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Chic at Aquavit

by habituallychic

10 . 10 . 07

After I posted about Stockholm last week, it was funny to open my November issue of House and Garden magazine and see a profile of Marcus Samuelsson, the chef and co-owner of the fabulous Scandinavian restaurant in New York, Aquavit.

Marcus’ life story is almost as interesting as his cuisine. He was born in Ethiopia but was adopted by a Swedish couple. Samuelsson describes his childhood on the West Coast of Sweden as an idyllic time spent with family and close friends. At a young age, he also discovered his passion for cooking alongside his grandmother, who was a professional cook. Passionate about his studies at the Culinary Institute in Göteborg, Samuelsson attended classes by day and cooked in local restaurants late each night.

Following graduation, Samuelsson apprenticed first in Switzerland and later in Austria. Later, Aquavit owner Håkan Swahn selected the young Swedish chef for an eight-month apprenticeship at his restaurant. This was a great honor for Samuelsson, considering the restaurant’s international reputation. Following his stint at Aquavit, Samuelsson returned to Europe to take a position at the world-renowned and three-star Michelin restaurant, Georges Blanc in Lyon, France. In 1994, Håkan Swahn asked Samuelsson to return to Aquavit to work under the restaurant’s new executive chef. He worked diligently and in May of 1995, he was formally appointed Executive Chef of Aquavit.

At work, chef Marcus Samuelsson strives for seamless presentation. You see it at Aquavit “with it’s sleek teak interiors and simply yet beautifully plated food” below while at home, it’s another story. The decor of his sun-drenched West Harlem apartment is another great example of mixing things up. Louis XV-style furniture shares space with Edwardian and modernist pieces and a mix of personal treasures including a prayer chair from Singapore, decorative art from Africa, a scattering of flea market finds and a high school locker from a shop in Soho.

Samuelsson life just keeps getting more interesting too. He recently met with his birth father and also just wrote an African cookbook, The Soul of a New Cuisine, and this month is supposed to open the companion restaurant, Merkato 55, in the Meatpacking District to showcase the continent’s diverse cuisine. I couldn’t find a photo so I can’t wait to see what it looks like! “It’s great to have so many creative outlets,” he says. “It’s in the mix that things get interesting.” I agree.

I greatly admire anyone who has passion for something they love but I admire them even more when they get out of their comfort zone and try new things. It’s the only way you grow and without growth, how else could we have a successful Ethiopian born Swedish raised chef who lives in Harlem and simultaneously runs a Scandinavian and an African restaurant! I think that’s the finest example of “only in New York” stories I have ever heard! Hope it inspires you to get out of your comfort zone today too!

Comments Closed

  1. Things That Inspire October 11, 2007 | 2:12 am

    I wonder where the top picture was taken…it looks like an art gallery storage room with all of the paintings leaning here and there. Quite a contrast to the picture of his loft, which looks quite organized.

    I saw him on the Today show a few weeks ago, and was amazed at his story.

  2. Things That Inspire October 11, 2007 | 2:14 am

    Oh, it looks like the lower picture is of his restaurant. Regardless, he obviously has a love for art!

  3. Suzy October 11, 2007 | 5:46 am

    Great post – and I couldn’t agree more about leaving your comfort zone and taking a bit of a risk. I would still be living in my small-town home in country Australia if I hadn’t done that a few times. What an inspirational guy – and it certainly does seem like an ‘only in NY’ story!

  4. ALL THE BEST October 11, 2007 | 10:28 am

    Great post and I second Suzy’s comments. I love finding out more about people like Samuelsson.

  5. Alice Olive October 11, 2007 | 1:25 pm

    This is an uplifting post!

    Meanwhile I am intrigued to see more of his home – it certainly is a ‘different story’ as you say compared to the restaurant.

  6. Habitually Chic October 11, 2007 | 4:02 pm

    Things that Inspire, the top two photos are from his Harlem apartment and the bottom photo is of Aquavit. I love all the art too!

  7. Habitually Chic October 11, 2007 | 4:03 pm

    Suzy, I’d be living in a small town in Pennsylvania! I moved to NYC knowing only two people and look at me now! I say carpe diem to everyone!

  8. Sadia Bruce October 11, 2007 | 4:03 pm

    Just posted something very similar to this on my own blog– hadn’t realized that you’d already covered this base yesterday!

    My take is slightly different, as you’ll see 😉

    As a young woman born to a Liberian father and a Filipina mother with tastes and pursuits that are as huh?-inducing as my background, it is an absolute joy to know that individuals like Marcus are inspiring people the world over.

    I absolutely adore your blog and will stay tuned. Thanks for the great coverage.

  9. Habitually Chic October 11, 2007 | 4:04 pm

    Ronda, so glad you enjoyed his story! I love profiling inspiring people!

  10. Habitually Chic October 11, 2007 | 4:05 pm

    Alice Olive, I wish there were more photos too. The “At Home With…” features in House and Garden are great but usually don’t show enough of the home.

  11. Habitually Chic October 11, 2007 | 4:11 pm

    Sadia, Great minds think alike! I actually started this post last week but got side tracked by Gwyneth. Thanks for the compliment. I’m so glad you left a comment. I am definitely going to check out your blog! The quick peak I just took looks great!

  12. Brilliant Asylum October 11, 2007 | 5:05 pm

    Very inspiring. New York is truly the melting pot.

  13. design for mankind. October 11, 2007 | 6:58 pm

    Great coverage on one fabulous guy!!!