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Food + Drink

Marcus Samuelsson’s Global Smorgasbord

Star chef Marcus Samuelsson cooks up a new culinary adventure in Bermuda at the storied Fairmont Hamilton Princess. Colleen Clark joins him on the delicious journey

Marcus Samuelsson remembers the exact moment he decided to commit himself to a life in food. At his first big restaurant gig in Gothenburg, Sweden, the older chefs would sit around trading travel stories. “We’re in this blue collar, working class town, but the chefs there had traveled. I thought, ‘Wow, you can work in this field and see the world?’”

It should come as no surprise then that Samuelsson’s career reads like a culinary travelogue, from plying his trade on a cruise ship in order to see the Amazon, Panama, Brazil, Southeast Asia; to journeying through the top kitchens of France; teaching classes in his native Ethiopia; to opening nine restaurants between two continents. The latest stop? A summerlong pop-up at Bermuda’s storied Fairmont Hamilton Princess.

Samuelsson insisted on opening a temporary eatery ahead of a more permanent establishment so that he could immerse himself in the community, the flavors of Bermuda, the past and present of the island. “We want to create a magical place, to balance the area’s music, art, culture, people and food. It’s not meant to be a postcard, but a very real experience,” Samuelsson says.

He’s off to a good start, from the staff uniforms—an island-by-way-of-Harlem take on the famous Bermuda short look—to the décor, which mixes vintage travel posters with stay-awhile leather sofas, nautical nods with mismatched Scandinavian-inspired chairs. And then there’s the food. The menu is pure Samuelsson, telling the story of the locale through his globetrotting lens of influences. Bermudan fish chowder gets transformed into featherlight croquettes, the traditional rum condiment mixed into an aioli dipper. And the island’s classic dark and stormy? It’s frozen into a potent sorbet.

Samuelsson’s restaurant philosophy is ideally suited to a hotel setting. “Of all the things that you could have done in a night, you came to us and we want to celebrate that.” And HP feels like a celebration, staff dishing on their favorite beach bars, dancing to the reggae soundtrack while clearing tables. It feels personal and intimate in a way that few resort restaurants manage to feel.

No matter where Samuelsson roams, his food always feel like home.

Photo by April Ellis

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Most memorable travel meal

“Tokyo at a blowfish restaurant. I was 19 and had saved up for a long time in order to eat there. There were seven courses of blowfish, from shasimi to sushi to tempura to the bone soup at the end. It represented the totality of what you can do with blowfish, a skill level, a commitment. I thought ‘Wow, this is going to be my life. And wow, I know nothing. I have so much to learn.’”

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On eating French food in Paris

“It was as if you’d only heard bad wedding bands your whole life, and then you hear Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix for the first time. That was going to France for me. French food was cooked all over Europe but it was copy-paste French food—the Swedish version of French food, the Spanish version of French food. Then I got to go see French food cooked by French chefs for French people. It was like hearing something original for the first time.”

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On cooking at the Fairmont

“The Hamilton Princess has always been magical, just like Harlem [home to his restaurant Red Rooster]. When I heard of the history, who had stayed there, what had happened there. When the owners showed me their pride in the place, that was what got me interested. For me it’s about the people.”

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Best street food destination

“Singapore has this incredible mashup of different worlds—the Indian, the Chinese the Portuguese, the Arabs, it’s just delicious.”

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Best food market

“I’m biased but Merkato in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It’s the most magical market in the world, a city within a city where one million people live and work. You learn so much about foods that have been around for thousands and thousands of years. Today that is really unique, to find something that has been around for that long.”

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Best food souvenir

“I always buy hot sauces wherever I am. It’s a great window into that place—there are five cultures going on here and you can see them all in a hot sauce.”

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On hotel food

“Hotel food can be so much about tradition. Things that would be too fancy in a freestanding restaurant can make sense in a hotel. Tray service if you do it in a fun way, has a place. Afternoon tea. Breakfast. These are meals that you experience in a different way when you’re in a hotel because there’s that luxury of time.”

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Best destination to party in

“Iceland is pretty incredible. There’s something about the light there—what happens when you have so little light and then when you have so much light in a day. It intensifies the moment. Also, Bahia in Brazil. It’s so inclusive, everyone is part of every party, from 9 to 90. And if you’re not celebrating, you should leave”

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Favorite childhood travel memory

“We spent summers in a small fishing village—you had to go out in the morning and fish, spend your afternoons cleaning the fish, smoking it, selling it, cooking it. There was never this idea, ‘Today we’re going to cook.’ It was just a part of every day’s vocabulary. And it was a family affair.”