Marcus Samuelsson was Top Chef Masters‘ dark horse this season: younger than the other competitors and with a bent toward Scandinavian and African cooking, not necessarily crowd-pleasers. And yet, his outstanding food (trust me, I’ve eaten it) and undeniable charm took him straight to the podium. His win isn’t just a boon for Marcus, whose star was already high and now rising higher, but for kids worldwide. Marcus Samuelsson uses his fame as a chef to make life better for children. His own personal story might have something to do with that.
Marcus was born in Ethiopia, but after his mother died when he was three (of tuberculosis), he and his sister were adopted by a Swedish couple and moved to Scandinavia. His food and restaurants, until recently, have been very much inspired by his Swedish heritage. On Top Chef Masters, the second of his two finale dishes was a tribute to the roast duck he made under the guidance of his grandmother. More recently, he’s turned to his African roots for culinary inspiration. His wife, Gate Haile, is also Ethiopian, and he’s traveled back there quite a bit. It was this culture that he hailed in his final dish of last night, Hamachi meatballs in an African preparation.
Most importantly, the children of Africa will benefit directly from his win. The charity that’s receiving his $100,000 prize is Unicef’s Tap Project, which helps bring clean water to children around the world. Samuelsson, a Unicef Ambassador, says on the Tap Project website:
“Water is a daily privilege that so many of us take for granted. But children are dying every day due to a lack of clean water. Through the UNICEF Tap Project, we can change that.”
His win will also help him with his other kid-related project. Like fellow-chef Jamie Oliver, he’s concerned about what kids are eating at school every day. “It upsets me that the public school systems can’t get better foods to our children. I’m extremely passionate about having a positive impact on this,” he told Slashfood.com. In fact, though he has no kids himself, he’s planning to open up the kitchen of his new restaurant (launching in NYC’s Harlem this fall) to kids. He recently wrote on the Huffington Post: “I look forward to inviting children and budding chefs into our kitchens to teach them how to prepare great foods from wholesome ingredients and how to share that knowledge with their audience.”
Oh, my, my heart just melted a bit. Just like a flake of his smoked arctic char, this man is multi-layered and delicious for the soul.