Marcus Samuelsson is the renowned chef behind restaurants worldwide, including the legendary Red Rooster Harlem and the newly opened Marcus Bar & Grille — his first establishment in Atlanta, inspired by the city’s deep-rooted history and rich culture. Samuelsson was the youngest person to receive a three-star review from The New York Times and was the guest chef for the Obama administration’s first state dinner.
Samuelsson has won eight James Beard Foundation awards as a chef, author, and TV personality, with stints on “Top Chef: Family Style,” “On the Rise,” “No Passport Required,” “Top Chef Masters,” “Chopped All-Stars“ and “Iron Chef.” He hosts and produces two podcasts, and as a committed philanthropist, Samuelsson is co-chair of the Careers through Culinary Arts Program, which focuses on helping underserved youth. He’s the author of several cookbooks, including Yes, Chef: A Memoir and his latest book, The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food.
Where did your inspiration come from for this restaurant?
When we build restaurants, we want to go into predominately African American historic communities and create jobs. Being in Atlanta, a block away from where Martin Luther King was born, set the tone in terms of inspiration. It’s a beautiful open kitchen and the bar is big, so for me, the bar and grill came naturally out of the space. The kitchen is predominately led by women of color, which is the same thing we have here at our bar. Our executive chef Hannah Young is a big part of this, and there are going to be some Southern-inspired dishes. We have an amazing grill, so we’re going to do some nice things with that. It’s a restaurant that the family will enjoy for brunch, for example. Eating is a big thing in Atlanta, but you can also come here on a date night … or for business people.
How did you combine food, culture, and community to bring the restaurant to fruition?
When we open a restaurant, many trips with me and my team go into the community because every place is different. In Atlanta for me, it stood around the culture, arts, and music. It starts with honoring and respecting people like Gladys Knight, and looking at what LaFace Records did in the ’90s with everything from TLC to Usher, but also listening to Jermaine Dupri and OutKast. So I started to go through a lot of music, and then I looked at the art scene, which is amazing. Then I looked at the cultural scene in terms of what people do for fun and joy. For us, it was around roller skating, so we emphasize a lot on the role of Cascade and the roller skate culture, and then we add layers of local art and work at the local galleries. Then obviously we look at the amazing universities that are in Atlanta from Spelman [and] Morehouse [to] Clark Atlanta. There is history there that we want to honor and celebrate.