Marcus Samuelsson may just be the busiest chef in the business right now. He is a bona fide TV star, celebrated cookbook author—and wrote the best-selling memoir Yes, Chef. He was the youngest person ever to receive a three-star review from The New York Times; has won multiple James Beard Foundation Awards including Best Chef: New York City; and was tasked with planning and executing the Obama Administration’s first State dinner. Plus, along with New York and London, he has over 32 restaurant locations across the US, UK, Sweden, Norway and Bermuda.
Ahead of our gospel brunch at Red Rooster Harlem, Marcus chatted with Nibble+squeak about the globetrotting lifestyle he enjoys with his wife Maya Haile and his 18-month old son Zion Mandela:
Tell us a little about Zion's personality...
He's the happiest baby with a lot of energy. It doesn't matter how tired you are, when Maya and I see his grinning face, and all the energy, it fuels us. It's thrilling to experience the world through him. Just watching a baby learn new things and experience parts of life for the first time is so fascinating.
Has being a parent changed your style in the kitchen at all?
In some ways, yes. I feel inspired to make things that I think he'll enjoy eating. He's still just a baby, but we can tell he's liking the process of tasting food and forming opinions on what he loves and what he doesn't. It's actually very entertaining to watch.
What is the first food you introduced him to?
I think it was sweet potato. It’s the perfect thing because it doesn’t give off any kind of smell. He often dislikes something the first time because he’s not used to it. But we just keep trying.
What are his current favorite foods?
Right now, it’s chicken, roasted sweet potatoes and cauliflower. But I also boil salmon and mash it up with avocado. He loves that.
What are you most excited to teach him in the kitchen?
I can't wait to show him how to catch and filet a fish. That was something I did all the time as kid growing up in Sweden. Of course I'm excited to teach him knife skills and cooking techniques, but also the bigger picture with food– the history of where certain foods come from, why we eat the way we do, and about waste and sustainability. All of that excites me and I look forward to passing on that knowledge to him while having thoughtful conversations with him about it.
How soon will Zion get to help out in the kitchen?
He's already with us in the kitchen when we cook and we love it! He observes and will help us out with dusting some berbere spice onto finished dishes. I'm thinking he'll really start to get into it once he's ready to stir and mix of ingredients, and then we can move forward from there.
Do you have a special routine with Zion at the moment?
We are starting to form a few routines. At the moment we read books super early in the morning. He's an early riser and ready to take on the world at 4:30am, so that's our time to dive into the baby books and bond. He loves all the classic, like Goodnight Moon, and anything with animals and some explanation about them.
Has Zion traveled to any of your other restaurants yet?
He’s been all over. We’ve gone to Bermuda, London and Ethiopia. He’s a good traveler. London to New York is nothing to him. But once it gets a lot over 5 hours, it’s tricky.
Does he like to visit your restaurants?
He’s not aware of what’s going on. But he clearly has the right priorities. If I'm cooking on the beach in Bermuda, he loves it—not because I am cooking but because the beach is there.
Does he get VIP treatment at your restaurants?
No, none of that! Of course, everyone is excited to see him running around. But I am very concerned about him being over-pampered. It’s already a little weird for him when so many people come up to him, when we walk from home to the restaurant.
How do you balance being a Dad with a very busy career?
I think balance is one of the hardest things. I’m just lucky to have an amazing wife. We do it together. And we bring Zion into our world. My Mom always said ‘you came into my world, not the other way around.’ I appreciated that. So he’s going to be exposed to my world—he’s going to meet wait staff, dishwashers, purveyors. He’ll constantly be around teamwork.
How else did your Mom and Dad influence your partnering style?
They were always behind, next and in front of me. I never forget that support. I would not be here today without it. I knew I could go to my parents no matter what problem I put myself in. I don’t take that for granted. Every family goes through stuff and you just have to know we’re in it together.
Nibble+squeak is all about the joy of dining out -- together with your family. What’s your philosophy on family meals?
I take a lot of pride that people come through Red Rooster with their family. Going out to eat is such a positive experience for kids. First, you get to interact with other people, which is always good. You’re constantly introducing them to new experiences. That only helps them socially. It opens their world.