Growing up, I always thought my strongest talents were on the soccer field. But it wasn’t until I was slightly older that I considered being a chef, or even a writer, as a possibility. I’ve always thought that to know someone is to know how they eat; food is the best, most universal way to tell a story without words.
As more people are taking an interest in quality food, the story has become more important. I write to share the recipes that have taken me years to perfect. As with any creative profession, finding avenues to reveal your work to the world is immensely important, and as chef, my writing shares not just my culinary work but my own life story.
I believe that cooking is about more than just technical skills and the satiation of hunger. To me, it’s really about getting together with friends and family, creating memories and learning about the distinct food traditions of different cultures. Food combined with a rich story gives people the opportunity to look at their meals in a different way. I want my readers to see how each and every ingredient and method of cooking is linked to a certain place.
My memoir, Yes, Chef, explains how my journey has influenced my cooking and brought me to where I am now. People who have read it write to me not about food but about their own adoption stories, family histories, and their triumphs and failures throughout their own careers. I never thought I would be able to reach people beyond their interest in food, but Yes, Chef allowed me to do just that—and I love seeing the way they have become inspired.
Toward the end of my book tour for Yes, Chef, I began thinking about my next cookbook. I had just traveled the world for months, meeting new people who shared their stories with me, both verbally and through meaningful, delicious meals. The experience of this generosity reminded me that the most memorable food doesn’t just come from Michelin-starred restaurants and award-winning chefs in big cities. It comes from tiny Koreatown restaurants in Los Angeles, grandmothers’ kitchens, family-run fried chicken spots in the South, and everything in between. With this cookbook, Marcus Off Duty, I want to share the recipes I cook at home, which are inspired by an evolving American cuisine and flavors that come from every corner of the country. This cookbook is different from my previous books because it is filled with anecdotes and recipes that have been shared with me by the people I have met while traveling, while visiting my home in Sweden, or while learning about my roots in Ethiopia. It is a combination of storytelling and entertainment; it is a snapshot of the way we eat now.
Marcus Samuelsson is the chef behind Red Rooster Harlem and winner of multiple James Beard Foundation Awards including Best Chef in New York City.