Beyond the Plate: The Marcus edition

Special collaboration with Heidi Small, Beyond the Plate

Imagine walking 75 miles under the unforgiving African sun.

We all have a story – it’s what identifies us and shapes our character. Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s is an inspiring, epic tale that reveals what made him both the man and the chef he is today.

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At the tender age of two, he was slung across his young mother’s back as she and his older sister walked countless miles from their village in Ethiopia to the nearest hospital in Addis Ababa, all three suffering from tuberculosis. The chef recounts how his mother never gave up. She kept going, kept walking, eventually succumbing to the disease upon arrival, as soon as she had ensured her children’s safety.

Even though tragedy struck, the wheels of fortune were quietly turning, unbeknownst to the motherless children. Across the world, the Samuelsson family in Sweden had been in the throes of difficult adoption proceedings that suddenly shifted directions and fortuitously granted them custody of the two young Ethiopian siblings in need of a new home. From a village so small it had no markings on a map to Gothenburg, Sweden, a young Marcus continued to be loved, nurtured and cared for.

His new Swedish family heavily influenced the budding chef-in-the-making and mixed with memories of learning from his birth mother and grandmother. He recounts how his grandmother would pour hot chicken broth in the cup of his small hand to taste, eschewing the spoon, not wanting the metal’s taste to interfere. These little moments accumulated over time, shaping this chef’s path and his tumultuous kitchen trajectory.

Chef Samuelsson honed his skills at the Culinary Institute in Göteborg before apprenticing in Switzerland and Austria, later continuing his sojourn to New York where he served as executive chef at renowned restaurant Aquavit. There, he earned a coveted 3-star restaurant review from The New York Times. In 2010 he came full circle with his cultural and ancestral roots: chef Samuelsson settled his own family and opened Red Rooster in Harlem. (I was fortunate enough to enjoy a re-creation of the meal Samuelsson served to President Obama when he feasted there at a fundraiser he threw in 2011. It was sublime.)

Montréal now has the privilege of counting chef Marcus as part of the multicultural culinary fabric that makes our city shine. His eponymous restaurant, Marcus, stars at the centre of the shining new Four Seasons Montréal. Guided by chef Samuelsson’s desire to showcase the best of Montréal’s seasonal standouts, Marcus is a beacon of unforgettable food, its open kitchen sizzling and crackling with robust dishes.

For more highlights and behind-the-scenes access I invite you to watch my video, Beyond the Plate: The Marcus Edition. It exemplifies this chef’s mission to continuously create new ways of combining a city’s rhythm and its soul, integrating them into passionate and memorable food experiences.

Ingrained deep inside Samuelsson like an ever-present whisper, it’s clear his birth mother’s message of love still echoes: “keep going, keep walking.”

Heidi

Heidi Small, columnist

Born and raised in Montréal, Heidi enjoyed a fast-paced career securing luxury housing for Hollywood stars shooting movies in town. After losing her beloved father in 2008, she refocused her priorities and pledged to live life to its fullest. That’s when she launched her “Beyond the Plate” column and 15-episode YouTube series, going behind the scenes with Montréal’s top chefs and learning about what motivates and impassions them!

See the list of our regular contributors.

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