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Kitchen Careers: Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson at the 2013 New York Food & Wine Festival | Photo by Billy Farrell Agency

Marcus Samuelsson at the 2013 New York Food & Wine Festival | Photo by Billy Farrell Agency

PBS Food attended the New York Wine & Food Festival in October 2013. At the Blue Moon Burger Bash, we caught up with chef Marcus Samuelsson, owner of Red Rooster in Harlem, NY, and the host of the PBS special The Meaning of Food. Additionally, Marcus was the youngest chef to ever receive two three-star ratings from The New York Times and in 2010 was the winner of Top Chef Masters Season 2. He is also known for his stylish clothes and shoes.

PBS FOOD: Since we are here, what makes a good burger?

Marcus Samuelsson: That’s a great question. A good burger, for me, really is technical. I prefer when you chop the meat — you get a little bit of air into the burger. It’s also the ratio between the bun, the burger, and how airy the burger is. If you grind the burger meat too fine, it gets very dense.

I also think the ratio is important — you need basically 75/25. That’s 25% fat and 75% really flavorful meat.

What excites you about being a chef in 2013?

Being a chef in the 21st century is so exciting because the core of everything is hospitality. You want to give. You want to share. You can share your food through the traditional way, through a restaurant. Or, you can share it online, you can share it on TV or through a book. The consumer is more informed and feels closer to chefs because they can get to us in so many different ways.

I’m also really excited about trying to solve the issue of the food chasm in this country. Putting better food in urban communities. That’s why I have my restaurant in Harlem.

There was an article in the Chicago Tribune in 2011 that highlighted the lack of diversity among chefs on television, in blogs and in many of the prominent kitchens in America. Two years later, do you feel like there has been progress? What can be done to present a more diverse picture of what food in America means?

Well, diversity has many faces, angles and ethnicities. So, I think we’re diverse from the sense that there are more women in the kitchen. There are more Asian and Latin voices in the narrative.

But, when you look at diversity from an African-American perspective, we’re not there enough. We need to be presented more. And again, part of the reason I opened a restaurant in the heart of an African-American community like Harlem, is to be a hub for chefs to train. And for them to inspire and aspire. Being in the community matters.

Though, we are way more diverse as a whole in America. Think about Korean-American food, Thai-American food, and all the flavors of this country. Or you can think about the West Coast as the Asian and Latin base, and the East Coast as maybe a little more European based. But we are way more diverse from other angles than just color.

What is your top piece of advice to anyone who wants to be a chef?

Work hard. And be passionate. You will have an incredible journey. It’s a delicious life. You’ll never be unemployed.

More From Marcus Samuelsson

With Tavis Smiley:

On PBS Newshour:

From the Chefs@Google series: