Episode 5: Marcus Samuelsson- Show Notes

It’s February and Black History Month on Tangential Inspiration. Here’s what’s in Episode 5:

  • Do you ever wonder what baked goods have to do with the Civil Rights Movement? Well, wonder no longer, as Amy tells the tale of how pie sales helped fund the Civil Rights Movement, particularly raising money to help with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 00:27
  • Amy does a deep dive on celebrity chef, Marcus Samuelsson, who is highlighting the contribution of Black chefs and helping promote traditional Black cooking. 03:04
  • Teresa covers the heartwarming story of one human being connecting over the years with another, at a KFC of all places. 22:17
  • Total Episode Run-Time 26:25


In the 1950s the Civil Rights Movement was just getting going and starting to organize protests on a much grander scale. With a few exceptions, like Rosa Parks, it was mostly Black men who were the face of the movement. However, behind the scenes, it was Black women who were running the operations and supporting the organization. One of the ways they did this was through bake sales. Women would make baked goods, especially pies, and sell them to raise money to fund the Movement’s operations. On Martin Luther King, Jr. day in 2021, Chef Nadine Nelson celebrated by having a virtual event called “Peace through Pie.” Nelson says that this is based upon the movement in the 1950s led by Georgia Gilmore, who founded the “Club to Nowhere” which sold baked goods to fund the Civil Rights Movement. This group was an underground resistance group, because at the time, the police would have broken up the movement and maybe even arrested the participants for supporting the Civil Rights Movement, and in particular the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The funds raised by Gilmore were used to pay for alternative transportation for Blacks during the boycott since they could not use the bus to travel to work or run errands like grocery shopping. Chef Nelson is trying to keep this tradition of activism going by using cooking as a way to raise community awareness and advocacy through food. Nelson says “a lot of times I think people look at volunteering and think it’s something boring. But you should find what you love to do and volunteer that way.” Chef Nelson believes that cooking together overcomes generational gaps, is a great way to pass on traditions, can bring neighbors closer, and can help those less fortunate.

We also learn that Amy is not the chef in the house, but it is her husband who loves to cook. Amy’s deep dive is about Marcus Samuelsson, a fantastic chef in his own right, he is most widely known as a celebrity chef judge on the Food Network show “Chopped.” However, recently, Marcus has been in the news for his work on COVID-19 relief in New York. Having over 30 restaurants, Samuelsson had to shutter one of his restaurants in Harlem during COVID. He has been using that space to make meals for those in need. He partnered with World Central Kitchen to provide food to those hit hard by the pandemic, which also tend to be minority communities. Many of the meals go to essential workers who continue to work despite being on the front lines of the pandemic. Marcus and the World Central Kitchen have made over 250,000 meals to serve the community during the pandemic. Samuelsson’s background is an interesting tale, if not a bit sad. He was born in Ethiopia. Marcus, his mother, and his sister all contracted tuberculosis during an outbreak in Ethiopia. His mother walked 75 miles, carrying Marcus and his sister, to get to a hospital. His mother did not survive the disease. A few years later, civil war broke out in Ethiopia, and Marcus was separated from his father. He eventually was adopted by the Samuelssons, a Swedish couple, and brought back to a fishing village in Sweden around the age of 4. Marcus learned fishing from his adoptive father and cooking from his adoptive grandmother, Helga. Marcus worked in restaurants as a teen and later went to culinary school. He apprenticed with chefs in Europe before coming to America with only $300 in his pocket. Marcus got a job as a sous chef at the acclaimed Aquavit restaurant in New York, and following the unexpected death of the head chef, became the youngest executive chef at age 24. Marucs was also the youngest chef to receive a three-star review from the New York Times (a big deal) and in 2003 was named “Best Chef: New York City” by the James Beard Foundation. Marcus went on to open up a number of other restaurants across the county and tried to incorporate dishes that celebrated his Black heritage on many of his menus. Marcus spent 7 years studying Black history and the food and people of Harlem in order to open Red Rooster, his Harlem soul food venue. His recent cookbook, The Rise, celebrates Black cooks who have influenced American food. Marcus points out that Black cooking has been unrepresented in America, so his cookbook emphasizes the contributions and influences that Black cooking has made. His cookbook features contemporary Black chefs and their signature dishes. Samuelsson notes that Black cooking has arisen (thus the title of the cookbook) through adversity- from slavery to discrimination to blatant racism- recipes keep coming, tied to the Black experience. Marcus Samuelsson has also developed a fund, Black Businesses Matter, to which he has personally donated $250,000 towards supporting Black-owned businesses. This is in partnership with Uber, which donated $1 for every order made from a Black-owned restaurant during February. In 2009, Samuelsson was the guest chef to cook the State Dinner for President Obama, when Mr. Obama was hosting the Prime Minister of India. The meal was largely vegetarian and used many fresh vegetables from the White House garden. Samuelsson’s goal is to bring people together and create communities around food, music and people. People like Marcus Samuelsson who look to bring people together and overcome divisions between communities are to be celebrated. We need more Marcus Samuelssons.

Finally, Teresa tells us the story of how to other people connected over food, but this time at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Jason Schweitzer, who is 39, grew up going to his local KFC with his mother and had fond memories of these trips. Part of the experience was getting to know one of the regular workers at KFC. Over the years, Jason got to know Emilia, who started working for KFC in 1975 and has been employed there for 46 years. Emilia had always been nice to Jason and Jason enjoyed seeing Emilia when he stopped in with his mom. One day Jason was in KFC, when he saw Emilia (now age 70), being verbally berated by a customer who was angry about an overcharge. Jason was impressed how she stood there and took the abuse, and even told the irate customer to have a good day. He wondered how she could put up with this for so long, and began to think of how he could help her, particularly during COVID. He set up a GoFundMe for Emilia to help her with transportation and medical costs. In 5 days the GoFundMe donations totaled $21,000. For Emilia, this is a life-changing amount. It is amazing what can happen with someone sets out to help another person. You never know what great things can happen.

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