Marcus Samuelsson's journey into cooking began after the Ethiopia-born chef was adopted by a Swedish family at 2 1/2 years old. He's since gone on to open nine restaurants, including Red Rooster in Harlem, plus publish five cookbooks and his memoir, Yes, Chef. Samuelsson, who can be seen as a judge on Food Network's Chopped and on the second season of ABC's The Taste cooking competition, will be at the I-X Center's Fabulous Food Show Nov. 8-10.
Q. Who first taught you how to cook?
A. My grandma. I grew up in Sweden, and she taught me everything from pickling herring to making meatballs. Swedish cooking is the food that I grew up with. It's similar to Midwestern food in that it's more steak and potatoes, but with a little bit more fish and seafood.
Q. What's currently your favorite ingredient to work with?
A. Living in Harlem right now, I learned to really enjoy taking that food and make it my own. I'm inspired by Caribbean jerk spice. I love to slow cook pork and spice it up with jerk spice. It's cooking the way my grandmother did, but then adding on the jerk spice of the Jamaican tradition that I find in Harlem.
Q. You've been a judge and a contestant on Chopped. Which do you like better?
A. I like sitting on both sides. Being a judge, I love it. But also being a contestant, I love it. Cooking is my instinct, and it comes first. I remember one time I was cooking with beef hearts [on the show]. It's something that you have to learn to cook properly because if you overcook it, they are going to be dry right away.
Q. How was writing your memoir Yes, Chef different than writing cookbooks?
A. It was a great challenge to not have any recipes in the memoir and really make the book sticky and delicious with just writing. Being born in Africa, raised in Sweden and then coming to America with $300, and working really hard, was a story I wanted to share as inspiration.