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Kitchen Insider: Facebook Chat with Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Food & Wine welcomed Top Chef Masters winner Marcus Samuelsson to our Facebook page for a live chat. The owner of the Red Rooster in NYC's Harlem shared his thoughts on cooking everyday meals for family, his favorite foods and spices, and where he finds inspiration. Here are some of the highlights.

Favorite Foods and Spices

Question: Hi Marcus! What common flavor thread have you found between your two homelands? Have you been able to use them together?
Marcus Samuelsson: Cardamom is used a lot in both Ethiopian and Swedish cuisine, and I use it a lot in all of my cooking.

Question: Greetings Chef! What is your favorite comfort food to prepare?
Marcus Samuelsson: I love to prepare and eat doro wat at home with my wife. Everything about it is comforting: the process of preparing it, the smells and, of course, eating it with our hands.

Question: Chef, other than salt, pepper, olive oil and butter, what are your three must-have ingredients in the kitchen?
Marcus Samuelsson: You'll always find berbere in my kitchen. It's an Ethiopian spice mix that my wife and I bring back from Ethiopia all the time. [New York spice shop Kalustyan's also stocks Berbere.]

Question: Hi Chef, favorite dessert?
Marcus Samuelsson: Swedish pancakes with vanilla ice cream and warm cloudberries.

Question: I'm a big fan of grilling year round. What is your favorite meal to prepare on your grill?
Marcus Samuelsson: I love grilling outdoors on the weekends. I keep it simple: a really good burger and some grilled seafood, especially a whole grilled fish.

Question: Hi Marcus, what seasonal produce inspires you most this time of year, and what is your favorite preparation for it?
Marcus Samuelsson: I'm just inspired overall by the end of summer-the peaches, berries, sweet corn, grapes. I love it all!
Food & Wine You could use peaches or berries with vodka in Marcus's aquavit recipe.

Question: Chef Samuelsson, What are your views towards molecular gastronomy vs. classic technique? Do you feel that using chemicals to cook is kind a like cheating?
Marcus Samuelsson I was trained very classically and have a lot respect for that style but I also love the innovations in cooking we're seeing take place today. I think it's the natural evolution of cooking.

Cooking Tips

Question: Chef, any tips about ways to make family dinners easier to pull together?
Marcus Samuelsson: Using leftovers. Not simply re-heating them but preparing them into something new altogether. This way, you reduce waste, have half the work already done and are feeding your family something new and inspired.

Question: I'm adding new grains into my regular diet lately. Although I eat almost any protein, I would love some recommendations on interesting combinations of lesser-used grains with seafood. If certain vegetables accent the flavors, please include. Thanks!
Marcus Samuelsson: I think quinoa and shrimp is a great combination. Add in some leafy herbs like basil as well as baby spinach and arugula for flavor and color. Super easy, healthy and delicious!

Question: Chef, I got a beautiful Porterhouse steak today. How should I prepare it to maximize flavor?
Marcus Samuelsson: I think a really good steak doesn't need much except for a bit of salt and pepper. Just make sure you let it rest for 15 minutes or so before cutting into it so you allow the juices to settle back into the meat. That's the best way to keep it flavorful.

Question: Chef, tell me your thoughts on pan-roasting fish like sea bass.
Marcus Samuelsson: I love pan-roasting fish. It's easy to overcook but if you keep an eye on the bottom fin and take the fish out of the pan when it starts to pull away from the body, you're good.

Question: Chef, when will lefse be as common as bread? Also, can aquavit be used in marinades for seafood — how? Thanks.
Marcus Samuelsson: Lefse is a great bread but still very regional to Norway. Yes, aquavit can be used in seafood marinades but it also goes really well with seafood.

Question: Chef, I use the same spices over and over with my pork chops. Would you recommend any kind of marinades or rubs that are not spicy?
Marcus Samuelsson: A pesto is a flavorful yet mild way to marinade your meats. Use almonds instead of pine nuts to change up the flavor a bit from your standard recipe.

Question: Chef Samuelsson, I have been searching out a recipe for "yellow Ethiopian lentils." Any advice?
Marcus Samuelsson: I have a great lentil stew recipe inspired by this dish in my cookbook Soul of a New Cuisine.

Question: How does one get better at pairing flavors in the kitchen?
Marcus Samuelsson: It's important to taste and develop your palate, even when you don't necessarily like a certain flavor. You may not automatically think bitter is something you crave but it's a flavor note in a lot of really good dishes.

Question: Hi Chef Marcus! What was it like to compete on Iron Chef America compared to Top Chef Masters?
Marcus Samuelsson: They were both awesome experiences. I got to spend a lot of time with some really great chefs during Top Chef Masters.

Question: Chef! Loved you on Top Chef Masters! What are your thoughts on the food truck trend? Do you dine at any of them?
Marcus Samuelsson I love trucks! It's really where a lot of innovation in cooking is taking place because you've taken dining outside of four walls. It's also got a strong sense of authenticity to it.

Inspirations

Question: Hey Chef Marcus. I'm fortunate to be in NYC and truly enjoy Aquavit and Red Rooster. What was your inspiration to move from cooking elegant Scandinavian cuisine in a refined midtown setting to a 'rustic' hearty American menu in a vibrant, busy neighborhood in Harlem?
Marcus Samuelsson: Harlem is home and I've known since before I moved here that I wanted to open a place that reflected not only my diverse background but Harlem's too.

Question: Chef, who is the one chef that influenced you the most throughout your career?
Marcus Samuelsson: Many chefs have inspired me throughout my career from my grandmother Helga to Leah Chase in New Orleans to chefs today such as Jonathan Waxman and Gabrielle Hamilton.

Question: Hey Marcus, I'm a big fan from Thailand. I'm opening my own restaurant soon. What are your inspirations when you create your menu? Cheers!!!
Marcus Samuelsson: I'm always inspired by the current times and my surroundings. It's an important factor in staying relevant, and it's played a large role in how I've developed the menu at Red Rooster Harlem.

Question: Chef Samuelsson, what keeps you passionate about your craft?
Marcus Samuelsson: The evolution of the dining culture, here in America, Harlem, and throughout the world.

Question: Chef Samuelsson, you have such a unique sense of style... What is your favorite place to shop in New York City?
Marcus Samuelsson: Thanks! It's a mix from high to low. I love shopping vintage, hitting up the Young Designers Market and going to shops like Marc Jacobs where you find a nice mix of curated items.

Advice for Aspiring Chefs

Question: Marcus, do you feel that the market is being saturated with new culinary students without enough jobs to fill? I graduated in 2005 in Las Vegas from Le Cordon Bleu and when the economy went down in 2008 there were a lot of people looking for work that wasn't there anymore.
Marcus Samuelsson: Even when I was a culinary student, landing a good trail or job was tough. It's definitely a more popular career path these days but I think if you practice, stay motivated and curious about the field, you'll make it far. It's a tough time for a lot of industries.

Question: Any good advice for a young aspiring chef?
Marcus Samuelsson: Definitely! Becoming a chef is hard work, so I encourage young cooks to stay passionate and motivated. I also think it's important to remain curious, tasting and trying whatever you can.

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