Chef Marcus Samuelsson Takes THR's Taste Test

Courtesy of Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The acclaimed owner of Harlem's Red Rooster, now judging ABC's 'The Taste' and the author of a new home cooking book talks hot sauce, buckwheat, dried mango and more.

Marcus Samuelsson – the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-bred chef and judge (alongside Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson) on ABC’s The Taste, whose Red Rooster restaurant has helped usher in a foodie renaissance in Harlem – just published a new cookbook, his third. The self-explanatory Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home finds the James Beard Award winner, who made his name at Manhattan’s refined Aquavit, offering up decidedly casual ideas, like a Nordic take on corn dogs. “Staff meal at the restaurant has been a huge inspiration,” he says. “But also traveling the U.S. In America we throw out around 40 percent of our leftovers. These recipes go against that.”



Current Fixation

“Hot sauce. For years, I’ve been bringing bottles home from different countries. I recently realized that my collection is looking pretty impressive!”

Known For Cooking

“I think the regulars at Red Rooster Harlem would say Fried Yardbird. It’s a classic – comforting, crave-able, and so delicious. We serve it next to our Rooster hot sauce, with white mace gravy, buttery mashed potatoes and collards.”

Destination Dinner

“I would go to Tokyo with my wife and eat a really authentic sushi dinner, something that lasts up to two hours and really opens your eyes to the freshest ingredients and most impressive techniques – like Daiwa Sushi or Kyubey. I’m so inspired by the greatest sushi chefs: their precise skills, work ethic and dedication.”

Go-To Take-Out

“I like to walk over to one of the authentic taco stands in East Harlem and get a bag of every kind of taco to take home. So good. Some people think great tacos don’t exist in New York City, but they do – you just need to know where to go, including El Paso Taco Truck and Mildred Deli Grocery.”

Adventurous Bite

“My most adventurous bite was when I ate insects while visiting South Africa. I’m not entirely sure I will ever do it again, but I can check it off the list.”

Simply Won’t Eat

“Buckwheat – I’m allergic.”

Favorite Snack

“I love eating dried mango. I recently spent some time in Bermuda with my team and it was our go-to snack, on the plane, on the beach and throughout the day working in the kitchen.”

Dietary Regimen

“I try to eat lots of vegetables and healthy protein. When you’re a chef, it’s easy to gain weight with all the rich foods in the kitchen and constant tastings. I make sure to stay mindful to keep a balance. One great strategy is soup – it’s healthy, wholesome, comforting and delicious and keeps really well in the refrigerator for quick leftover meals. Marcus Off Duty has an entire chapter dedicated to soup.”

Preferred Company

“Nothing beats dinner with my wife Maya, but I also love when we invite our closest friends and family over. The energy in the house is celebratory, fun and full of great vibes and people sharing memories. I love that kind of cooking – “off duty” cooking! It’s a different ball game and very relaxing.”

Pet Peeve

“I don’t like judgment around the table or in the kitchen. I think cooking and eating should be about having an open mind – embracing others’ experiences, cultures and likes. At the end of the day, there is no rule book in cooking.”

Big Wish

“My biggest wish is to bring people great memories. The more people that I can inspire to have fun in the kitchen or at the dinner table the better – whether it’s someone throwing a dinner party for the first time or cooking for a date, or sharing a casual weekday dinner at Red Rooster Harlem with friends – there are so many great memories to be made surrounding food.

Embarrassing Experience

“The first time I used chopsticks happened to be when I was visiting Japan and having sushi for the first time. I don’t recommend eating sushi for the novice chopstick operator. It didn’t make it any easier that everyone else around me was already a pro. Even though I was a culinary student and learning so much about food, I was pretty far behind.”

Guilty Pleasure

“Nothing beats a cheeseburger and a beer – it’s not an everyday thing but sometimes it’s so necessary. It’s my ultimate post-soccer game meal.”

Last Meal

“I’m a Swede-iopian who lives in Harlem, so it would have to be a combination of the food that is my comfort food. A true mash-up of my cultures: I would want my wife’s Ethiopian doro wat, shiro and honey wine, fried chicken and my grandmother’s pickled herring.”