As an immigrant himself, Samuelsson is not only well-positioned to tell the story of food through immigration, he also feels he has a responsibility to create aspirations for the next generation. Ethiopian-born, and raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, Samuelsson moved to the US in the mid-'90s, eventually settling in Harlem, where he takes his responsibility as a high-profile chef of colour seriously. "I realise that my main obligation is to share my experience with the next generation."
He jokes that enfant terrible chef Marco Pierre White, with his long hair and rock star looks, was his first experience of diversity in a sea of serious French cookbooks, "I was like, wow, he had individuality and personality. I bought the book because of that. I loved the book, I’d never seen a chef that looked like that."
But he recognises that times have since changed. "Today, what I’m excited about is there are so many more chefs of colour that are visible in the room, you can learn from an incredible chef of colour where ever you live. I wish those books were around when I was growing up. I realise they weren’t."
He's also very excited about the changes that the Black Lives Matter movement will bring to the industry. "I do think that 2020 was such a transformative year on many levels. On one level, completely catastrophic and harsh on our industry, but also incredibly poignant because of the BLM movement," he says. It's a movement which he believes "will have an impact on our hiring practices and make us think about culture, race and diversity - we learnt from the LGBTQ movement, women and civil rights movements."
As we speak on our transatlantic call, the world is still in the grips of the pandemic and a vaccine roll-out has either begun or is on the horizon in many countries. Asked what the US will look like in 2021, he says that there will be change. From bigger conversations around green and environmental issues, to diversity and inclusion, there is improvement to be made. "What are the changes and non-negotiables that you need tomorrow that you didn’t have today?"
Working with World Central Kitchen to serve thousands of meals out of Red Rooster in Harlem in 2020 is also something that will remain with him. "When you stand there handing out food and look people in the eye, it’s about empathy. You have to have empathy. When you have empathy, that empathy goes somewhere."
And it's this empathy that he believes will remain at the heart of the industry next year. "Wherever you are, you have to connect, you have to work on connectivity, you can do that on a local or national level, on lots of levels. As a chef, you have to connect with an audience. Without an audience, you don’t have a safety net. It’s about preparing yourself and connecting within four walls of a dining room. Connecting on social media is another way. Connecting through cooking classes can be a third way. I think every chef has to look at the best way to connect in their profession."
One thing is for sure, with Samuelsson using his platform to keep telling stories and having crucial conversations around food, his cookbook is as good a place to start connecting people as any. "If we don’t know the authorship of a place, of a product, of food, there’s no way to create memories," he says. "If we don’t understand, how do we create memories that are real or honest or authentic?"