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Chef Marcus Samuelsson Cooks Up Style: Closed Set with Julie Bensman

Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus SamuelssonPardon the cliché reference, but I’m sure you recall the Sex and the City opening credits where a bus zooms by proclaiming, "Carrie Bradshaw knows good sex" (and splashing her with dirty NYC rainwater in the process). New York is full of experts and innovators, like the fictional Ms. Bradshaw, but when it comes to food and the way people experience it, no one deserves an MTA M16 homage more than Chef Marcus Samuelsson.

  • "Marcus Samuelsson knows good food."
  • Or, "Marcus Samuelsson knows good television."
  • Or perhaps, "Marcus Samuelsson knows good people, places, and things."

The chef/restaurateur/Top Chef Masters winner/Food Republic co-founder/model (check out a shoot we did together in last year’s summer issue of Gotham) renaissance man cannot be confined to one occupation. So why should we be surprised that he’s added designer to his backslash label list?

  • "Marcus Samuelsson knows good style."

Much better, I thought to myself, sitting in on one of Samuelsson’s design session with MOZO shoes last week. Chef invited me up to his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster to observe a brainstorm session for the second iteration of his Chef Signature Shoe, to debut nationally next Fall 2012.

"Growing up, all my clothes were pass downs or, if I saw Levi's jeans in a store, my grandma would say 'I can make that,'" Samuelsson recalled with a smirk. "But sneakers…those, my friends, were the checkmate. We HAD to buy them so I really got into it." The man who once only had hand-me-downs now donned a pair of houndstooth trousers, plaid newsboy cap, and green/pink/orange tribal print scarf. He hovered over the design table with furrowed brow, contemplating whether the shoe should have Chuck Taylor-style bottoms or a gusseted tongue upper (technical terms I picked up while moonlighting as sous-designer).

The table spoke about traditional work shoes that had crossed over to mainstream consciousness — and closets — specifically, Timberlands and Doc Martens. That's the collective dream with Marcus' kitchen shoe: origins in the back-of-the-house, but with a style that translates to the masses. With a chef so often crossing over to front-of-the-house (or front of the camera), who better to collaborate with than the Top Chef Masters winner, himself?

"The DNA should come from the kitchen, but not be so literal," Samuelsson told the MOZO design team. He cited a cast iron pan as inspiration: the ruggedness, the shine, a black on black on black aesthetic that could tell the story with texture.

The process is far from being over. More design sessions will ensue, production will begin, marketing will be planned, and distribution will be plotted, but one can bet Marcus will be highly involved all the while.

"Sneakers are ageless," he says. "They have a young spirit."

Touché. While Marcus clearly has the energy to walk the walk, but I'm just fine taking his bus.


Photo Credit: Donnie Miller