Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Rooster Has Landed; People Barack Obama Loves His Ribs, Now Chef Marcus Samuelsson Is Bringing Sauce to London. He Talks the Politics of Food with Samuel Fishwick

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Rooster Has Landed; People Barack Obama Loves His Ribs, Now Chef Marcus Samuelsson Is Bringing Sauce to London. He Talks the Politics of Food with Samuel Fishwick

Article excerpt

Byline: Samuel Fishwick

MARCUS Samuelsson knows the secret to satisfying a President: short ribs, sweet potatoes, spicy beans and a playlist featuring Run DMC, Sting, Nas and Amy Winehouse. The 46-year-old Swedish-Ethiopian chef has cooked for Barack Obama "many times", from the President's first state dinner at the White House in 2009 to when Obama chose Samuelsson's Harlem restaurant Red Rooster as the venue for a fundraiser in 2011.

"The thing to remember is he had a normal life until he was 42, and has fully realised both that this is a big moment for you and what that's like," says Samuelsson, who last week opened a second Red Rooster at The Curtain Hotel in Shoreditch (Obama couldn't make the opening but De La Soul played).

"So he just clicks and starts talking about basketball or whatever, like he's a regular guy. I wasn't prepared for that the first time I met him."

Samuelsson and Obama have more in common than most chef-US President combinations can boast: like Obama, Samuelsson was raised in a mixed-race family, having lived in Ethiopia until he was two. "My father was a poor farmer. My mum, my sister and I had tuberculosis -- Mum didn't survive but we did. A Swedish couple adopted me and my sister."

It's been a peripatetic journey. Samuelsson and his sister Linda were brought up in Gothenburg alongside their adoptive sister Ann, by "loving, stable" parents Ann Marie and Lennart Samuelsson, who were white but "gave us an idea of identity of black culture through music. My father always played Fela Kuti and gave me James Baldwin books to read while my mum played Bob Marley. I learned English through listening to Stevie Wonder LPs at school."

French and Swedish influences dominated his early cooking: having Continued on Page 30 Continued from Page 29 moved to New York, he became the youngest chef to receive a three-star rating from The New York Times while he was cooking for the Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit in Manhattan in 1995. "I didn't fully realise my African side until I was 25. That's when I moved to Harlem and started to eat African-American food on a weekly basis: the sweet potatoes, the rice, the okra," he says.

Obama, he says, is someone he can relate to. "The priority for him is safety. As a black male I know what that means. Race is this thing that defines many situations -- we all think, especially when we've lived in urban cities, that we've moved on but it's defining the US and Europe at this very moment."

When Samuelsson first picked London as the site for the second Red Rooster, Brexit wasn't even on the menu. Now it looms large. "People are being left behind," he says. "Brexit by itself is very sad because it's going against voting for young people. It's very rare to have an election where it's not for the next generation. …

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