Top Chef's Marcus Samuelsson: From kitchen to pitch

NEW YORK — Restaurateur and chef Marcus Samuelsson is known for many things: James Beard awards, bestselling cookbooks, TV appearances and, of course, the herring plate at Aquavit, the legendary New York restaurant where he first made his name.

But in the Big Apple, he's also known for his love of soccer. He frequently shows up at fields around the city, and happily expresses his devotion of the beautiful game.

So when MLS W.O.R.K.S and the US Soccer Foundation unveiled a new, FieldTurf pitch for year-round use by FC Harlem near his home in Harlem on Monday, the renowned chef made a point to show his support.

“Anything in Harlem that is positive I get behind,” said Samuelsson, who helped open the new field in Riverbank State Park with MLS commissioner Don Garber, USSF president Ed Foster-Simeon and Red Bull New York’s Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez.

The former Iron Chef America judge and winner of 2010’s Top Chef Masters attributes much of his success, which includes owning such vaunted restaurants as Red Rooster in Harlem and C-House in Chicago, to his background playing soccer.

“I’ve always been a soccer fan all my life,” said Samuelsson. “So much of what I know of running my restaurants and being a chef comes from what I learned on the soccer pitch. Being positive, knowing when to move into space, listening to your coach and never giving up are in the DNA of soccer and that’s also what you need in the kitchen.”

Appropriately enough, Samuelsson likes to command the midfield when he’s not running the kitchen.

“I love playing and I like to be in the midfield," he said. "I just run up and down, up and down. I don’t like to play on the wing, I prefer to play in the center and pull the strings, you know?”

He also has a few tips for those looking to eat right after a match.

“Postgame, I suggest a good, whole-wheat pasta," he said. "Whole wheat is key; you should try not to eat just white flour. You need a diverse diet and to make sure you get your veggies in along with the protein. Also eat seasonally as much as you can.”

As for which club he claims as his, the Ethiopian born, Swedish-raised New Yorker opts for the locally grown product.

“We’ve been lucky enough to get out to see the Red Bulls. That’s my team right now, New York’s team.”