What kind of spirits do you buy when you travel? “Brown liquor is something I collect from every place I go. [There are] such interesting stories around it, whether you go to Tennessee or Barbados or Japan. If you pick up a pickle bottle and a liquor bottle from the place, it lets you see the kind of people they are.”
How many bottles do you have in your collection at home? “I don’t think I have more than 50 bottles. But it also becomes something you give away to someone and you trade. I do the same with pickles and I do the same very often with spices. It gives me a sense of locale.”
Are there any bottles in your collection that are off-limits? “I have this rule: If I have more than 40 people over, I bring some of the good juice down to the basement, especially with my soccer buddies because they have no clue. If it’s a party of five or six let’s keep all the good stuff up and out and talk about it.”
Is it sacrilege to add water or ice to Scotch? “I actually like adding just a little bit of water, so it opens up a tad. But I don’t want a lot because I love sipping it at room temp and then just having that tiny, tiny sip of water.”
Do you like to drink cocktails with meals? “I definitely think cocktails are appropriate for dinner. We have a restaurant in Stockholm, where we just focus on cocktails and dinner, called Tap Room. The whole idea is that we’re actually often lowering the alcohol amount in the cocktails and you can sip your way through a four-course meal.”
What was the first drink that blew your mind? “Seeing a cocktail bar in Japan changed everything. Looking at the craftsmanship. It was like, what the fuck are they doing? I’d never seen anything like that. Someone was shaving ice in front of me. To see the amount of seriousness that was put into a cocktail blew my mind.”
What is your perfect bar? “I think it’s very much based on the location. But I still love an OG like Angel’s Share. You can really taste the craftsmanship in a place like that. Then I love the afternoon drinking in my bar in the Red Rooster. Everyday it’s the post office worker or teacher next to the hipster. They’re sipping and talking. That level of seriousness is not there. It’s a level of community. I love, love those bars. The bartender really becomes your shrink, your friend. People just let themselves go. I love that.”
Are shots ever appropriate? “Yes. Shots are definitely appropriate. Shots for me very much have this energy of we did it, service was great today, we overcame this, or we opened this. We crushed it! Shots are the perfect thing. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Have the drinks you have at the end of a night changed? “Shots have gone down and sipping has gone up. The mouth can be the same, it’s just the hand movement is a little bit of a different pace. More age-appropriate, that’s all.”
Do you swear by a hangover cure? “My favorite, if I’ve gone out drinking, is always the same. My wife makes an incredible chicken stew dish. The leftovers of that chicken stew with over-easy eggs on a dark toast. It has the right amount of fat. You can sort of slowly come back to yourself. Then you start thinking about what happened last night.”
Any alcohol that you’ve sworn off? “We definitely retired the Fernet-Branca. I even know the moment I retired it. I was in San Francisco cooking and we had one of those nights. We had a lot of fun. It was crazy. And Fernet was the shot. The next day I was like, I’m done. I can’t. I can’t. I was sick on the plane back home. Fernet is definitely 86ed.”
Is there a perfect time for drinks? “If I’m on vacation and traveling, I love sipping a cocktail in the afternoon. By that time I’ve experienced the city and I just want to take it in. If I’m working, the later the better.”
Gin or vodka Martini? “I’m going to say gin. It also shows my years in Sweden were not that sophisticated! It’s something about the herbaceousness of gin that lends itself so well to a Dirty Martini.”
Marcus Samuelsson is the James Beard Award–winning chef at Harlem’s Red Rooster, in addition to running a constellation of other restaurants, bistros and bars around the world. He is the author of three books, including the bestseller Yes, Chef, and is behind Glenmorangie’s Dishes & Drams programs.
Interview has been condensed and edited.