Chef Samuelsson: A Full Course Meal on Food History, Civil Rights, and The Food Industry's Future

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

In today’s blog we cover Marcus Samuelsson’s recent interview with the Fresh Air program on National Public Radio. Marcus Samuelsson is an Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised immigrant, civil rights advocate, food historian, entrepreneur, and world-renowned chef who is owner of the Red Rooster franchises. Through hard work and extensive training, he turned $300 into millions. This interview is important because Samuelsson will share many insights that are relevant to the civil rights movement, U.S. food history, women’s rights, and the current and future state of the food industry. We are covering his insights relevant to the food industry, his latest book, and impact of food in US history.

Marcus opens the discussion by sharing his own hectic and interesting pandemic experiences. Marcus partners with World Center Kitchen, an organization that turns restaurants to community kitchens in times of need using relevant safety protocols (i.e., social distancing with masks and gloves). His kitchen has served approximately 250,000 people ranging from the needy (homeless), drivers, recently unemployed, and first responders in Harlem, NY.


Social Injustices and Food History

Marcus shares that America is experiencing two pandemics: Racism and COVID-19. Despite the longevity of racism, COVID-19 will be solved first. In the wake of the recent police brutality cases of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and his experience as a black chef, Marcus knew the importance of sharing stories of civil rights advocacy. His latest book “The Rise: Black cooks and the soul of American Food” shows many examples of influential black chefs whom have influenced civil rights and US food history without receiving their dues.

One example is Lea Chase, a female African American chef, whose restaurant (Duke Chase) was so pivotal to the civil rights movement that influential figures like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and more planned it in her restaurant. Another inspirational advocate was Georgia Gilmore. She was an African American chef who woke up consistently at 4 am in the morning baking cakes and donating $100+ weekly to Martin Luther King’s movement.

Marcus Samuelsson shares his perspective on the long-term outlook for local restaurants:

Without local restaurants, American neighborhoods and cities would look completely different. You can travel anywhere in this country today and there's great local restaurants with all different ethnic backgrounds. People are not going to go back and say those places don't matter. We need restaurants because once restaurants are gone because the restaurants are really the soul of the heartbeat of that community. Because once you don't have a restaurant, you don't have a barber shop, you don't have other sorts of retail. So for quality of life, that balance between what I can order in, what I can get from the big boxes such as from amazon, but also the smaller more personal conversations, those are happening in restaurants, cafes, and bars. And I do know that Americans acknowledge and want that lifestyle back. We can agree on that we want to be social we just have to do it in a safe way. ( 2020)

However, in the short-term, He asserts local restaurants will need more help than ever in this upcoming pandemic winter. In addition to this, Marcus mentions that the government will need to step up their support for local businesses and really work to control the situation during the pandemic.

Closing: What are the key take-aways?

  • In the long-term, the future of local restaurants, BUT in the short term, restaurants will need a lot of help from their customers and the government.

  • Check out Marcus Samuelsson’s website for good recipes, a good dose of currents in the hospitality industry, or just more of Marcus Samuelsson here:

  • Read Marcus Samuelsson’s latest book “The Rise” so you will be more educated on racial inequality in US food history and gain some interesting new recipes simultaneously. check it out here:

  • Don’t just take our word for it, listen to the npr interview for yourself at the following link:

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