Chef Talk
Chef Roundtable Title Text
Scott Conant in conversation with Marcus Samuelsson and Aaron Sanchez text in bubble
Scott Conant, Marcus Samuelsson and Aaron Sanchez headshots
Besides a shared passion for the culinary arts, Chefs Scott Conant, Marcus Samuelsson, and Aarón Sánchez have more in common than many might realize. For one, they all started their careers around the same time, cooking in New York at seminal points in their careers. They also crossed paths in the world of food television, specifically on Chopped, where they were all judges at one time or another. And, of course, they all place a high value on friendship.
Marcus recalls meeting Scott through a mutual public relations rep. He was impressed by the press Scott was getting for his take on Italian-American food and how L’Impero, Scott’s first restaurant, had brought an older neighborhood back to life. He remembers cooking together at early events for charities like Share Our Strength. Aarón, too, has great admiration for both chefs, whom he has known for a long time and affectionately calls his bros. It’s easy to recognize that their friendships run deep.

Over the years, they have cooked in one another’s restaurants, hung out at food festivals around the country, participated in various fundraisers together, and generally stayed in touch. This November, Aarón stopped by Mora Italian to sign his new memoir and cook with Scott, while Marcus headed to Cellaio later that same week to join Scott in a Thanksgiving-themed culinary demo.

In late October, before these two events had transpired, Scott caught up with his kindred spirits.

Scott Conant: Hey, guys, I can’t wait to see you both next month. I wanted to catch up real quick. Marcus, talk to us about your new show, No Passport Required. How was filming the second season?

Marcus Samuelsson: Great! The beauty of having one season behind us was that people knew the show and were excited to participate. We wanted to keep that natural energy flowing and allow folks to tell their stories. It was very important to show the contributions of immigrant communities in iconic cities, especially given today’s climate. We explored so many different cultures, and it was a luxury to be part of it all.

SC: I love it. Can’t wait to catch it on PBS. Aarón, I know television keeps you busy too, but congrats on your memoir, Where I Come From. Sounds like a labor of love.

Aarón Sánchez: Yes, writing this book was a very vulnerable experience for me. There are things in it about my personal life and struggles that I went through that I didn’t share very openly back then. Family dynamics and stuff like that. There are also some fun anecdotes about my mom and our friends.

SC: Imagine if we wrote a book about our shared experiences in New York? Crazy, right? I know it’s still home for you, Marcus…

MS: Yes. And I have to admit, I still get inspired every day, because that city shows me what I can accomplish if I want to. New York walks that line between aspiration and humility. All that greatness keeps you humble.

SC: It’s true. I like to say that New York always asks for more. Even though I moved there with a clear understanding of what it would be like, those first six months were among the most miserable of my life. Once I was able to navigate the city, it got better! It’s a tough place to balance life in.

AS: I totally agree with that. That’s partially why I don’t live there anymore. I am eternally grateful for having spent my formative years there, but it does wear you down after a while. I love the exposure to so many cultures and incredible food. It’s a great place to find your voice, because you have to hustle to stick out in the crowd. New York is home. It’s hectic, beautiful, diverse, and so demanding.

SC: Absolutely. It opened my eyes to a higher quality. If you don’t step up your game, you will fall behind.

MS: I can still remember sharing an apartment with five roommates, sleeping on a sofa. As the number of roommates dwindled, it felt like an accomplishment! Yes, it’s extremely demanding, but also so rewarding. I’ve never lived anywhere else in the States, so I guess, in a way, New York City defines me as an American.

SC: You make a good point. It’s a city “defined by diversity,” as Aarón said. And you have done an incredible job, Marcus, of exploring the city’s cultural undertones in your cooking there.

MS: Thank you. I try to match my restaurants with the culture and energy of the city it lives in. I want to be in cities with a strong African-American narrative. Red Rooster in Harlem and our latest outpost in Miami are good examples of that.

SC: Talking of representative, Aarón, your scholarship foundation has gotten some great recognition.

AS: It’s a great honor and a huge responsibility. I started it because I felt there was a huge disparity in kitchen leadership and a lack of diversity. No matter what the cuisine, Latinos are clearly the backbone, but they rarely get the opportunity to advance to chef de cuisine or restaurateur. I really just want to pass on the torch and ensure that the next generation of Latin kids have the resources they need to succeed.

SC: Plus you can use television to represent Latin cooking as well.

AS: Exactly. Both of my shows on Fox Life, 3 Minutos con Aarón and Motochefs, are in Spanish. It really inspires me to know I can reach so many viewers who want to learn about Latin ingredients and dishes who didn’t previously have that kind of access.

SC: As the cochair of Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), you do a great deal of giving back too, Marcus.

the men at the Red Rooster and aaron sanchez's book cover
MS: I was a kid who was adopted and had the benefit of great mentors, the kindness of others and those who recognized things in me I had yet to realize. Much of my work life has been dedicated to building platforms to give youth an opportunity, which is why C-CAP means so much to me, as well as Harlem EatUp, through which we strive to give back to the community and aspire others to join us. Bottom line, hospitality is about how we interact with our customers and staff. Everything else comes out of that same level of care.

SC: Giving so much back. That’s why I love you guys. OK, before I let you go, is there any good music out there that you guys are into? I know I’m old-school country, but that Ken Burns documentary Country Music is so damn good. I downloaded the playlist and have been listening to it nonstop.

AS: If I didn’t love watching old Westerns so much, I’d give you a hard time. I’m right there with you, bro. I have to say, Brittany Howard’s new album from Alabama Shakes is fantastic. I’m also really into Khalid, Shakey Graves, and Juanes. You guys should check them out if you haven’t already.

MS: You and Willie Nelson, Scott! That guy keeps putting out albums in his 80s, and as an artist that brings a lot of hope! You know I love hip-hop as an urban diary, how it grew from humble beginnings in inner cities into the successful industry it is today. Nothing is more American than that. I love feeling the roots of that artform in Harlem and Brooklyn and Queens. And I have to say, I love the roots we share as friends. It’s always a privilege to be on set with you guys as well as in a kitchen.

SC: Feel the same way, bro. Hey, Aarón, do you have room for a tattoo of the three of us?

AS: The truth is, I’m running out of paper, so to speak, Scotty. But I’m happy to reserve a special place for you, buddy! Just let me know. 

SC: My cue to say goodbye! See you guys soon!