Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, grew up in Sweden and now lives in a five-bedroom brownstone in New York’s Harlem
Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson , 44, owns four New York restaurants, with a fifth—Streetbird Rotisserie—opening in the spring. He is author of “Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ), which features 150 dishes inspired by his travels and background. He spoke with Marc Myers.
I was born in Ethiopia but grew up in Sweden, which wasn’t as big a culture shock as you’d imagine. I was 3 when my older sister and I were adopted by a couple from Göteborg who taught me to fish, cook and prioritize my life—lessons that remain with me today.
I don’t recall much from my earliest years in Meki, Ethiopia. I was too young. My mother had died from tuberculosis during an epidemic and my father was a priest and couldn’t take care of us. The hospital where my mother had died was affiliated with Sweden, which is how my sister and I came to be adopted by Ann Marie and Lennart Samuelsson.
Göteborg is a major city on the southwestern coast of Sweden, but we lived in a residential area with many two-story homes. My father was a geologist and my mother was a homemaker. When they brought my sister and me home, they already had another daughter who was 8 and also adopted, but we all got along perfectly from the start.
Our house had four bedrooms and sat on about half an acre. The kitchen was the center of the house, and we all ate dinner together most nights, with extended family and friends often joining us. My parents had a Bang & Olufsen turntable, and records by Bob Marley, David Bowie and ABBA were always on. It was a happy house.