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'Top Chef Masters' Winner Marcus Samuelsson on the Final Challenge, His New Restaurant and the Obama State Dinner

by Kelly Woo, posted Jun 10th 2010 4:00PM
Marcus Samuelsson'Top Chef Masters' named Marcus Samuelsson top dog for season 2 -- and along with a $100,000 prize for his charity, he can take away "bragging rights forever."

Samuelsson joins Chicago chef Rick Bayless in the 'Masters' hall of winners.

The Aquavit chef, beat out Rick Moonen and Susur Lee to earn money for the UNICEF Tap Project. He spoke to TV Squad about winning,how this ranks next to the State Dinner he cooked and what's next on his culinary journey.

How did you feel when you won?

Oh, it was an incredible feeling. I thought about all the hard work, I thought about being away from my wife. I felt it was an accomplishment ... Everything in that month, that journey, everything about that month just flushed through my veins, you know? I don't know if I was surprised. You never expect anything. You're next to some very talented competitive chefs so it was very close. You just feel relieved, happy joy. I don't know if surprised was the word. It was more other things, you know?

Were you surprised by the outcome?

You're never sure. You're never sure because it's not like you're there when they're discussing it. I felt like with the first two dishes, I really did a strong effort. I felt like I couldn't have done any better. With the African dish, I felt I did well but ... I was worried about would they understand the texture and the richness and what I was going for because those are new flavor points. The problem was with the third dish but also I felt like if I didn't stick to my storyline -- and that's African for me -- then I just felt I got to stay true to that, win or lose, and give it my best effort and that's what I did.

top chef finaleRick said he felt it would be him and Susur at the end. Did you feel like an underdog?

No, I didn't look at it like that. They said a lot of positive things too but that didn't come out. I know the positives and I know that Rick, Susur, Jonathan [Waxman], myself were very tight. We shared something. So I'm sure there were a lot of positive things that just weren't shown. What matters is I did everything I could for my dishes and the outcome was not up to me. I wanted them to get it and they did and I was excited about that. Rick did an incredible job that day and so did Susur.

The finale challenge seemed almost more of an emotional challenge for the three of you.

You've got to dig in, you know, like, "Why did I become a chef?" "Why am I making this food?" It's your career on a palate in three courses in front of millions of viewers. That's a big challenge for anybody, I don't care who you are. And then on top of that it's not even up to you -- they're going to judge that. The great thing about the challenge for all three of us is we have incredible knowledge of the people viewing it. I mean, the chefs from the year before, the judges. It was an incredible assembly of people that respect us a lot. I'm very grateful to Bravo that we were able to show these different areas of ourselves but also that we were able to fight for our charities.

What was the biggest challenge of 'Top Chef Masters'?

You're constantly out of your element. Each time you're like I got it, Boom, they throw a curveball. Like, Oh and the kitchens gonna be up here and by the way, you've got to put it down there and you're like, yes okay I got it. I'm in a good spirit. I'm cooking it. I'm good and they're like no! It's constant curveballs but that's what makes good television. We know they have to make a TV show and I think they've done a great job of preparing us well and respecting us as chefs and putting a good product out to the people who enjoy watching.

Marcus Samuelsson Top Chef MastersWhat do you think was your best dish on the show?

I think as the season came towards the end, I felt I'd gotten better. I'd never cooked under those scenarios before ... There are a lot of different challenges. After the third or the fourth week, I felt OK, I felt better as the competition went along and obviously, I'm very happy with the final dishes because that's what made me win the competition. Like in any competition, it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

Do you have a dish you felt was not your best?

No, no. There was so much food, so many dishes, so many things, I was just super happy people got to see who I am and they got to learn about that and hopefully I will see them all at the Red Rooster.

The final group seemed to have a strong bond. Were you all friends?

Oh absolutely. We all knew each other before. We'd worked together but it's very tight. You're spending 18 hours a day together and you're very much locked up in the kitchen, locked up in the room together. We all had our high days when we did really well and we all had our days when we missed our families so it's tough. We really supported each other on that journey and we're very close I would say. We shared something. This is not a lot of people have had that experience.

What's next for you?

Well, to me, it's obviously, I have a lot of stuff to do -- 'The New American Table,' my new cookbook, and a lot of cooking demos and stuff like that but also opening Red Rooster in Harlem, that's a big commitment for me this year and between those two I feel like I have my hands full.

When is Red Rooster opening?

It's gonna open this fall. We're building it as we're speaking. Yeah, a great neighborhood restaurant in Harlem ... I'm really excited about it. I want to do something affordable for the neighborhood.

New American TableCan you tell us more about your cookbook?

'The New American Table' is an American cookbook. It talks about the diversity of American food and how we've come to food to this point through immigration, through us as a diverse nation so it celebrates our holidays, it celebrates the whole spectrum. I've met some incredible American cooks and its through their eyes and my recipes we're presenting the new American table.

Which was better: cooking for President Obama at his first state dinner or winning 'Top Chef Masters'?

Oh my god, I'm not comparing any of that [laughs]. It's been an incredible ride for me whether being a creative person, being a chef, winning 'Top Chef Masters' -- it shows how committed I am and how much I love it. Doing the state dinner was an incredible experience for me. You know, these are the things I will never forget. These are the milestones in my life. I will never forget this day. I will never forget that journey whether I was at the state dinner or winning 'Top Chef Masters.' They have a couple of things in common though -- work ethic, hard work and passion. If you have those three things, no matter who you are, you'll do very well.

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Rob Walley

You are so right, Leroy! But we are a higher class of whining babies...LOL! Point taken...

June 11 2010 at 1:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh, grow up people. There are far more serious issues in the world to be upset about than knowing the winner of a TV cooking show. What a bunch of whining babies you all are.

June 10 2010 at 11:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rob Walley

Since TVSquad didn't see fit to cover Top Chef Masters during this season's run AND since the finale started at 10pm Eastern time, it might have been more responsible to hold off until at least 24 hrs passed before putting the name of the winner in the HEADLINE!!! Since the TVSquad-Inside TV merger, there seems to be a bit more Inside TV here. That's too bad. TVSquad used to be a pretty good site.

June 10 2010 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I guess I should have known better than to come to this site before watching the episode. Now I'll know better than to come to this site at all. Which is a shame, I really like this site, but it's clearly become hostile to people who watches their TV a day late (citation: http://www.tvsquad.com/2010/06/03/tv-101-the-spoiler-police-need-to-calm-down/)

June 10 2010 at 6:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bo Link

More than a little PO'ed that you posted the winner's name in the title of the post. That's kind of idiotic with DVRs as prevalent as they are now. Thanks for ruining the final episode for me.

June 10 2010 at 6:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

WTF??? TV Squad almost ignores Top Chef Masters the whole season and now, not even a day passed after the finale, you put a huge spoiler like that in the title of a post. Serious, what's the point? Bunch of morons, I'm tired of this site. Goodbye!

June 10 2010 at 5:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Boo on you. I'm rather pissed now. I was excited to watch this and you've blown it for me. Wait at least 24 hours to put spoilers without warning. I'd say even a week!

June 10 2010 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


Seriously?!!!! This site is run by fools. Who approves these headlines, monkeys? Thanks for ruining my next three episodes I had DVR'd.

June 10 2010 at 4:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for the spoiler in the title. Good job!

June 10 2010 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for the spoiler right in the friggin title! I've been following TVS for years but I'm seriously considering going with alternate tv blogs.

June 10 2010 at 4:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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