T+L sat down with Chef Marcus Samuelsson at the Bahamas Culinary & Arts Festival at Baha Mar ahead of his latest restaurant opening.
As the sun set on day two of the second-annual Bahamas Culinary & Arts Festival at Baha Mar, I sat down for a signature chef dinner with Marcus Samuelsson and Carla Hall. The festival is a weekend-long culinary and cultural event that highlights master chefs through exclusive dinners, tastings, and demonstrations. Here, intimate conversations are held to celebrate the Bahamas, and attendees even get to celebrate with both local and world-renowned artists and performers (including 17-time Grammy Award winner Sting).
From my table at Marcus Up Top (the top floor of Marcus at Baha Mar Fish + Chop House), I could hear the waves crashing in the distance and feel the wind running through my curls as the first, second, and third dishes were served in a slow but intentional fashion. From the three-onion goat cheese pissaladière and conch to the grouper and peanut crusted lamb in a curry broth (followed by a sky juice panna for dessert), I sampled a delightfully rich array of flavors I had never tasted before.
If you’re unfamiliar with Samuelsson, he’s an Ethiopian-born, Swedish American chef responsible for fan-favorite restaurants including Red Rooster and Hav & Mar in New York City, and Overtown in Miami. And as a leader who's looking toward the future, Samuelsson always has an eye out for new culinary talent — never forgetting that with his success comes the privilege to give opportunities to others.
“You can't be a leading chef or have several restaurants and not be making change,” he said of the hiring process for his growing restaurant portfolio. “It’s a special opportunity for me to work with different chefs because I learn from them just as much. At Baha Mar, chef Garrette [Bowe] and I have healthy, good, back and forth sharing, because I can’t come in here and say I know everything about seafood. No, they are the ones who are teaching me.”
Samuelsson, who created a large number of jobs for the predominantly African American community in Harlem with Red Rooster, has many women-led kitchens and seeks to highlight the art and culture of the environment his restaurants are set in.
“I'm not a bystander. I have responsibilities and I have a say in this,” Samuelsson said. “When it comes to women in the kitchen, it's absurd to me [when talented female chefs aren’t hired] because women are the most powerful driving force when it comes to transformative change and trend-setting in this industry."
This week, Samuelsson opened his newest restaurant, Metropolis by Marcus Samuelsson, in lower Manhattan’s Perelman Performing Arts Center. Designed by David Rockwell's Rockwell Group, this space features a 135-seat main dining room, a 16-seat private room for events, and a 70-seat seasonal terrace with a fully equipped bar.
The contemporary American restaurant draws inspiration from local immigrant neighborhoods that take Samuelsson back to experiences from his earlier years in New York.
“Twenty-plus years ago, I was a volunteer giving out food after the events of 9/11 as many chefs did. Now, being able to open a restaurant that is in the campus of the World Trade Center is both humbling and full circle for me,” he said. “There's going to be art, theater, music, and culture in that building every day. So our restaurant had to match that. And being in the southern part of Manhattan where immigrants came — where I came as an immigrant — to New York, there's so many touch points. It was like, oh my God, I have to be a part of this.”
Guests can expect a menu that focuses on options that are fresh, local, and culture-forward. Think: a farmer’s market platter of seasonal fruits and vegetables; Flushing-style oysters served with lemon, shiso, and XO sauce; aged Long Island duck; and whole grilled dover sole with pomme soufflé and braised leeks. “You just have to come and try it," he said.
Sitting out facing the water after dinner, Samuelsson reflected on the ways food has brought him to this exciting point in his life. “My first language was food, and in many ways, food saved me. It gave me discipline, it gave me a friendship," he said. "It gave me a place to be at this table.”
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