Today's Chicago Woman

Chef Marcus Samuelsson takes Obama state dinner guests on a global culinary trip

Chef Marcus Samuelsson at NRA Show_2009.jpg

Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson served as the guest chef at President Barack Obama's first state dinner Nov. 24. Earlier this year, Samuelsson--the chef/owner of downtown's C-House Fish and Chops Restaurant--attended the National Restaurant Association's annual show in Chicago.

As a food writer who's interviewed celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson numerous times--and had the great pleasure of sampling dishes he's helped create at downtown Chicago's own C-House Fish and Chops and in Manhattan restaurants Aquavit and Merkato 55--I was thrilled to see that the White House invited him to be the guest chef for President Barack Obama's first hosted state dinner on Nov. 24.

If you think about it, Samuelsson--a James Beard Award-winning chef who was born in Ethiopia, but raised by adoptive parents in Sweden--is the PERFECT one to take on such an honor in the Obama White House. Himself half-African and raised in diverse cities around America and the world, President Obama knows what it means to seamlessly combine various cultural influences. No wonder First Lady Michelle and White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers invited this New York-based chef--who's lived in the States since 1991--to help shape the menu served to India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his wife, Gursharan Kaur, and hundreds of other Hollywood A-listers and political heavy hitters.

And what a menu it was, combining Indian flavors with traditional American Thanksgiving tastes (not to mention herbs from Michelle Obama's famed White House garden!), all artfully combined in a global melange. THIS is American culinary imagination at its best. Wish I'd been there! This Politics Daily piece from my former Chicago Sun-Times colleague Lynn Sweet gives the delicious-sounding rundown.

While Samuelsson has written gorgeous coffee-table-worthy cookbooks about his homeland Sweden in Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine and his native Africa with The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, his latest celebrates the vast and delicious diversity--and the immigrant presence that's helped spawn it--found in kitchens and cultures across the United States. Check out The New American Table (Wiley Hardcover, $40) for a most interesting take on the current American culinary scene.

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