Lunch with Marcus Samuelsson

When his assistant called a couple of months ago to set up the lunch, my first thought was, I wish I had an assistant and my second was, why does he want to have lunch with me? But all I said was, “yes, please.”

I’m glad I did. He’s a thoughtful person, and he’s at such an interesting crossroad in his life. We talked about the restaurant he’s building in Harlem and the online site he’s creating, aimed mostly at men. (An idea, incidentally, that Richard and I tried to sell to Conde Nast about 5 years ago. The point being that men cook differently than women, and there’s potentially a great magazine waiting to happen around that idea.)

But as we talked I couldn’t help thinking about the evolution of the chef. It’s so different being a chef today than it was 20 years ago. The modern chef is not a cook – he’s a brand. And he’s the head of an organization with the potential to be an entrepreneur, author, media personality, millionaire, and charitable foundation all rolled into one. If you had suggested that possibility when I began writing about restaurants, people would have asked what you were smoking.

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Is it me, or is there a piece missing from the article. There has to be more. Why did Marcus want to have lunch with you?

Marcus says he grew up eating Swedish hotdogs, that they're ubiquitous street food. Kind of poor man's surf n' turf. Strangest idea: it's basically a corn dog - the hotdog is encased in batter and deep-fried - then topped with shrimp salad. The aroma is unforgettable: first you get dill, then the creamy mayonnaise scent comes wafting over, followed by that mixture of meat and shrimp.

Can you tell me more about Swedish hotdogs? I have been cataloging the world's hot dog styles.

It's amazing! Chefs are now in the same category as rock stars, sports superstars and, of course, TV personalities. The popularity of shows like Top Chef, Top Chef Masters and No Reservations are not only glamorizing the profession, but entertaining millions of viewers. Those viewers are consumers. And, in today's world, branding (and the $$$ associated with it) are a driving force.

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Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.