Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson is well known for his many accomplishments and awards. The creator of several restaurants around the world, he is also a TV personality and author. Even with his own remarkable achievements, he is sure to always give credit to the Black culinary pioneers who have inspired and paved the way for him and other contemporary chefs. He has extensively highlighted Black restaurateurs over the years, and he continues that same mission in the new Audible Original series Seat at the Table, which he co-hosts with Jonathan Waxman.

In the podcast, the duo goes behind the scenes to explore some of America’s most iconic restaurants, speaking with the chefs and diners who brought the eateries to life. The first episode of the series centers around Alberta Wright and her groundbreaking Hell’s Kitchen restaurant, Jezebel.

Opened in the mid-1980s, Wright was the epitome of a successful self-made entrepreneur. Without a business plan, financial backers, or marketing, she launched what would later be known as the best low-country restaurant in New York City. Jezebel was a hotspot for Black celebrities like Arthur Ashe, Vanessa Williams, Magic Johnson, and others who flocked there to experience the amazing food and one-of-a-kind ambiance.

“Jezebel was a who’s who on any night of the week,” Chef Marcus Samuelsson told EBONY. “You had actors, painters, poets, singers, really everyone under the sun. It would make walking into the room feel like going to the best dinner party of the century. It had that perfect mix of feeling like a secret club you stumbled into and like she had been waiting for you to walk in all along.”

The high level of attention to detail that Wright showed patrons was just one of the ways in which she cultivated a warm and welcoming atmosphere that kept A-listers coming back. This helped the restaurant become a cultural hub, and a shining example in hospitality for the next generation of Black restaurateurs, including Samuelsson.

“She was an absolute legend and trailblazer. Alberta had this incredible eye. She always remembered every detail about what you liked, asking about your family, noting where you wanted to sit. It was a master class for me on every level in learning what it is to be a restaurateur. She created an atmosphere where everybody wanted to be, and it became a central gathering place for Black leaders, creatives, and the community in general. That really stuck with me, especially when it came time to open Red Rooster in Harlem.”

Opened decades apart, Samuelsson notes that without Wright and her contributions, he would not have been able to open his iconic Red Rooster restaurant. In addition to Jezebel, Seat at the Table also highlights iconic Black-owned eateries Ben's Chili Bowl and Dooky Chase, both also serving as inspiration for the chef and his establishments.

“Every step forward, new restaurant, new frontier in food, is thanks to all those who came before you and the community you are a part of and what you are creating collectively," he said. "I could not be where I am today without the work and inspiration of luminaries like Leah Chase and Edna Lewis.”

Chef Marcus Samuelsson is so passionate about celebrating Black culinary pioneers, he wrote a whole book about them: The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food. In it, he discusses how although Black authorship has been consistently erased from the story of American food, Black cooks and creators have led American culture forward with contributions of artistry and ingenuity from the start.

Today, amazing Black-owned restaurants can be found all over the country. A few that Samuelsson enjoys are The Grey in Savannah, Emmer & Rye in Austin, Kann in Portland, Amaris Jones’ Chick'n Jones in Miami, Erick Williams’ Virtue in Chicago, and his own Red Rooster Overtown in Miami.

“Black excellence in the culinary world is all around us. I think the common ground is perseverance. Restaurant life is exhausting, it’s a daily grind to do better, get better, adjust, adapt, repeat. These restaurants that endure all share that relentless commitment. However, our journeys are not monolithic, our stories are highly layered. That’s why it’s so essential to tap into the lineage that brought you to this day. Seat at the Table has been an incredible opportunity to dig into what makes a restaurant iconic, how its influence and place in people’s hearts lasts far beyond the moment of the meal.”