Chef Marcus Samuelsson on Cultural Collaboration and His New Restaurant in the Bahamas – AFAR Media

Posted: August 24, 2021 at 10:21 am

Since opening in 2017, Baha Mar has become a center of gastronomy in the Bahamian capital of Nassau. With over 40 restaurants and bars, the resort has lured some of the worlds leading chefs, including Katsuya Uechi and Daniel Boulud, to name a few. Now, six-time James Beard Awardwinning chef Marcus Samuelsson joins the resorts collection of culinarians with this summers debut of Marcus at Baha Mar Fish + Chop House.

While developing the concept, Samuelsson spent nearly four years learning about Bahamian culture and meeting with local purveyors. The result? A deeply collaborative menu reflective of native ingredients with an innovative take on Caribbean comfort food. Think fried chicken with sour orange hot honey or tuna tartare with cassava chips. Yes, youll find his signature Marcuss Cornbread on the table, but here it comes with a spice-infused rum-spiked butter.

We spoke with Samuelsson to learn more about his new restaurant in the Bahamas and his hopes for creating a more inclusive industry through intention and empathy.

Why the Bahamas?

We get a lot of opportunities in front of us, and before we say yes, we have got to like [the location]. A great location for me means Whats the path towards opportunity? So, looking at farming, looking at fishing, looking at cooking school here, I said, OK, this makes sense! And with a place like Baha Mar, I wanted to make sure that we have something experientialnot just a great restaurant, it has to be an experience.

With restaurants in Newark, Harlem, Overtown, Bermuda, and now the Bahamas, why is it important for you to open in predominantly Black destinations?

Its important to acknowledge your privilege, right? When I left Aquavit, I did a lot of soul searching about my role as a Black chef. I want to figure out how I can open up more doors, specifically in the African diaspora.

Weve been very strategic with Harlem, with Overtown. We feel proud to work with the cultures and the history, but also to provide jobs locally. For a chef of any color, but specifically for chefs of color, you must figure out where in the industry you fit. Our restaurants have become the hub for that.

Tell us about your process of learning about Bahamian culture.

When I say it takes four years [to open a restaurant], one year could just be researching. Islands are not monolithic. We have to be very respectful . . . and we have to learn the culture. We pay homage to that, and it shows up on the menu. We eat at restaurants. We go to markets, and we go with local people. Our goal is to make the menu relatable to locals and unique for visitors, too.

What are some of the Bahamian ingredients youre loving right now?

Sour oranges! It might not be a big thing for locals, but its a big thing for me. So, we marinate in that. Then there is this incredible hydroponic farm [in Nassau] where we get fresh herbs and tomatoes.

Locals take pride because they see themselves in the food. We have a hot sauce that we do with passion fruit that came from them. The pickles on our fish, that came from them. They say, Oh, these pickles are my aunties pickles! Its been really fun.

How do you find balance in blending your cultural experience and culinary expertise with local cultures?

Coming from two backgrounds allows me to have windows into Ethiopia, or Africa, or Scandinavian Sweden. When youve grown up through it, you dont know that eventually that can become an assetits about empathy.

When we do the conch salad, I dont touch a thing. I may present it with dry ice or something like that, but in terms of the flavor, I dont dare go near it because [the locals] are the ones that know. Im not coming with my menu set, and I dont think I would have that sensitivity if I say, Im a Swedish chef. Heres the Swedish food. Im an American now, and Im from African culture. Its about sensibilities and sensitivities.

What do you hope it brings to the Bahamian community to have a celebrated Black chef open a restaurant here?

As a Black chef with a large platform, its about that intersection of inspire and aspire. Having the privileges and the opportunities that I have, it comes down to how I hire. Here, we started with a big open kitchen, because then its very clear who works in the kitchen. When you have someone like chef Garrette [Bowe]shes the chef, and shes a localits not a coincidence.

Pastry chefs, servers, cooks, bartenders: These people dont have to leave the island to have the best opportunities. Someone can learn sushi from chef Katsuya and the best French cooking from chef Daniel, and now you can come down here and work with us.

Marcus at Baha Mar Fish + Chop House is now open for dinner at Baha Mar (1 Baha Mar Blvd., Nassau). Reservations are recommended and can be made online.

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Chef Marcus Samuelsson on Cultural Collaboration and His New Restaurant in the Bahamas - AFAR Media

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