that nourishment, it should be giving you intellectual curiosity.

 

Before we move on just to some of the fun questions, and I'm conscious of your time. Let's talk about some of the people who've passed because I, one of the things that when certain people pass in this community, you're one of the first to come out and give them the respect. People like Leah Chase. Can we mention some of those people who you've encountered, who maybe aren't with us anymore, but whose roots are so solid that they they're going to be with us in a form forever?

 

MS:

Well, I can tell you that, um, Leah Chase is probably the person that has informed me and inspired me and pushed me the most in this country.

 

SM:

Could you tell people. . . . Sorry to interrupt. Could you perhaps tell people about Leah Chase because they may not know her?

 

MS:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

So Dooky Chase is this restaurant in New Orleans that’s only been around since 1940s. You think about that. It’s 80 years of excellence and, uh, Dooky, uh, was the name of Leah's husband, late husband, but they ran the restaurant for 75 plus years, and now her daughter Stella and the family's running it. And, uh, think about it. This is pre-integration segregation, and Leah broke the law for the first 20 years because she served white and Black people in the restaurant. She served everybody. Um, she had many numerous chances to move elsewhere in other parts of town, but she stayed in her neighborhood. And, um, she is for me, one of the most transformative chefs of this country. And, um, when you wanted to do the big deal in New Orleans, whether that was a wedding or closing of a business or signature over something where you wanted to see the local celebrity. . . you went to Dooky Chase. You put your best on, you went to Dooky Chase, and you saw Nat King Cole. You saw Muhammad Ali, et cetera. And Leah’s, that person. And she's also the only person when you walk into the restaurant, there's this picture of her and President Obama. And she holds him in a headlock because he's about to put hot sauce. . .

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MS:

. . . on her gumbo. And she's like, no, no, no, no, no. Don't put hot stuff in my gumbo without tasting it.

 

[Laughter]

 

SM:

We've. . . we were lucky enough to go to Dooky Chase. And I have to say, I, I'm going to put my hand up. And I did say this to them last night. I do think New Orleans is the greatest eating city in the United States. And she was very much the queen of New Orleans. So, I think she's a great person to mention.

 

Marcus, this has been so much fun. And, but before we let you go, I have fun questions. Are you up for some fun questions?

 

MS:

Absolutely. Go for it.

 

BREAK MUSIC

 

SM:

Hi everybody, this is Simon Majumdar, the creator and host of the Eat My Globe food history podcast. Now, those of you have been listening to the podcast since we began over two years ago – nearly 50 episodes so far – will know that we have never sought out sponsorship for the podcast. It’s very much been a labor of love. However, along the way, a large number of people have approached us suggesting they would like to support the podcast. And so, we have opened up a page on Patreon dot com to allow those of you who listen regularly to do just that. Any support we will get will allow us to purchase research materials, buy ingredients for recipes, and maybe, when we can get out and about, to bring you some very special in-the-field reporting. But, and this is really important. This is not just a one-way street. For varying levels of membership of our Patreon club, there will be access to fantastic Eat My Globe swag, including that incredible chopping board so many of you have written to me about, recipes based on historical periods about which we chat each week, video shout outs, signed pictures, and even along the way, some very special episodes just for members. So, if you’ve enjoyed the episodes of Eat My Globe you’ve listened to so far, and would like us to make many more into the future, do head over to www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe and consider taking out a membership. Any support will be much appreciated. Remember, that’s www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe. So, thank you very much, and keep listening.

 

SM:

Before we go on to those as well. And I will say it again. If, if anyone is listening to, as part of the Eat My Globe family, you must have this book it's called, “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food.” And I honestly believe it is up there with “White Heat.” It is up there with “Nose to Tail Eating.” It is out there with Charlie Trotter. And I think this book is going to be part of the legacy of the American culinary world. And I want to thank Marcus for giving it to me. And, uh, it has, it's something that I'm going to treasure. So, thank you.

 

So, okay. Let's have some fun questions. Okay. So this is going to be an interesting one because you've been on such a journey.

 

If you were a meal, what would it be?

 

MS:

I think I would be, um, I would start off with herring on an injera bread with some coffee-roasted mustard sauce, and some horseradish, a little bit of horseradish and berbere, a little bit of heat on top.

 

[Laughter]

 

SM:

 

Wow, that's great. And then you've taken us over a whole different. . . . I know when I watch you cook. And when we did recently, we did a Guy's Grocery Games and I'm watching you cook. It's just your, your mind goes in so many different directions. I don't know how you manage it. But that would be a great. . . Well, I want to try that apart from the coffee, of course, because. . .

 

MS:

Yes.

 

SM:

. . . I'm allergic to coffee and it will kill me. So I can’t eat coffee. But apart from that that’s like [inaudible].

 

Okay, that this is a really interesting one for you because of your study of history.

 

If you could go and have any single meal or a meal in any period of history at any time in history to have a meal, when would it be?

 

MS:

I tell you what, there's two meals that were game changing to me. And one was where I’ve I saved up my money from Switzerland, took the train to Monte-Carlo to eat [inaudible] that Alain Ducasse was serving a vegetarian tasting.

 

SM:

Uh-huh.

 

MS:

I didn't conceptualize. What do you mean? Are you allowed? Can you? What does it. . .? I have so many questions. I was 21 years old. I was like, how is this possible? And all I find out was to borrow a vest from one of the waiters. . . .

 

SM:

[Laughter]

 

MS:

. . . and from somebody else and jump on the train. And I got to this place in Monte-Carlo and I ate the tasting there. And it was vegetarian and I was. . . . It changed my life. And six years later at Aquavit, we served a vegetarian tasting menu, but it was, this was one of these things that I, I didn't even conceptually understand that it was possible.

 

And also of course I couldn't afford the wine. And of course I was like by far the poorest person in the room, but it changed my life. And I was like, wow, I was blown away. You know.

 

The other meal. . . . And I know it's, it's not as big maybe, but it just was, for me, it was when I had the chance to eat in with, um, Charlie Trotter in Chicago in the kitchen. And this is maybe like 98, 99. And it was just the first time that I saw that Americans can do it too. This was no longer something I've seen in Japan. This was not something I've seen in France and experienced in France by working in France. Americans can do this as well. And today we obviously take that for granted because, um, America's been doing it for a long time. But at that point, it wasn't something you could think about taking for granted. And I saw the most beautiful 15 course tasting menu in the kitchen.

 

So those two meals for me changed my life. And I was like, I'm on the right path. And I, I didn't feel like I was part of it yet, but I felt like, wow, these are people that are into my orbit, although I'm way outside of this orbit. But I was, I was, I was in the movie, even if I was an extra that was dead in the first second of the movie, I was still in the movie.

 

SM:

Those meals, I think that change your life, uh, are, are so vital. For me, in the United States, and I have a similar reaction. I'd been in Britain and I'd been in France. And I'd never really experienced that in the United States until the first time I sat at a table at Lespinasse when Gray Kunz was cooking. And I went. . . and for the first time I had an interesting, uh, someone who we know, Rocco, was cooking in the kitchen then, and also who we lost recently, Floyd, died, who passed away, he was there as well in the kitchen. And so it was a remarkable coming together of talent. And that changed my life and my view of American. . . of food in America. So I, I totally understand.

 

So one final question, and this is always a fun one because people come up with the most unusual things. What would you consider to be the most important food invention in history?

 

MS:

I would say, uh, the art of bread, right? Because it's, you know, whether it's, uh, injera flat bread or sourdough or pizza bread, uh, that idea of flour, rice, hot stone, oven, fire, whatever, whatever combination you’re doing it, I would say bread.

 

SM:

That's a great idea. And also that's, I think that's some of your Swedish coming out as well, because I, I've never met a Swedish person who doesn't eat bread by the bucket load.

 

MS:

Yes.

 

SM:

And really the best bread I've ever tasted I've had in Sweden. So that's so funny that you. . .  I could see that that's, that's a great answer.

 

Now, if, I mean everyone knows how to get hold of you. You've got such a big profile, but if people really want to go and find you follow you on Instagram, you know, find out who you are, where should they be looking? Uh, what are your, what are the social media profiles we should give everyone? Cause I think (a) they should buy the book and (b) they should go and follow you because I love following you on Instagram and. . .

 

MS:

Yeah, go to Marcus Cooks and, uh, yeah, like always stay updated what we do. But, um, Simon, I want to say thank you for this opportunity and thank you for what you're doing, because the amount of knowledge that you have of food, and for us, people of color, very often when we cook, we’re always afraid that we cook food that the other judge or the other people don't know or see. And that's where that link between anonymous and visible. And it's so important where the journey we on right now, I remember the first time Padma had Ethiopian food on Top Chef it changed the projectory of Ethiopian food. And where, and when, when, when you are on the other side, as chefs, we know that these are strange ingredients. These are our ingredients and we do not have to dumb them down. We can continue to talk about them. And that's what, what you're doing is so important because if you don't know about it, you find out about it and then you can contextualize it and present it. So it's such an important job, um, because it's almost like playing an instrument that people don't know how beautiful it is without understanding the context.

 

SM:

Well, thank you. It's, it has been such a pleasure. This has been one of the most fantastic interviews we've done on Eat My Globe. People are gonna love it. I hope they'll go out again and buy the book. And I just want to thank you for your time. I know how precious it is to you. And I hope we get to connect again soon. Maybe not behind masks.

 

MS:

Okay. Got you. Thank you so much Simon.

 

 

OUTRO MUSIC

 

SM:

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.

 

And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us a good rating on your favorite podcast provider. That really makes a difference.

 

Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, and we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.

 

CREDITS

The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”

 

[pah pah pah pah pah]

 

and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Doctor Tawny Paul, Public History Initiative Director, for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.

Published Date: July 5, 2021

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.