Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chic at Aquavit

After I posted about Stockholm last week, it was funny to open my November issue of House and Garden magazine and see a profile of Marcus Samuelsson, the chef and co-owner of the fabulous Scandinavian restaurant in New York, Aquavit.

Marcus' life story is almost as interesting as his cuisine. He was born in Ethiopia but was adopted by a Swedish couple. Samuelsson describes his childhood on the West Coast of Sweden as an idyllic time spent with family and close friends. At a young age, he also discovered his passion for cooking alongside his grandmother, who was a professional cook. Passionate about his studies at the Culinary Institute in Göteborg, Samuelsson attended classes by day and cooked in local restaurants late each night.

Following graduation, Samuelsson apprenticed first in Switzerland and later in Austria. Later, Aquavit owner Håkan Swahn selected the young Swedish chef for an eight-month apprenticeship at his restaurant. This was a great honor for Samuelsson, considering the restaurant’s international reputation. Following his stint at Aquavit, Samuelsson returned to Europe to take a position at the world-renowned and three-star Michelin restaurant, Georges Blanc in Lyon, France. In 1994, Håkan Swahn asked Samuelsson to return to Aquavit to work under the restaurant’s new executive chef. He worked diligently and in May of 1995, he was formally appointed Executive Chef of Aquavit.

At work, chef Marcus Samuelsson strives for seamless presentation. You see it at Aquavit "with it's sleek teak interiors and simply yet beautifully plated food" below while at home, it's another story. The decor of his sun-drenched West Harlem apartment is another great example of mixing things up. Louis XV-style furniture shares space with Edwardian and modernist pieces and a mix of personal treasures including a prayer chair from Singapore, decorative art from Africa, a scattering of flea market finds and a high school locker from a shop in Soho.

Samuelsson life just keeps getting more interesting too. He recently met with his birth father and also just wrote an African cookbook, The Soul of a New Cuisine, and this month is supposed to open the companion restaurant, Merkato 55, in the Meatpacking District to showcase the continent’s diverse cuisine. I couldn't find a photo so I can't wait to see what it looks like! "It's great to have so many creative outlets," he says. "It's in the mix that things get interesting." I agree.

I greatly admire anyone who has passion for something they love but I admire them even more when they get out of their comfort zone and try new things. It's the only way you grow and without growth, how else could we have a successful Ethiopian born Swedish raised chef who lives in Harlem and simultaneously runs a Scandinavian and an African restaurant! I think that's the finest example of "only in New York" stories I have ever heard! Hope it inspires you to get out of your comfort zone today too!

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