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Marcus Samuelsson's 'The Rise' cookbook celebrates the creativity of Black chefs

Todd A. Price
The American South
The latest cookbook by celebrated chef Marcus Sameulsson is "The Rise." (Courtesy Voracious)

In “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food” (Voracious), well-known chef Marcus Samuelsson pays homage to dozens of Black men and women who have inspired him. Profiles of figures like chef Nina Compton of New Orleans' Compère Lapin restaurant, Whetstone magazine publisher Stephen Satterfield and Oxford, Mississippi, bartender Joe Stinchcomb are interspersed with recipes created by Samuelsson and his team that honor these Black culinarians.

Samuelsson’s ambitions for “The Rise” go far beyond the average cookbook. “Black food is American food, and it’s long past time that the artistry and ingenuity of Black cooks were properly recognized,” he says at the start of the book. “The Rise,” he explains, was written to provide “proper acknowledgment” of Black chefs, document the work of those chefs and “encourage the next generation to join the creative space.”

Samuelsson spoke to The American South about the future he sees for Black chefs and for the South.

The American South: “The Rise” has recipes inspired by the Black chefs and culinary figures you profile, rather than their own recipes. Why take that approach?

Marcus Samuelsson: These recipes are like a love letter. This is what I see when I hear their journeys.

"The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food" by Marcus Samuelsson

TAS: Are you hopeful that things are moving in the right direction for Black chefs?

MS: You can have a poet like Amanda Gorman reading at the Super Bowl at the same time you have what happened on January 6th. That's why America is so amazing. I choose to be forward thinking and forward leaning. If I turn the noise away, we have one of the most amazing times in Black food ever. At the same time, we have the pandemic that we've got to navigate through.

TAS: "The Rise" is working toward greater recognition and status for Black chefs. The book is just one step in that process. What needs to happen next?

MS: I can control one narrative, which is my team's journey. Hopefully that inspires and opens things up. If you look at TikTok, if you look at Instagram, we're cooking everywhere. Black culture often starts underground, but it becomes pop culture. Where do you think house music came from? Where did jazz come from? Where did hip-hop come from? The cooking of Black chefs that is happening today will be mainstream eventually. My job as a chef with a platform is to broadcast and highlight that.

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TAS: You write, “I’d argue there’s a version of the South anywhere you find Black people.” You also talk about how today there is a “reverse Great Migration,” with Black people moving from large cities back to the South. How do you see the South changing?

MS: When you come back from New York, when you come back from Chicago, when you come back from the Bay, you bring some of those big cities with you. But you also have to mesh with what it means to be local. There’s going to be a push and pull. Always when we are being pushed, that's when new things enter. We're going through the toughest time now. But I know that new food, new creativity is being done right now at this moment.

The recipes in "The Rise" by Marcus Samuelsson include corn and crab beignets with yaji aioli. (Courtesy Voracious)

Note: The interview was edited for clarity and length.

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News tips? Story ideas? Questions? Call reporter Todd Price at 504-421-1542 or email him at taprice@gannett.com. Sign up for The American South newsletter. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.