Marcus Samuelsson On His New Restaurant And Everything Thanksgiving - Exclusive Interview

When you think of Marcus Samuelsson, the things that come to mind are his fun and eccentric style, his bright smile, and the way he can make the most elevated meal still feel cozy. It should come as no surprise that he is a huge fan of communal holiday meals. His first Thanksgiving in NYC as an Ethiopian immigrant from Sweden was spent with a group of others unable to be with family. 

In this exclusive interview, Marcus tells us about how that Thanksgiving has sparked a love for the holiday, how he celebrates now, and tips for every home cook. The celebrity chef and philanthropist also goes into detail about his new restaurant – Hav & Mar, which is set to open in Chelsea in just a few days — and the focus on sustainability and lifting up the BIPOC and LQBTQ+ communities by championing farms, wineries, and other services from marginalized workers. If that doesn't make you feel warm and cozy, read on to see what he has to say about warm mugs of glogg and hygge culture.

Making a difference at Hav & Mar

You're always working on a number of things, but right now there is a plethora. Can you first start by telling me a little bit about Hav & Mar?

I'm here right now ... we're very excited. We think [in] 10 days or so, we're going to be ready for the public, so that's great. It's been a year and a half in the making, and we're very excited about it.

I'm sure a lot of things got pushed back during the past years.

Yeah, but I'm really proud of Chef Rose [Noël] and the team and where we are and we're cooking right now. To the left of me, there's 15 people cooking away.

I hear that sustainability is a really big part of this restaurant. In what ways will Hav & Mar demonstrate sustainability, and does that practice extend to all of your restaurants?

Coming from Scandinavia, we were recycling from the '80s. It's been part of our lifestyle for a long time. I think about sustainability from many different aspects. When I opened Red Rooster, my sustainability lens there was hiring from the community. That will always be the most important thing — not always in the green space, but what would be the most urgent need in this community? 

When it comes to Hav & Mar, being in Chelsea, we thought about the fine dining game, it's a high bar to get in. What we want to highlight here is farms and vendors and craft people from marginalized communities like the LBTGQ+ community, but also black and BIPOC farmers, for example. As we open, we might reintroduce some incredible people that are amazing and doing great work. 

The other way we think about sustainability could be very seasonal, but also the carbon footprint, working with farmers and people from the northeast and thinking about the carbon footprint and how the ingredients get to us. How do we recycle? If we have an ingredient, can we use it as a cocktail? Can we ferment it? How is that total cycle when the ingredients get to our restaurant? How do we recycle it into a cocktail, into a sauce, into the fermentation process? [We also think about] portion size, sticking to three to four ounces of animal protein, also thinking about vegetarian. It's definitely a vegetarian forward restaurant without being a vegetarian restaurant, 100%.

Which BIPOC winemakers or farmers are you going to be working with?

Everybody from Brown to McBride Sisters to O.P.P. There are so many. When we open, we are going to be ready to talk about the totality of it and we will present it on our social and our web content. We can introduce our vendors almost as a passport of meeting craft people.

Can you tell us a signature dish that we might be able to find there?

There will be many, but not just Ethiopian. [We'll have] cured salmon, that I grew up with, [using] Ethiopian spices. We will have a very big rice dish ... It's a communal dish that we call Jubilee. We have amazing beef tartare that comes from my wife's village. There will be ingredients like buckthorns from Scandinavia, a lot of grains like barley, teff, things that have been around for thousands of years, but maybe not put in a restaurant at front and center.

A Thanksgiving potluck of cultures and glogg

You're also partnering with Ritz on a Friendsgiving Feast giveaway. Can you tell me about that?

On November 14, we're going to have a Friendsgiving right here at Hav & Mar. 10 people will have a chance to have a great dinner and get together. The whole partnership with Ritz has been fun, because when I got approached about this, I'm like, "This is my background. I'm an immigrant in this country." 

I remember the first Friendsgiving at my cook's apartment in Hell's Kitchen with 10 cooks that maybe didn't have a family to go home to. Somebody brought a great Caribbean side, and another person brought tamales from Mexico, and another person brought doro wat from Ethiopia. Those are some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories. People bring their own culture, and there was turkey there too, but I always get most excited about the sides.

What are your favorite sides?

It's when I can get a new side that I don't know anything about. Is there a new way of preparing grits or corn? Is there a new way to introduce sweet potato or something like that? The sides and the gravy, I love. Turkey's great, but I'm really excited about the sides.

Yeah, me too. I feel like turkey is great for next day leftovers, but it isn't really the star for me.

When we do Thanksgiving now, we always serve Swedish glogg, this warm red wine. The whole room smells like cloves, cinnamon, and allspice, which is great. You get this warm cup in front of you. The way we developed the recipes with Ritz, [is so that if you have] that first awkward 30 minutes when people don't know each other in the room, serve great crackers with avocado hummus on top of it. Now, everyone is at ease, and they get a glass of glogg. Now, the party can start.

What dishes do you bring to the table on Thanksgiving?

My wife brings her Ethiopian sides, so doro wat and injera are always there. I love Brussels, already thinking about crisply Brussels. We're throwing in some cranberries for sweetness. The Brussels recipes that I did for the Ritz Crackers book with that crumble of Ritz Crackers on top — it's super delicious, approachable, and everybody can make it. 

I love a sweet potato soup, maybe mix it up with some coconut milk, and add a little bit of those great garam masala spices into it. You can rip some of the leg into it to get some nice beautiful chopped up meats in there. Mushrooms would be great. Thanksgiving is all about celebrating each other and a lot of this stuff you can prep ahead so you don't get buried in the kitchen the day of.

Who do you celebrate with?

My wife, Maya, Zion my son, and my daughter, Grace. We always invite people from the neighborhood and people we work with that maybe cannot go back to their families, because the US is big and it's expensive to travel during the holidays. We're about 50 people almost every year, with people from all kinds of backgrounds. For the last two years, it's been hard to celebrate with a lot of people, but before that we were always about 50 people.

Thanksgiving Tips

What's the biggest mistake people make with stuffing?

Don't overthink. It needs to be delicious. I love to use a little bit of that dark meat, use some corn or Brussels, and then add a little crumble on top when you bake it up, and it comes out crispy, and what more do you want? It's something you don't have to overthink. It's basic food that tastes delicious.

Is there a root vegetable that you feel is underrated for roasting?

I don't know if it's underrated, but I love sunchoke, parsnip. The combination of parsnip and apple, for example. Sweet potato and apples, regular potatoes and apples — apple is a good grid that fruit brings out the best out of root vegetables.

For giblets, are there any uses beyond gravy that you would recommend?

All the innards always are amazing to sear off. I just cooked with Jacques Pepin, and he put hot sauce and gravy on his, and it was delicious. You can cook off your innards, you sear them off, you carve them up. Who knows better than Jacques? He put some hot sauce on it and then he pours gravy on top and it was so delicious.

Okay, that sounds good.

I know, and if Jacques does it, you can do it.

I'm definitely going to try your Brussels sprout recipe with Ritz this year, because I can never get them crispy like you get in a restaurant. I'm going to try yours and see if I can do it.

You can do it. I know you can. Start at medium heat on low and then cook them up, and then you caramelize them at the right time. Don't start on high heat. That's when they burn and they don't get crispy.

Do you ever parboil first or no?

No, don't do it. The roasting in the pan or roasting in the oven will give you everything you need. [With parboiling,] you're going to lose a lot of flavor. They look good, but that deep umami flavor that you're going for, it's not going to be there.

Getting hygge with it

I was curious, being raised in Sweden, the glogg made me remember. Do you celebrate any kind of Hygge culture, being raised there?

Hygge is really from Denmark. It's a whole different [thing], but in Sweden... we don't have Thanksgiving, but our Christmas holiday, that's when we eat turkey. That's when you have the ... Leading up to Christmas, there's all these smorgasbord parties where you get together with your work colleagues, when you get together with your school friends. Hygge is something to celebrate throughout December in Sweden with a different type of event, but not at all on high end. It's much more about celebrating each other. It's been a long year, especially the last two, three years.

You have some glogg, you have some saffron bun, there might be some cured fish and herrings at the table. You end up with meatballs and red cabbage, gravy, and a turkey very often. It's the whole seasonality. It's the festivity of the season.

We have the glogg. The glogg represents the coziness of cold months. What is a meal or a food that evokes coziness to you?

Glogg is definitely there. Meatballs with gravy and mash. When I ran over to my grandma's house, that's what we're cooking, that's what we're doing.

America's holiday celebrations and cuisines are as diverse as the people who call this country home, yet often multicultural celebrations are overlooked and underrepresented during the holiday season. To celebrate the culturally diverse food and flavors that bring people together, Marcus Samuelsson has partnered with Ritz on a limited-edition cookbook with delicious new recipes and a limited-edition Goldbelly kit featuring a dish from his cookbook. The partnership also includes a Friendsgiving event at his new and already acclaimed restaurant opening Hav & Mar in NYC.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.