On the Record With...Marcus Samuelsson

In addition to transforming the culinary scene in Harlem, this Top Chef Master’s most vital ingredient is his dedication to providing clean water to the most remote African villages.

Posted: 02/15/2014 12:00 AM EST

As an adoptee born in Ethiopia then raised in Sweden, I am someone who was helped through charity. I saw young girls have to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning in Ethiopia in order to walk for two hours, fetch water and then walk back to start their day. These are hours and hours of walking; there are a lot of things that can happen on those roads. I know from personal experience; my sister had to make that walk.

Now I try to protect and provide for those young girls, for those children. Because Ethiopia is land locked, access to clean water will always be a huge issue.

My wife and I founded the Three Goats Foundation, our goal is to work on access to water, education and food. We’re constantly moving those three needles around because sometimes you can’t drill for water, but you can build a school. Sometimes the village has a school but no food.

Whether I’m working with Three Goats or as an UNICEF ambassador, it’s not something where I simply sign a check and consider my contribution fulfilled. My work, and my wife’s work, sticks with us; it is rooted in us. Every time we go back to Ethiopia or travel to the places we’re helping, I am influenced and inspired. Each trip, each experience adds to my commitment to humanity. Giving back is a part of who I am. It is my North Star. Service is that star and the constant in my life.

Through my Harlem restaurants, Red Rooster and Ginny’s Supper Club, we’ve added a farmers market featuring fresh vegetables and we’re providing dining options that haven’t been available in the neighborhood before. My hope is to continue the growth of fresh food for Harlem to become a major dining destination. We can make a difference and we see the impact all the time.

In Ethiopia, my goal is to make sure that children have water. To not only provide that in the big cities, but to some of the hard to reach areas. We go to the border between Somalia and Ethiopia and create ways to provide water and resources to those areas because there are children there who desperately need our help. It is a long journey. It’s not one day and it’s over. It’s continuous and ever changing.

Marcus Samuelsson is the award-winning executive chef of Red Rooster Harlem and has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2000, working with the Tap Project, a nationwide campaign that provides clean water and sanitation to children around the world. His work with UNICEF corresponds with his own foundation, Three Goats, established with wife, Maya Haile, to improve living conditions for families in Ethiopia.

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(Photo: Earl Gibson III)

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