Campus Leadership Event – A Night with Marcus Samuelsson: A Career of Chasing Flavors

On March 29th, I had the opportunity to attend a campus event that featured a motivational and life changing story that was Marcus Samuelsson’s leadership and upbringing to fame. This event was centered around his leadership that he spearheaded throughout his experiences in the culinary industry. Throughout the night, the audience members were able to understand through Marcus’s intense words, that his story was a lot deeper than just food. Marcus would go into depth of how his love for food, community, and culture would drive his life into the spotlight.
To start, Marcus shared the story of his upbringing. While many would naturally be disheartened to hear the details of how his mother died shortly after birth and how he became an orphan with his older sister in Ethiopia, Marcus instead focused on the leadership of the nurse who saved him and his sibling’s life. The nurse (through breaking the law) brought him and his sister into her home, which would lead to their adoption. There seemed to be a trend when it came to his loved ones reflecting leadership since once he was adopted, his new mother and father (as well as his aunts and uncles from all over the world) did everything they could in order to raise Marcus and his 8 siblings in a way that would inspire them and others.
Making a segway into his admiration for food, Marcus spoke on how his grandmother’s cooking and being able to travel around Sweden, England and Jamaica had inspired him to further pursue his love for food. From watching the leadership of others, Marcus was determined to take a risk toward his own goals of self-leadership and work as a chef in a 3 star michelin restaurant in france. While he didn’t know much of the French language, he did everything that he could in order to be the best that he could be. He worked in the restaurant (away from his family) for a few years until he was driven with passion to be more than just a cook. He wanted to be an entrepreneur and start his own restaurant. When he confronted his boss about this idea, he was abruptly struck down by him saying, “There are no blacks that can own their own restaurant. You should stay here and work for me”. This comment from his boss didn’t diminish his dream though, in fact, it fueled it. In a few months he would be moving to New York in order to start his own restaurant.
Marcus moved to New York and was immediately in awe of the busyness, noise and possibility that lined the streets. In order to stay on his feet in the expensive city, he lived with 5 other roommates in a small space where it was a luxury to be able to sleep on the couch. Additionally, he got a job at a luxurious restaurant in a similar manner to how he worked when he was in France. Eventually he realized through a conversation with his mother that the people who he was serving in the big apple (mostly rich bankers and businessmen) weren’t the clientele that he originally grew up with and found his passion of cooking for. Therefore, he took the biggest leap of faith in following his dream and finally opened his first restaurant in the tougher side of the city, Harlem. This was where he met the most soulful and loyal individuals that focused on Marcus and his business for more than just the meal.
Following the recent opening of his business, he was invited for a TV show called Top Chef and then later, rose in popularity to the degree where he served the President of the United States dinner. The most important part of this whole story is that while he reached his goal of starting his own business, he didn’t stop there with his leadership. Even more so, his leadership and fame didn’t change who he was on the inside, a caring and kind-hearted individual that wanted to share his passions with the world.
Overall, I think that taking risks in order to achieve goals is a great representation of self-leadership. The main point of leadership is the “leading” component. Being able to find it in yourself to take risks because you know that you will become a better version of yourself is a key aspect in self-leadership. Those risks are what inspire others to take those same steps outside of their comfort zone.
Throughout this year (at many points) I questioned what truly was the root cause of my admiration for science. I hoped that being able to find the root cause would help lead me in the direction of what industry that I choose for the next few years of my occupation and would provide me the most satisfaction in the work that I would be doing. I ended up finding something very similar to that of what Marcus found. My passion for science stemmed from the research that can be used to help others. This was something that Marcus was devoted to expressing as he continued to provide amazing food to people of all backgrounds. Likewise, my passion is to research in order to create something to help people from all backgrounds.
I am very honored to have been able to hear Marcus share his inspirational story of how to be a leader to others, you must first become a leader to yourself. While I was not able to speak with him 1 on 1, I know that my energy from the crowd was still appreciated as I was also appreciative that he flew to Miami University all the way from New York. I would like to find out more information about Marcus and watch more of his cooking on shows such as Top Chef, and also see if there is an interview segment about how his dinner went at The White House during the Obama administration. It was very insightful to be able to hear Marcus speak on the raw story that was his upbringing, but I would love to also find out how other Food Network stars have been inspired as well from his leadership. One last thing that I would like to do is to get his cookbook so I can truly see what aspects of cooking have driven him to be so passionate about food.