Marcus Samuelsson: Cook Through Your History

The other day we attended a cooking demo with Chef Marcus Samuelsson. The menu was an inspiring blend of multicultural influences, such as the green curry prawns and coconut basmati Samuelsson served at the first White House State Dinner, and the celebrity chef was exceptionally approachable. Afterward, we asked whether he had any advice for Kitchn readers. Samuelsson recently debuted a line of BlueStar ranges, and we expected him to say something about recommended equipment or cooking techniques. But what he shared was actually far more meaningful…

"Cook through your own history," he suggested. "Study your heritage, learn from your parents and grandparents, revisit the flavors from your childhood and then make them your own. Cooking is a form of storytelling."

Samuelsson is intimately familiar with this concept. Born in Ethiopia, raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, and now calling New York City home, the chef learned to cook from his Swedish grandmother and later wrote about rediscovering his African roots in his second cookbook, The Soul of a New Cuisine. His latest cookbook, New American Table, explores the vibrant ethnic influences in American food. Samuelsson says that whether your background can be traced to one culture or many, your history can be a valuable resource for learning how to cook, gaining confidence, and finding inspiration while experimenting in the kitchen.

Many of us here at The Kitchn wholeheartedly agree. We continually learn from and are inspired by childhood memories, family members' recipes, and centuries-old culinary traditions like Homemade Sauerkraut, Houska (Czech Easter Bread), and Vegetarian Phở (Vietnamese Noodle Soup), to name just a few. We also love learning about others' culinary histories and how they have made family recipes their own, such as in the case of Marking's Bibingka. And, just yesterday, Dana's Weekend Meditation focused on life stories from the point of view of food.

What about you? Have you "cooked through your own history"?

Related:
For the Passionate Cook: New American Table
Homestyle Stew Recipe: Doro We't and Spiced Butter

(Images: BlueStar, Wiley)

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Emily Han (formerly Emily Ho) is a writer, recipe developer and educator on topics such as food preservation, wild food and herbalism. She is author of Wild Drinks and Cocktails (Fall 2015), co-founder of Food Swap Network and creator of Miss Chiffonade