By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, Feb 13 (Reuters) - When you think of business travel, you might think of typical locations like London or New York City or Dubai.
But here is a unique idea to explore: Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa.
That is the favorite haunt of celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. While Samuelsson first shot to fame as executive chef of New York City staple Aquavit, today he heads up a family of restaurants that includes Red Rooster Harlem. And Samuelsson recently launched the restaurant Marcus Addis in the land of his birth.
For Reuters’ 48 Hours series, we recently spoke with Samuelsson, who showed us how to spend a couple of unforgettable days in Africa. The following interview is edited and condensed.
WHAT I LOVE MOST
Addis is such a vibrant city both day and night. You can see that the city is on a journey - you’re constantly being pulled between past, present and future. I especially love the balance between modern and traditional in the city’s style, architecture, music and more. You see historic marketplaces next to new skyscrapers.
There are so many young, local talents invested in the future of Addis who play off of this balance of new and old to create beautiful crafts. One of my favorite fashion designers, Mahlet Afework, has a shop called Mafi Mafi (Guinea Conakry St. & Jomo Kenyatta Ave.) where her designs are really elevating the Ethiopian fashion industry by blending traditional prints with modern style.
WHERE TO STAY
I like to stay at the Hyatt Regency (Meskel Square) because it’s clean and consistent. It’s close to everything that’s going on in Meskel Square and - of course - my restaurant.
BEST PLACE FOR TEAM MEETINGS
I always meet with the team at Marcus Addis. We’re a new restaurant and spending time in our space is so important at the beginning so we can get to know each other and our environment. I really believe the best hospitality starts internally, and that means creating a positive and warm working environment.
It’s also a great place to meet, so we can be in and out of the kitchen trying new dishes for our menu. And the amazing view doesn’t hurt - we’re on the 47th floor of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia Headquarters tower (Ras Desta Damtew St.)!
TOURIST TRAP THAT'S ACTUALLY WORTH IT
The National Palace (Yohanis St.) is a significant cultural institution that is definitely worth the trip. My wife and I hope to bring our children with us to Ethiopia soon, and we’ll definitely take them to Unity Park on the National Palace compound, which has a great zoo.
One of my favorite spots is the Addis Skatepark (Woreda 3 Youth Center), where the Ethiopian Girl Skaters meet every Saturday morning to show off their skills. Or - if you’re looking for a scenic day trip - the Wenchi Crater Lake (Lake Wonchi), which used to be an active volcano, is another beautiful place to experience nature.
IDEAL COFFEE SPOT
Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee, so experiencing the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a cultural must in Addis. Slowing down and experiencing the whole process from roasting to grinding to ultimately drinking is so different from how we all tend to grab a cup to take on the go – just for the caffeine kick.
Tomoca Coffee (Seychelles St.), Hadero Coffee (Jacros - Salite Mehret Rd.), and Dukamo Coffee (Mafi City Center Mall, Cameroon St,) all have delicious, high-quality coffee.
FAVORITE AREA TO SHOP
Shiro Meda is one of the best markets to explore and to see the process of creating hand-woven cotton clothes for women. We often don’t get to see the craftspeople behind the clothing we wear, so I think it’s a really enlightening shopping experience.
Tej is Ethiopian honey wine. There’s a spot called Yod Abyssinia (Bole Medhaniyalem Area) where you can enjoy tej alongside a great local meal and traditional dancing.
Another indulgence is a spa treatment at Kuriftu Entoto Resort and Spa (Entoto Park). It has beautiful mountain views, so it’s just a relaxing experience surrounded by nature.
BEST DINNER SPLURGE
The Oriental (Meskel Square) is a delicious Thai fusion restaurant. It has a beautiful view of the square and is a great special-occasion spot. And then I like to head to the Black Rose (Africa Avenue) Lounge to keep the night going. They have a huge cocktail list, amazing music and a consistently lively atmosphere.
I always like to go to Merkato (Dubai Tera building, Addis Ketema district), which is the largest open-air marketplace, on my last day to get inspiration for my New York restaurant, Hav & Mar. It draws a lot of inspiration from my Ethiopian roots.
I always end up filling my suitcase, but the two staples are coffee beans and spice blends for friends, family and my own pantry back home.
Opening our restaurant was an incredibly special experience for me and my wife. Our families came in from the surrounding villages to be with us for the opening celebration. It has been such a long time in the making. To be there with the team and the community, just taking it all in, was pretty surreal.
(Reporting by Chris Taylor Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis)
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