I have just ended an amazing few days in Nashville at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (the meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the US).  The closing session blew me away.  Marcus Samuelsson was the keynote speaker.  He told his story beginning with his birth in Ethiopia.  He and his sister (3 and 5 years old) contracted tuberculosis and his mother took them to hospital, where she succumbed to the disease.  Marcus spoke of the good people in his life who helped him and how grateful he was for the opportunities.  And how often the worst times in your life can turn into good situations.  This started with a nurse at the hospital who took in him and his sister. A Swedish couple later adopt them and he moved to Sweden.

Food then became the centre of his life with his grandmother teaching him how to cook.  Marcus trained at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, Sweden, and he really wanted to work at a 3 star Michelin restaurant in France.  He sent more than 30 letters to restaurants who all said no, and then one today he received a yes.  He took a 30 hour train ride to Nice, France and upon arriving was told he no longer had a job as he was of dark coloured skin.  He went back to Sweden, where someone knew someone and managed to get him an apprenticeship with a 3 star Michelin restaurant in Lyon, France. 

Marcus then wrote letters to the two people he “knew” in the US – Oprah and David Letterman to see if they could help him establish a restaurant in New York.  His motto being dream and dream high!  Needless to say he didn’t receive any letters back.  Another mentor then opened up a door for him in New York and his job was to work hard in return.  Not long after the executive chef died and he was offered the position at Aquavit and became the youngest chef to receive New York times 3 star rating at the age of 23.  Then 9/11 occurs and Marcus questions his purpose in life.  He moves to Harlem and dreams of opening a new restaurant “Red Rooster” for the Harlem community.  At the restaurant, Marcus provides cooking classes for children for free.  He also buys spices from Ethiopia, which pays for clean water and education for the community there.  He has had the honour of cooking for President Barack Obama and Oprah.  And is now a judge on the TV show Chopped.

The take-away messages from his inspirational presentation were: the importance of having someone believe in you and create opportunities for you; and that you may experience some bad times but you will come out of a little bit different, and often stronger for it.  You left just wanting to create your own bit of good karma in the world.

Thank you Marcus!


The video is an interview by Google with Marcus – so you can hear some of his story…

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