Chef/restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson tends to explore the Chicago food scene about four times a year, yet he managed to discover some new favorites while filming his PBS series about immigrant culture and cuisine here.
“This was an opportunity to… learn something different about Chicago, and to do that through the lens of the Mexican-American community was really an eye-opening experience,” Samuelsson told the Tribune by phone.
“No Passport Required” follows Samuelsson — who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden — as he visits six U.S. cities with vibrant immigrant communities and observes their food traditions and contributions. The series premiered July 10.
The Chicago episode is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WTTW-Ch. 11 and online at pbs.org and eater.com. Samuelsson and Chicago artist Juan Angel Chavez discuss meat as a staple in Mexican cooking as they eat tacos de cecina and grilled nopales at La Barca Restaurant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. Samuelsson called that visit “one of the best taco experiences I’ve ever had.”
He talks Chicago’s reputation for gang violence with the rapper Towkio at Roost Carolina Kitchen’s West Town location. Chef Diana Davila, meanwhile, shows Samuelsson how to make mole verde at her Logan Square restaurant, Mi Tocaya Antojeria.
“That’s the whole idea, to visit places and things that are not on Michigan Avenue… because these are beautiful neighborhoods and beautiful experiences as well,” Samuelsson said. “We do that very often as Americans when we travel abroad and one of the goals of this — that’s why we call it ‘No Passport’ — is to (encourage people to) be just as curious when you travel in the country.”
Samuelsson makes tamales with Carlos Gaytan, a “Top Chef” alum and chef of the recently closed Mexique restaurant; and Atzimba Perez, founder and chef of Atzimba Catering and Events. He also meets the family behind Carnitas Uruapan in the Lower West Side community.
“Immigration is a hot topic at this moment, but it’s just not numbers. These are real people,” Samuelsson said. “And they work really, really hard to make the city better and add a lot of value. This false narrative that immigrants don’t work or we don’t add value, nothing could be further from the truth — nothing — and this is something that hopefully the show engages in that conversation.”