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OP: Aquavit

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by Marcus Samuelsson

This is a book with a history, one that got underway when Ethiopia-born Marcus Samuelsson (1971– ) was adopted and raised by a family in Sweden. There he studied cooking, then apprenticed in Austria and Switzerland and, finally, came to the United States in 1993.  By 1995, when he was 24, had been made the executive chef of Swedish New York restaurant, Aquavit.

That took a lot of doing, and Marcus Samuelsson has moved on and surely done a great deal more since that time, but this rise to early prominence, described in his absorbing up-till-now autobiography Yes, Chef (2012), was his culinary springboard.

Aquavit was founded by a Swedish restaurateur in 1987 and attracted favorable attention, but it was not until Samuelsson’s arrival, bringing together fresh thinking and incorporating pan-Scandinavian cooking with the sensibilities and the tastes of NYC’s fine dining scene, that it achieved real recognition. 

It was a lively, adventurous effort, and the city—and critics and tourists—quickly discovered it, alerted by its many awards, including Michelin and New York Times stars. The menus, of course, have changed over the years, but in the book we find such varied items as prosciutto-wrapped halibut with dark beer sauce, a gravlax club sandwich, roasted wild boar rubbed with pastrami spices and served with an herbaceous honey mustard, and, inevitably, Swedish meatballs.

Aquavit, the book (2003) is a very handsome production, not quite the weighty showpiece that became de rigueur for rising chefs in later years, but surely substantial, colorful, and well designed. It is oblong—bound, strikingly on its short side—making it difficult to shelve but pleasant for browsing. 

Our copy, a signed first printing, is in Very Good Plus condition with a Very Good Plus dust jacket, the latter of which shows slight discoloration from light exposure. 

Although Samuelsson went on with his restaurants Red Rooster and others around the world, explored new cuisines, and achieved a compelling presence on the food scene, this book, his first in English, is where a successful and highly regarded major chef propelled himself into true stardom.

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