Not My Job: Chef Marcus Samuelsson Gets Quizzed On Muppets
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we ask somebody who can do one thing really well to try doing something else. It's called Not My Job. Marcus Samuelsson may not be the only James Beard Award-winning chef born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, but he's probably the only one of those guys to then move to Harlem and open a soul food restaurant.
MARCUS SAMUELSSON: Yes.
SAGAL: His new cookbook based on that restaurant, "Red Rooster," is out now. Marcus Samuelsson, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: So, Chef, you have a - you have an origin story worthy of a superhero. You were born in Ethiopia but were adopted by a Swedish couple, right?
SAMUELSSON: Yeah, no, I'm just, like, the average Swede living in Harlem, slightly shorter and slightly a little bit darker.
SAMUELSSON: But yeah, no, yeah, I was born in Ethiopia, like every Swede, and was raised in Gothenburg.
SAGAL: And first of all, how old were you when you went from Ethiopia to Sweden?
SAMUELSSON: I was really just 2, 2 and a half years old.
SAGAL: Right, so you were 2...
SAMUELSSON: So I - no memories.
SAGAL: So you really - you weren't old enough to go, what the hell is this stuff?
SAMUELSSON: No, but I still acknowledged pretty early that I went from the warmest country in the world to the coldest country.
SAMUELSSON: So I'm sure in December I probably said that, you know, a couple of times.
SAGAL: So you grew up learning to cook, we've read, from your grandmother, she was the chef?
SAMUELSSON: Yeah, Helga. Helga was the one who taught me how to cook meatballs, mackerel, herring, all those Swedish goodies that you guys know about.
SAGAL: Yeah. Mainly we know about them when we get tired at Ikea, but that's...
SAMUELSSON: Exactly (laughter). Exactly. You're right.
SAGAL: Well, I wanted to ask you, because I've spent a little bit of time in high-end kitchens, they're very intense, right?
SAMUELSSON: Very intense, absolutely. But I think it's even more stressful to be on your show. But there aren't (unintelligible).
SAMUELSSON: There are similarities.
SAGAL: Well, but, I mean, if you're - my understanding is if you're a young chef, if you're trying to make it in the very high-end restaurant business, you're working 20-hour days, you're making no money, you're slaving over stoves, like, all day. And did you enjoy that?
SAMUELSSON: I - you know, the thing is, yes, I did, you know? But I got most of that training from France or Switzerland, even when I was in Japan. To come into the states and doing it and, like, at least people were speaking English and I was speaking Swinglish (ph), so it wasn't that hard.
SAGAL: Ethiopia, Sweden and then training in France and Germany and Japan, was there anything about American food that just surprised you when you finally got here? They eat that?
SAMUELSSON: The burgers were bigger.
SAMUELSSON: They were really big, yeah. You know, like, for a non - you know, for a non-American, like, burgers represent more than just what it is. It's really a way of life, you know what I mean? Like, all (unintelligible)...
SAGAL: (Laughter) Oh, yeah.
SAMUELSSON: Are like - were, like, knife and fork. Burgers, you eat with your hands, it's greasy and you feel good about it.
SAGAL: That's true. You cooked - if I'm not mistaken - you cooked - you prepared the meal for President Obama's very first state dinner back in 2009.
SAMUELSSON: Yes, I did. It was a tremendous honor to do his very first - and him and the first lady - very first state dinner. It was a lot of fun.
SAGAL: Now we noticed that in your book, "Red Rooster," about your restaurant in Harlem, which we'll get to in a second, there is a picture of what looks like, you know, your kitchen pantry.
SAGAL: And there are two bottles. One says Barack Obama and one says Michelle Obama, and there's some liquid inside. Did you steal their essences? What is that?
SAMUELSSON: (Laughter) I didn't steal. I wouldn't to go that far. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I would say, you know, in Harlem, people sell perfume all the time. That's a perfume. So those are actually vendors from the perfume guys on the street. They sell Tupac perfume. They probably, at this point, even are selling Donald Trump perfume, but it's not selling that well in Harlem, but...
SAMUELSSON: But it's all kinds of essences they have.
SAGAL: Now, I understand that the president came and visited the restaurant, right?
SAMUELSSON: He did. He was - you know, both Bill Clinton and Mr. Obama and Hillary and a lot of them have come to the restaurant. So, yes, several potential presidents and several current and former - past.
SAGAL: So you - and I'm sure, based on your record so far, you expect Mr. Trump any day now.
SAMUELSSON: Yep, yep, exactly. I will - I think I will be in London that day...
SAGAL: I see.
SAGAL: I have a question though. When the president of the United States is eating at your restaurant, do they have some guy who, like, comes and tastes the food? Do they get, like...
SAMUELSSON: Yeah, they have it - there's more than some guy, but they have a whole team, absolutely. Yeah, it's a whole thing.
SAGAL: It's a whole thing. They come back and they make sure they watch you making the food and all that?
SAMUELSSON: Yeah, absolutely.
PETER GROSZ: They get really critical, like...
SAMUELSSON: And then...
GROSZ: ...Oh, there's too much salt in that.
SAMUELSSON: They also have alternative schedules because a lot of stuff, you know, will happen. So you don't even know that they - they're coming or not because, you know, there's a lot of stuff that can go down that's way bigger than, you know, dining in our restaurant. I would like to say it's the biggest thing in the world, but it's obviously bigger than that.
LUKE BURBANK: But I guess if you have, like, seven guys in suits with dark sunglasses ordering the hominy on a Tuesday morning, that's an indication the president might be coming through later.
SAMUELSSON: Or it could be the perfume guy just checking.
SAGAL: Yeah, I know.
SAMUELSSON: You never know.
SAGAL: You never know.
SAMUELSSON: I never figured that one out.
SAGAL: Well, Marcus Samuelsson, what a pleasure to talk to you. We have asked you here today to play a game that this time we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Flurga, Blurga, Huerda (ph).
SAMUELSSON: Oh, my God.
SAGAL: So you...
GROSZ: You probably just...
SAGAL: That was an imitation of the classic Muppet character, the Swedish Chef...
SAMUELSSON: Yeah. Oh, my gosh.
SAGAL: ...Done by someone who I'm guessing has never actually seen "The Muppets." But nonetheless, the idea is you, of course, are an actual Swedish chef, so we figured you would be really tired of being asked about the Muppet character the Swedish Chef. You know this character, right?
SAMUELSSON: I do. At this point, I thought we should at least be distant cousins.
SAGAL: You'd think. So we're not - but you'll be happy to know, we are not going to ask you about the Swedish Chef Muppet.
SAMUELSSON: Thank you. Thank you.
SAGAL: We're going to ask you about other Muppets.
SAMUELSSON: Oh, no, no.
SAGAL: Answer 2 out of 3 questions about the Muppets correctly, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail.
SAMUELSSON: Oh, my God. I'm losing already.
SAGAL: Bill, who is Chef Samuelsson playing for?
KURTIS: Daniel Redding of Portland, Maine.
SAMUELSSON: Oh, my God. Daniel, I apologize already.
SAGAL: All right, here's your first question. The Muppets have some very serious fans, you wouldn't be surprised, but which of these is a real Muppet fan? A - a Cleveland man who had his entire body tattooed bright red and changed his name to Elmo; B - a man who, in 1996 in New Zealand, held a radio DJ hostage and demanded he play "The Rainbow Connection" over and over for 12 hours; or C - a presidential candidate so unhealthily obsessed with one particular Muppet he calls almost every woman he meets Miss Piggy.
SAMUELSSON: OK, I know the correct answer is B, but the better answer is C.
SAGAL: C. So you're going to pick C out of just a sense of that's what it should be.
SAMUELSSON: Yeah, that's what it should be. Exactly.
SAGAL: There is that guy, but we were actually thinking about the man in New Zealand with the DJ that - and you'll be happy to know - or the people of New Zealand will be relieved to find out - that the police raided the station and apprehended the guy before the Rainbow Connection-a-thon (ph) began. All right, you still have two more chances, not a problem.
The Muppets went to England in the mid-'70s to start what became "The Muppet Show," but that was not the original title. What was the original title of what became "The Muppet Show?" Was it A - "The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence;" B - "The Muppet Puppet Hip-Hop Hoop-Up;" or C - "The Muppets: Nothing From the Waist Down?"
SAMUELSSON: C again.
SAGAL: You're going to go for the C, "Muppets: Nothing From the Waist Down."
SAMUELSSON: Yes, I'm sticking to that.
SAGAL: All right, it was actually "The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence." It's true. That was - it was a joke 'cause, like, oh, you remember the Muppets on "Sesame Street?" Now we're doing sex and violence. Well, they quickly shortened it.
SAMUELSSON: Wow. That's probably where Brexit originated, was that. That was the turning point.
SAGAL: That's when the European Union began falling apart.
SAGAL: Chef, you have one last question. "The Muppets" really recently made a comeback with a big hit movie in 2011, but not everybody was happy with it. One parent's guide warns that mom and dads may be exposing their children, if they take them to see this Muppet movie, to what? A - quote, "a scene where a male Muppet kisses a chicken Muppet;" B - quote, "interspecies sexual relations between frog and pig;" or C - quote, "Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's left wing climate change agenda.
SAMUELSSON: I got to go with B on this one. It's too good.
SAGAL: You - believe it or not, the male Muppet kissing a chicken.
SAMUELSSON: But that happened all the time.
SAGAL: The concerned parents of America thought that that would be a dangerous thing.
SAMUELSSON: I love it.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Chef Marcus Samuelsson do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Well, Chef, you owe everyone in this audience a free meal.
KURTIS: And we'll be there to collect.
SAGAL: Marcus Samuelsson has a new cookbook out. It's called "The Red Rooster Cookbook." It is amazing. I highly recommend it, whether you cook or not. Chef Marcus Samuelsson, thank you so much for being on our show. What a pleasure to talk to you.
SAMUELSSON: Thank you so much for having me on, guys. (Unintelligible).
SAGAL: Bye-bye, now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MUPPET SHOW THEME")
SAGAL: In just a minute, something is fishy in our Listener Limerick Challenge game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.