Last Friday, Chef Marcus Samuelsson was honored by the U.S. State Department by being inducted as a member of the first class of the American Chef Corps. A cornerstone of the newly formed Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative, a collaborative effort between the Office of Protocol, the Department of State, and the James Beard Foundation, the program aims to foster greater global dialogue and diplomacy utilizing the universal language of food. The more than 80 members of the Corps will serve on the frontlines in the creation of a global gastronomic community, preparing State Dinners, serving as culinary ambassadors while abroad, and hosting foreign visitors interested in the American food system.
This morning, as part of his first duties as a State Chef, Samuelsson hosted an informal question and answer session for a visiting group of chefs and food experts at his Harlem eatery Ginny’s Supper Club. Representing 25 different nations, the guests were part of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, a global professional exchange initiative now in its 72nd year.
The focus of the conversation, as was to be expected, was food. As Chef Samuelsson talked of his own culinary path, from his decision to settle in Harlem to his thoughts on food justice and the lack of vegetables in the American diet, the visitors too shared the outstanding dishes of their home cuisine. Hiba Hussein, chef and owner of Patisserie Desiree in Sudan, spoke of Gorrassa, a traditional Sudanese wheat pancake made either savory, topped with meat and vegetables, or sweet, with dates and ghee. Altynay Ryskulova, director of the Koldo Shop Public Foundation in Kyrgyzstan, told the group of Beshbamark, a boiled meat and noodles dish traditionally made with horsemeat and served during times of celebration.
For some, it was not a single dish but rather a national cooking style or unique ingredient that deserved the recognition. Ana Ariza, a chef from Bogotá, Colombia, offered up her country’s flavorful regional soups as a prime example, describing the coconut milk, lemongrass, and basil fish soups from the Pacific coast and the potato stews from the central mountain highlands, among others. Canadian Chef Andrew George, a Vancouver-based culinary arts instructor dedicated to bringing First Nation cuisine to the international stage, claimed instead the world’s plates were missing the robust flavors of northern delicacies such as Musk Ox and Caribou.
The morning exemplified the reasons Marcus Samuelsson agreed to serve as a State Chef, as it brought together a group of international voices in a shared discussion of how each breaks bread. The program is a growing aspect of the Chef’s work to promote a greater dialogue about food and food culture and to spread his message to “Eat Globally, Eat Better.”