Why Thanksgiving Is Special For Ex-Pats And Immigrants, According To Marcus Samuelsson - Exclusive

When Marcus Samuelsson immigrated to New York City from Sweden, he celebrated his first Thanksgiving with a group of others unable to be with family. It was a mélange of cultures and cuisines on one communal table. Samuelsson continues to pay homage to his Ethiopian heritage and Swedish upbringing each year at Thanksgiving and relishes trying dishes that he is unfamiliar with.

In an exclusive interview, he revisited that day and discussed his many Thanksgivings since. Because the nature of that meal was so impactful to him, Samuelsson recently put together a Friendsgiving dinner at his new Chelsea restaurant, Hav & Mar, in partnership with Ritz: 10 contest winners would dine together as strangers and leave feeling like family. Anyone can recreate the meal themselves with his Goldbelly kit, which includes everything you need to make chicken meatballs and dirty gravy, honey berbere Brussels sprouts, and cornbread stuffing. During our conversation, he told us more about both of these projects.

The whole world on one table

Holidays can be hard when family isn't near, but family can mean many things. Chosen family is a group of people connected intentionally, regardless of blood or marriage. For Marcus Samuelsson, his first Thanksgiving was spent with his chosen family, showing love via dishes of their heritage.

"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," he said. "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."

Samuelsson embraced this holiday so intensely that now his Thanksgiving celebrations host upwards of 50 people. He serves his famous Swedish glogg, and his wife, Maya, brings Ethiopian sides, such as doro wat and injera. "We always invite people from the neighborhood and people we work with that maybe cannot go back to their families, because the U.S. is big and it's expensive to travel during the holidays," he said. "We're about 50 people almost every year, with people from all kinds of backgrounds."

Putting on the Ritz

On November 14, Marcus Samuelsson hosted 10 contest winners for a Friendsgiving Feast at Hav & Mar in partnership with Ritz. "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,'" he said.

Though the start of any party is a little awkward while guests get comfortable and begin to mingle, Samuelsson was prepared with coziness-inducing warm glogg and inviting appetizers to ease that tricky first half hour.

"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," he explained. "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."

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.