Lead With Love: Marcus Samuelsson

The seasoned chef cooks up conversation this summer at Guild Hall.


Chef Marcus Samuelsson has opened two new restaurants in Manhattan: Metropolis and Hav & Mar.

Interview and Photography by Cathrine White

Cathrine White: What are you excited to talk about with Florence Fabricant for the “Stirring the Pot” series at Guild Hall? And what do you enjoy most about being out in the Hamptons in summer when you’re here?

Marcus Samuelsson: I’m excited to catch up with Florence to talk about my food life in NYC that started in the mid-’90s. I’ve read her articles and followed her career for years; she’s an extremely important voice in our industry.

I love Sag Harbor for the downtime it gifts me with my family. We get to take a break from the fast-paced city, enjoy the beach, teach the kids to swim and recharge as a unit.

CW: With the constantly evolving food trends, how do you stay innovative, relevant and, more importantly, authentic in such a competitive industry?

MS: I’m slow to understand or follow trends. I create my best food when I have a story to tell, similar to the story of my restaurants Aquavit, Red Rooster, Hav & Mar, and Metropolis. Each place has a narrative developed around a community of vendors, staff and guests who come together over food. It’s important for me to honor the history of these spaces, and to also create a new dialogue for the future.

CW: Collaboration is often key in the culinary world. Which partnerships have impacted your life?

MS: Early in my career as a chef, I was able to meet my mentors, Ms. Leah Chase and Charlie Trotter. Both were very meaningful to my development. Leah helped me connect food with civil rights, and Charlie gave me structure and an appreciation of American fine dining. I’m also thankful for collaborations with Gavin Kaysen, enjoy everything Daniel Boulud has taught me, and love being able to work with and center women/emerging chefs of color like Adrienne Cheatham and Fariyal Abdullahi.

CW: Congratulations on the opening of your two newest restaurants in Manhattan, Metropolis and Hav & Mar. Can you share some insights into the creative process behind designing new menus or dishes? 

MS: The pandemic delayed the launch of Hav & Mar; as a restaurateur, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. I have always loved Chelsea for its art and creativity, so the vision was a long time coming. Opening Hav & Mar offered me the opportunity to partner with my friends, curator Thelma Golden and multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams. It also gave me the chance to connect my dual worlds; Hav is Swedish for sea, and Mar is a double play on Italian mare, or Aramaic for honey. With this restaurant, I’ve been able to go back to my roots and engage with artists, while also taking pride in focusing on female leadership in hospitality.

The Perelman Performing Arts Center is a great project under the vision and stewardship of Mike Bloomberg and Ron Perelman. Opening Metropolis at PAC has been a huge honor. With interiors designed by David Rockwell, it’s a place where theater meets art, with delicious food inspired by New York City. 

CW: Sustainability and sourcing locally are increasingly important. How do you incorporate these principles into your restaurant’s operations and menus?

MS: At Hav & Mar, we use honey harvested from rooftop bees, and partner with Queens-based farm Afterlife Mushrooms. Sustainability and supporting local vendors isn’t something new for us; it’s been an integral part of the mission of all of our restaurants.

CW: As a person of color, did you experience bias in the industry when you started out?

MS: As a Black person with a certain level of privilege in society, racism doesn’t have a ZIP code; it’s not something you can hide from. I’ve been fortunate enough to be given the tools, in the form of family, friends and mentors, who have helped guide me through hard moments and offered me the chance to build a legacy that supports people of color through our work with C-CAP [Careers through Culinary Arts Program], Red Rooster, and Hav & Mar.

CW: Looking at your career from where you are today, what would you say has been the greatest wisdom gained?

MS: Being able to be in business despite challenges like 9/11 and the pandemic has been a humbling experience. I arrived in New York City as an immigrant without any knowledge of the industry. Having the opportunity to learn, adjust and share my best practices with customers who support us and staff that has been loyal to our success is the greatest part of working in the hospitality industry. 

CW: What has becoming a father taught you?

MS: It has given me a sense of purpose I didn’t have previously. My life is now filled with a lot of love, responsibility and guidance I get to share and impart to my little ones. 

I’m able to think about tomorrow and positive possibilities for the future in a very real way as a father viewing the world through the lens of a child.

Samuelsson will appear at the Stirring the Pot series at Guild Hall on August 25 from 11AM-12:30PM. Other participants this year include Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park on July 28, Giada De Laurentiis on August 4, and Pam Weekes and Connie McDonald of Levain Bakery on August 18. guildhall.org