Marcus Samuelsson, whose heady stew of an Ethiopian-Swedish upbringing cooked up a world-famous career as a chef, actually wanted to be a professional soccer player.
When it became clear he was too small to go pro, he traded in his cleats for the Rolls-Royce of kitchen knives, the Sabatier, and embraced the organized chaos also known as the restaurant kitchen. He reveals the outsized appetites that inspired his stunning career in Make it Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life (Delacorte Books, June 2015) written with Veronica Chambers.
His upbringing was molded by the sights and smells created by many different cooks, starting with the essence of his biological mother’s cooking – the Ethiopian spice, berbere – but his real culinary journey began in Sweden’s kitchens and smokehouses. Here he learned from his adopted family how to properly filet a fish, clean a chicken, shell peas and string rhubarb. His grandmother Helga taught him about levels of flavor with her mouthwatering roasted chicken. Samuelsson provides beautiful details that only a child would remember, like her perfectly stocked pantry, which he describes as her version of “a jewelry case” – the bright jams and jellies sparkling like “gemstones.”
The meals in this book come from all over the world and may not be anything you’ve ever heard of before. Each new dish that he delightfully describes is another delectable surprise. Here are five of our favorite food lessons that defined Samuelsson’s road to chefdom:
1. His mother’s cabbage rolls stuffed with seasoned ground pork were his “dim sum” or “little bits of heart.” Samuelsson’s mother valued convenient meals but these could not be rushed; she made them special for her children out of love. It forced his mother to slow down so that he could enjoy her presence as much as he enjoyed her cooking.
2. Saturday night dinners at Grandma Helga’s house – meant chicken roasted with rosemary accompanied by carrots glazed with honey, ginger and sugar. Sunday was leftover chicken soup. Grandma Helga taught Marcus how to make three meals out of one chicken.
3. Quick, delicious food for hungry, hardworking people included smoked mackerel sandwiches on dark brown bread straight from his Uncle Torsten’s smokehouse. This is where he learned the importance of dishes reflective of your surroundings.
4. His first taste of Japanese snacks at his girlfriend Carina’s house – cucumber spears drizzled with white miso and topped with bonito flakes – blew his mind and encouraged him to learn and taste more foods from all over the world.
5. He realized his success in creating signature dishes was not just because he loves chasing flavors, but because the people who eat his food do, too. Even today when he creates a dish he remembers the joy of the discovery process all over again.
Looking for a little variety in your culinary and eating adventures? Are you a confirmed foodie who simply loves to read about a chef’s love of cooking? Then Make it Messy is a book you need to add to your kitchen collection.