Marcus Samuelsson's New Cookbook Is a Powerful Testament to Black Food Culture
Marcus Samuelsson's newest cookbook, The Rise, is a true collaboration—and not just because he shares author credit with acclaimed writer Osayi Endolyn, with recipe work from Yewande Komolafe and Tamie Cook. Across every page, The Rise captures the rich tapestry of Black food culture not only through sharing recipes, but by elevating other important voices. In this email interview with Food & Wine’s Adina Steiman, Samuelsson and Endolyn share the inspiration and effort that went into the cookbook's creation—and the change they hope to spark with it.
The ambition and scope of The Rise is reflected in its innovative structure. What made you decide to organize the cookbook around themed chapters (Next, Remix, Migration, Legacy, and Origin) rather than the typical cookbook flow from appetizers through desserts?
Marcus Samuelsson: The Rise is not a typical cookbook because we wanted to unpack origin, culture, race, and delicious food. We felt that understanding race and culture is very complex because Blackness doesn't come from one country. Migration, immigration, and wars are all factors in our Blackness. The book acknowledges that complicated past, its present and future.
Osayi Endolyn: While our focus was to make a cookbook that engaged people and inspired them to make the dishes, I understood that our aim was to root the recipes within the lived experiences of the people whose stories shape the book. With that framing, the structure emerged from how we thought about the various chefs, writers, and activists profiled—as representatives of a wide swath of diverse cultures, roles, and geographic locations—and their innovations in a constantly expanding canon of Black food culture.
Though Marcus is on the cover of The Rise, this is the opposite of a typical chef book. The focus is on elevating other Black voices in the culinary world and it reads like such a powerful manifesto for a movement. Why is this the right time for a book like this?
Samuelsson: As a Black chef, I have a responsibility to mentor, guide, lead and open doors up for others. Many chefs such as Patrick Clark and Leah Chase mentored and opened doors for me. It's so incredible that you don't have to go the traditional path through the restaurant to become successful nowadays. Now you can take so many different paths such as catering or creating content. It's important to broadcast the diversity in Blackness whenever we can so that people can find us—not just in cities but everywhere. Black professionals in the industry are ready to be hired.
Endolyn: Let's be clear: It's always been the right time to tell the truth about the very real and indelible expertise and creativity that Black people have historically contributed to the United States. But that hasn't been the story that a white-dominant culture has wanted to tell, perhaps most egregiously in the arenas of farming and agriculture, cooking and professional food service, construction and craftsmanship, domestic labor, and other areas where Black people's labor was violently extracted for centuries. The potency and urgency of these stories is not trendy or new. What feels different is a social environment where, because of the pandemic and ongoing Black Lives Matter activism, our collective focus has narrowed and many people are finding themselves reflecting on just how they came to understand the official story of the US. When we interrogate that giant web of lies, we begin to see that the real story has always been present, but often hidden from view.
As we speak, COVID cases are on the rise and disproportionately affecting BIPOC communities. A pivotal election is about to take place. How can food and cooking help us process these historic and often traumatic times?
Endolyn: I feel fortunate that food has been a salve over the past few months—an area where I can feel sated and soothed by ingredients and dishes that are healthy and even inspiring. But it's difficult to recognize that privilege right alongside the impact that the pandemic has had on an already taxed food system where so many Americans are going hungry, which I find to be needless and outrageous given our national resources and apparent priorities. This is one reason why The Rise discusses food justice and people like Shakirah Simley and Devita Davison, advocates in San Francisco and Detroit, respectively.
Endolyn: Food—access to it and the land where it can be cultivated—has always been weaponized against Black people in the United States. From leveraging access to land against Black people's desire to vote in 1960s Mississippi, to the disproportionate role Black and Latinx people have in processing factory foods often at great risk to their well-being, especially now. So we can never extract tangible equity in the US from how food functions in all of our communities, particularly the predominantly BIPOC ones. For me, it's a combination of celebrating food and the escapism it has come to signify in our culture, while at the same time challenging our fundamental behaviors that take advantage of so many, in which all of us are complicit.
Samuelsson: We have a long way to go in terms of food equity, food injustices and even food apartheids. The reason it was important to not only have chefs but food activists and storytellers such as Toni Tipton-Martin, Devita Davidson, and Adrian Miller is because you can't talk about this journey and exclude these voices. The national conversation we have about race and culture we have in this country is long overdue and it's also important in our industry. How can we create a more just society based around diversity and inclusion? What better way than to cook, eat, and celebrate with each other?
This book contains a treasure trove of stories and flavors, but could you pick one recipe that you feel is especially resonant and/or delicious to you, and talk about why?
Endolyn: I love the crab curry with yams and mustard greens. I'm a California native, born to a Los Angelean and a Nigerian immigrant. My household growing up featured dishes my father recreated from his upbringing in Benin City, alongside influences from the American South where my mother's parents were from, mixed with a West Coast-style of cooking that prominently featured Mexican and Asian diaspora ingredients. Black cooking has always incorporated locality and one of the things I love about The Rise is that it recognizes how deeply Black food culture retains ancient practices but is never afraid to innovate and adapt.
Samuelsson: In particular I love the Country-Style Spare Ribs in honor of Nyesha Arrington who's a Korean and African-American chef, she's from California and was trained in France. I adore the Fish Cakes with Birmingham Greens Salad in honor of Mashama Bailey as well. Chef Mashama is such a talented chef and she is a part of a strong lineage of Black women that have made great strides in the industry. For me both of these women embody The Rise. They both are among the most exceptional chefs in the country. Both of them make up the past, present, and future of the culinary industry.
Check out these three recipes from The Rise, and order the book here.