Born in Ethiopia, adopted by a Swedish family and raised in Sweden, Marcus Samuelsson comes to cooking with a unique background. He credits his Swedish grandmother, Helga, with first introducing him to the joys of the kitchen. He spent childhood summers at her side learning to pickle fresh vegetables, make meatballs and other Swedish delicacies. But as an adult, he returned to his native Ethiopia and learned about the culture’s cuisine and intricate spices.
In 2010, when he opened his restaurant Red Rooster Harlem in New York City, he described the menu as “American comfort food with hints of my Swedish and African roots.” Here, the chef — who has also made appearances on Iron Chef and Chopped – opens up about what goes on in his own kitchen.
What are your favorite healthy foods?
My favorites are definitely anything fresh and raw. Fruits and vegetables I pick up from the farmers market in the morning after a run are ideal, and there’s this guy that sells the best peaches in the summer.
What health food trend do you hate?
Really anything that makes health food trendy. Eating well for your body should be an everyday thing for all of us, and everyone should have access to these basic rights.
What healthy items do you always have on hand in the kitchen?
Lots of chickpeas. Although I’m not vegetarian, my wife Maya doesn’t eat that much meat, so I try to prepare filling but delicious meals for her. Chickpeas are a great source of protein and fiber that can be used so many different ways.
What’s your favorite vegetable?
I love Brussels sprouts and collards. You’ll always see them on the menu at Red Rooster.
What kitchen tool is key to easy, healthy cooking?
I love a bamboo steamer. You can make wonderful vegetable dishes that are aromatic and delicious just by adding in fresh herbs to the mix.
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.
Photo by Peter Ross