Marcus Samuelsson's New Restaurant Pop-Up Will Have A Retro Vibe - Exclusive Interview

Few chefs are busier than Marcus Samuelsson. When he is not opening new restaurants all over the world, he is hosting unique pop-ups. In conjunction with the National Peanut Board, Samuelsson has created an entire menu of peanut-featured items. From Tuesday, October 10th to Sunday, October 15th, diners at Marcus Bar and Grille will get to experience this one-of-a-kind menu in a 1960s-inspired setting. If you cannot make it to this retro-styled pop-up, don't fret. Samuelsson has published several recipes, including a PB&J old fashioned, and peanut butter chicken and waffles. 

This idea may seem nutty to some, but Chef Samuelsson is a master of the craft. Having lived and cooked around the globe, Samuelsson takes his cues from international tastes, creating extraordinary fare. A Michelin-starred chef, he is about to open a new restaurant, Metropolis, in the Perelman Performing Arts Center in New York City.  We caught up with Samuelsson to ask him about his latest projects and find out more about what inspires him to create his inspired cuisine. 

Peanut Pop Up

You are doing this special peanut pop-up event. Could you tell us more about that?

Yes. We're going to have a great peanut pop-up starting [yesterday] at Marcus B&P, here in Atlanta, and it's going to run all the way through Sunday. We're super excited about it. It takes a lot of inspiration from the versatility of peanuts, and we built this '60s diner vibe, retro feel. It's all about comfort and deliciousness.

What were some of the challenges in creating a peanut based menu?

It was a lot of fun, because I think about my journey, being born in Africa, and traveled and cooked all over the world, so with peanuts, I think about food from Ghana, I think about southern food, but also Thailand and other places like that. Southeast Asia comes to mind. We were excited [to think] about, how do we put a menu together that fits comfort, fits our style of cooking, but also takes the broader aspect of peanuts in with its creaminess, and crunch, and its high level of protein and fat? It was a really interesting challenge that we've been working on, but we had a lot of fun with it.

New take on a classic

You've taken some classic dishes and put your own twist on it. What was your inspiration for the combination of maple fried mushrooms and peanut butter waffle?

We take pride in making sure that vegetarian food doesn't feel secondary, that it makes a lot of sense and it's really delicious. Making vegan waffles and then treating the mushrooms almost like a chicken, so it's a play on chicken and waffles. It works well together. Putting peanut into the waffle gives you a whole other texture too, that makes the waffle both crispier but also creamier in a way.

How do you prepare the peanut butter waffle?

We use peanut butter as the base and the foundation, and mixing that with plant-based dairy, we create a vegan waffle. We're mixing that up with a flour and then adding in peanut butter into that so it gets that creamy texture ... and it gets really crispy.

For your fried chicken and waffles, do you have a secret to preparing the perfect fried chicken?

I like to use thigh or leg meat so you get a tastier chicken. The way we used it here — adding in the peanut butter into the waffle mixture — we tried that several times. That's something that, for example, we wouldn't have come to that without having this pop-up at the [Marcus Bar and Grille]. We started to think about how we can infuse the peanuts not just on top as a garnish, but into the batter. That makes the waffle crispier and creamier. 

Post-pop-up, we're going to stay with that, because that's something that we learned about:  the versatility of peanuts and how crunchy they get, but also how creamy they can make a butter. That's what we learned from that. We fry our chicken and then we make a honey butter with peanuts as well, so you get that heat and then you get that beautiful boiled peanut effect into the sauce, and that gives you that crunchiness and delicious flavor.

Drinking the favorites

You've posted the recipe for a peanut butter and jelly old-fashioned. What was the inspiration for that?

It's fun with something classic that everybody can relate to — an adult version with that rim has a lot of nice grape jelly, and then dunking the glass in a little peanut salt on top of that rim gets you that flavor of peanut and jelly. When muddling the grapes, that grape feel comes through, and we use peanut bourbon so you get that nice smokiness into the old-fashioned as well. That recipe embodies the whole pop-up: picking classics that people are familiar with, but then tweaking them, seeing how diverse and versatile peanuts can be and how delicious they can be, and staying with something that we didn't think was possible. Now, it's something that we really enjoy.

Do you have a go-to bourbon you like to use?

We use two bourbons, but we're also using the Uncle Nearest here, which we love to use.

Peanut mistakes

What is the biggest mistake you find that people make when trying to cook with peanuts?

You have to think broader. [When making a] peanut butter sandwich, whether it's with bananas, or jellies, or whatever you add in, sometimes I add in apples for my son to get that nice crunch. In Africa, for example, we use the peanut butter a lot when we cook sauces. We think about it as a butter and we thicken our sauce. In Ghana, it can be a chicken stew thickened with peanut butter. In Senegal, you have mafe. You have these great dishes where peanuts are not just a side or a snack. They're integrated into the sauce.

That's something people want to start to use more on this side of the world. I love a noodle dish that you can toast your peanuts and add that creaminess to a great crunch. Chili, garlic, and peanuts work great in a noodle. As it relates, our pork ribs here, we're thinking about the barbecue sauce with peanuts, inspired a lot from Thailand and Southeast Asia. You get a great sauté with a peanut dip sauce. We're thinking global, what other countries, what other cultures would do to work really well and make a great comfort meal at home.

Texture and spice

The regular menu at Marcus Bar and Grille features the A-Town Deviled Eggs. What tips do you have for making perfect deviled eggs?

You've got to first make sure that you cook the egg to perfection, so it's firm, and getting the egg yolk out so it's nice. Cream it up so it's nice and smooth, and add that texture on top. It could be boiled peanuts, for example, or it could be chicken skin, things that you want. Great deviled eggs have layers to it where the egg's got to be cooked perfect, the creaminess of the yolks will be really nice, and then you want a garnish on top that has different contrast in terms of texture.

Your deviled eggs are also served with a homemade hot sauce. What is the key to making a successful homemade hot sauce, and do you have a preferred pepper you like to use?

One of my favorite hot sauces is more a vinaigrette than traditional hot sauce, but in Ethiopia it's called Awaze, which is really berbere that has been mixed together with oils and a little bit of vinegar, and you let it sit so it ferments a little bit. The blend between the fermentation of the smoked dried chilies and the oils makes it a perfect hot sauce.

With the holidays coming up, do you have any pantry ingredients you like to keep stocked?

Yeah, the holidays are one of the best times to cook with your friends and family. I love teas, small things like pumpkin seeds, toasting them on low heat. It's nice and delicious ... also pomegranate, anything that could add textures. One of my favorite Brussels is cheese, bacon, and pomegranate, and toasted peanuts I'll put on top of that, going back almost to a Nigerian suya spice that has those flavors. It's about textures, because so much of all the cooking is about sides and making sure that the sides both visually and textually wise also pop. For caramelizing roasted Brussels, and then adding peanuts, adding pomegranates on top with a little bit of soy, gives you that perfect caramelized Brussels.

Upcoming projects

You have another restaurant opening, Metropolis. Is there an official opening date for that?

We're getting closer. I know it's going to come down to early November. We're really excited about it.

What's the menu going to be like? Is there an inspiration for that menu?

To be back where so much theater and culture is going to take place, we feel like it's a love letter to New York City and being inspired by the farmer's market and the seasonality of the city. We feel this is a New York City restaurant that we can't wait to introduce to the city.

Do you have any other restaurant openings coming on the horizon?

Right now we're focused on [and] excited to bring Metropolis to the city. We worked on it for a very long time. Chef Ed [Tinco] and I and the entire team. we worked on the menu and the beverage program, and we want to start.

Marcus Bar & Grille pop-up runs from Tuesday, October 10th to Sunday, October 15th. Reservations are available online.

This interview has been edited for clarity.