‘No Passport Required’ – Samuelsson brings understanding through cuisine
For Marcus Samuelsson, there is no better way to understand a culture than through its food. And that’s what he intends to bring to the – ahem – table in Season 2 of “No Passport Required.”
Opening its new season Monday, Jan. 20, on PBS (check local listings) after getting a preview last month, the new round of episodes brings the Ethiopian-born, Sweden-raised chef, restaurateur and author to cities across the U.S. to explore the rich diversity of immigrant traditions and cuisines woven into American food and culture.
Monday’s opener touches down in Los Angeles, home to the largest Armenian community outside the homeland. From there, Samuelsson heads to Houston, where West African expatriates have formed a sizable enclave; Philadelphia, where Italian Americans have thrived for generations; Las Vegas, home to a growing Chinese-American community; and Boston, where Portuguese-speaking cultures from Brazil, Cape Verde and Portugal have a presence.
“If you think about mainstream media today,” Samuelsson explained to a recent gathering of journalists in Beverly Hills, Calif., “there is this moment where a bunch of false narratives about immigrants are pushed out. So we wanted to create something that is – here’s another window in. Here’s a delicious way to learn about these incredible stories and people that love America, are Americans, and contribute every day. And so that shifts the dialogue a little bit … . The food is a great way to learn about ‘other.’ ”
One location that particularly piqued Samuelsson’s interest was Houston, where his focus was on the Nigerian community but also branched out to Senegalese and Ghanaian as well. There he met Jonny Rhodes, a chef and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who with his wife returned to his old neighborhood to open a restaurant.
“He was actually adopted into a Nigerian family,” Samuelsson says, “so his roots are both with Nigerian culture and African‑American culture, and his restaurant, Indigo, those cultures meet, and it’s fascinating to watch that and be part of that and see that and learn from that.
“So fufu, for example,” he continues, referring to an African staple made from dough. “I’m from Africa. I’m from Ethiopia. But fufu is mainly in East Africa, and not only do you eat it with your hand, but we’re also introducing something called ‘swallow,’ which is very common in the West African community. You dip the fufu into a stew, a fish stew, almost like a gumbo … that has bones, and you just have to swallow it. I’ve eaten all over the world, but that was foreign to me. And for me, being completely vulnerable and showing that, I just loved the episode. It was really good.”