Chef Marcus Samuelsson Talks His New Series, ‘No Passport Required’

“It’s just a very weird moment,” chef Marcus Samuelsson said about the current political climate. But he’s hopeful: “We’re clumsy, but we’re gonna get on the right side. We will, we always do.” His new show can only help.

No Passport Required, a six-part series premiering July 10th on PBS, visits and explores the food culture of immigrant communities in “iconic American cities” (Detroit, New Orleans, New York, Chicago, Miami, and Washington, D.C.) in an effort to address false narratives about immigrants in the U.S. that have managed to persist. In so doing, it aims to demarginalize those whose cultures are overshadowed or misunderstood, one bite at a time.

This mission resonates on a personal level with Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden before immigrating to the United States. The acclaimed chef and owner of Harlem’s Red Rooster is the show’s host and executive producer. Hoping “to produce a really good show that feels inclusive,” Samuelsson admits he first “wanted to tell a story where the cities were characters in the episodes,” and then “to tell a hidden story that you might not know about.”

The series premiere focuses on Detroit and its suburb Dearborn, home to the highest concentration of Arab Americans outside of the Middle East. Samuelsson meets and eats with a variety of local artists, chefs, business owners, and families— all immigrants, who, like him, are both extremely proud of where they came from and also extremely proud of being American.

He recognizes the value of these immigrant communities in their ability to help members with the “culture shock that can exist in someplace new” upon moving to America, while simultaneously inviting viewers to celebrate aspects of their food culture alongside him. “I wanted…to show how beautiful America is.” And that he does.

The particular timeliness of the series isn’t lost on Samuelsson and his team, who highlight the power of food to bring people together, and intend to reiterate through their work the idea that cultural diversity is something to be acknowledged and recognized as a means of understanding. Though backgrounds may differ, our collective humanity connects us all. “Obsessed with the idea of home,” Samuelsson effectively manages to remind us that we’re all under the same proverbial roof.

Samuelsson began producing “No Passport Required” two years ago and, throughout its production, he regularly consulted with his friend Anthony Bourdain as an expert: “Tony was constantly in my ear, and I wrote to him and I thanked him and I asked him questions: ‘how do you deal with this and how do you deal with that?’ He was obviously one of the people that I wanted to make this show for. He inspired me…I love how and what Tony taught me, but also what he taught all of us about other cultures. We traveled the world through Tony, and he shared and he cared. And I learned how to be a better listener, and I learned how to share this gift that’s been given to me, and now I have to share it with other people. We dedicate this show to Tony.”

Though the series’ approach and structure differ from those same aspects of “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain’s most recent work, Samuelsson’s earnestness is as obvious as his mentor’s. Episodes of “No Passport Required” are similarly interspersed with unscripted conversations between cinematic slow-motion shots of food prep, history lessons, and sweeping views of the featured city’s landscape. Decked out in garb as vibrant as the cultures and cuisine his episodes showcase, Samuelsson introduces viewers to the traditions and values of often overlooked communities. Lest we forget that our country was founded by immigrants, Samuelsson hopes his show will serve as a reminder that “we all have the same story … we all share it, we’re all equally proud of where we come from.”

“No Passport Required” will air on Tuesday nights from 7/10 through 8/14. All episodes will also be streamed online, where viewers can access recipes to recreate featured dishes at home.

Skift Table contributor Ally Spier is a Brooklyn-based writer and designer who studied ergonomics at Cornell, and architecture at Pratt. Her background in design informs her love of food and travel… and vice versa.

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