Marcus Samuelsson is no stranger to Houston. The Ethiopian-Swedish chef has visited Houston in years past, exploring the West African food scene in an episode of PBS’ No Passport Required. Now, he's returning to the Houston area this November, bringing Honeyland — what could be one of the largest food, music, and spirits festivals in the U.S. to explore and celebrate African American culture and creativity. In a recent interview, Eater Houston asked Samuelsson to dish on the festival food lineup, and why Houston, of all places — though certainly deserving — is the perfect destination for such an event.
We’ve heard so much about Honeyland. First, we’ve got to ask: why Houston?
Marcus Samuelsson: Houston is an incredible food city. It’s one of the most diverse in America, with the most restaurants. We wanted to have this festival where we knew hospitality was really great and diverse and celebrate the best expression of Black culture.
And why the name Honeyland?
Well, I think some of it has to do with Sugar Land and just the fact that it’s a great, catchy name. It’s fun, and I think it’s a name that says this festival, which will be in Houston, will be sticky, hot, and delicious.
Wait, does this mean Honeyland is here in the Houston area to stay? Or will it rotate around other U.S. cities?
Let us get through the first one [laughs]. We’re extremely proud of this collaboration — to be bringing the best of entertainment and the best of food, and hopefully, we can do it all again. But first, our goal is to throw a great music festival in November.
It’s been your job to plan and curate the food and culinary programming for Honeyland. What has been your criteria for picking culinary talent?
The team I’m working with has been amazing. There have been hundreds of people who have collaborated to deliver something special, and we feel that food and entertainment have been working together forever. Musicians have always come to our restaurants and supported chefs, and chefs, we’ve been a part of the music community, too. We go out often to see entertainment and performances.
What we also found is that a lot of entertainers are also in the food or wine space. Singer Mary J. Blige has her own wine. Podcast host Angela Yee has her own coffee shop. We thought that was an interesting space and wondered how can we combine that. We also knew we wanted local chefs and chefs from Texas like Houston’s Chris Williams on board so the festival could really showcase the best of Black expression. We also have Bun B and Tabitha Brown. We just wanted to combine music with great food in the great state of Texas.
Looking at the lineup, there’s an exciting selection of talent scheduled. What can Houstonians and festivalgoers expect? And how would you say this is different than other food or music festivals?
It will be a great time, a great weekend full of delicious food, and having fun going to stage-to-stage to see performances, but it’s also a place to learn — to discover a new mixologist or for entrepreneurs or people starting that food truck to learn. “How did Bun B start [Trill Burgers]?” for example. It’s a place to discover and learn what other people’s journeys into the food world were like. You might see something new that might inspire you. It’s also an opportunity and one of those very special times to gather with friends and to do it in a place like Houston, where there is great diversity and a history of great restaurants. I think a lot of festivals are great at food and a lot are great at music, but to do it with a focus on African American culture, that’s really unique.
What are you most excited about?
I’m very, very excited about Scarface and Mary J. Blige when it comes to music. Z-Ro’s going to be there! On the culinary side, we really put a lot of time to dig into the roots in Texas, so that’s exciting for us. I’m excited to hang out with some of my chef friends — I have a lot of friends coming with me. I’m excited to cook with Tiffany Derry.
What happens so often when we do those events, some of the most interesting things happen in the green room or behind the scenes when chefs get to reconnect and encourage each other that we can do this. In African American culture, food and hospitality have always been linked. Now, we can do it up out in the open with this festival. We still have a long way to go, but Honeyland is also a celebration of how far we’ve come.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.