Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson discusses road to success in NYC

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NEW YORK (PIX11) -- Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson has been called a culinary genius, but his beginnings were humble.

“I was born in Ethiopia, outside the capital in a tiny, tiny village,” Samuelsson said. By the age of three Samuelsson battled tuberculosis and was left an orphan.

A Swedish family adopted Samuelsson and his sister, transforming their lives. The chef recalls, “as hot and warm as Ethiopia is, Sweden is just that cold.”

In Sweden Samuelsson discovered a love of food and cooking. He attended culinary school and was working in France when a moment changes his life. “I remember I was leaving the three Michelin star restaurant I was working at and the chef asked me hey what do you want to do when you’re done with us?  I said I want to do exactly what you’ve done. I want to own and become a chef of a three star restaurant,” said Samuelsson.

Samuelsson’s mentor told him his dream was impossible and Parisians would hesitate to support a 3-star Michelin restaurant owned by an Ethiopian. “As hurtful as that was, that was also the first day that I realized I have to move to America. Specifically to New York City,” Samuelsson recalls.

In New York, Samuelsson quickly got a job as a line cook at midtown restaurant Aquavit. “I got upgraded and became the executive chef when I was way too young, when I was 23 years old.  I made the most of it I worked really, really hard, and we got three starts from the New York Times,” he said.

Later Samuelsson would open his own restaurants in Harlem, Red Rooster and Streetbird Rotisserie.  He won awards from the James Beard Foundation and the TV competition Top Chef Masters.

But his greatest role in the kitchen is as a mentor. His message to young chefs in New York City, “don’t forget where you come from, work hard, much harder than you’d ever think.”

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