Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson
Release date: 2012 / 336 pages
Synopsis(from Amazon): It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother’s house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations.
Review: I was quite excited when I heard Samuelsson’s memoir was soon to be released for many reasons. First, I love reading memoirs in general. As I get older, I find myself drawn less and less to fiction — my first love — and more to nonfiction. However, memoir may be filling the void of fiction since it tends to be a narrative-driven genre, and I love experiencing how others choose or are forced to spend their time on earth. Second, I seem to have the heart of a “foodie,” if not the skill-set or drive. I’ve watched Samuelsson on the Food Network and Top Chef for years and was especially fascinated since his features are so clearly Ethiopian, so similar my two beautiful, beloved nieces. I was particularly interested in his adoption story since I have had the privilege to visit his birth country and am so blessedly a part of my nieces’ own adoption stories.
Regarding the last item of interest, Yes, Chef begins with Samuelsson’s sister’s memories of their birth mother and country (Marcus was only three when she died) and those first few pages are beautifully written and poignantly honor this woman who gave him life and whose premature death lead to the life he has subsequently lead. He does not return to his Ethiopian roots for another 200 pages, but the homecoming is so integral, it is well worth the wait. In the interim, we learn about his childhood in Sweden, his love of food from his grandmother, how he navigated an issue like “race” in a Scandinavian country and the formative people and events in his life.
But the driving force of Yes, Chef is flavor. Food is truly Samuelsson’s passion — specifically, “chasing flavors” — which he follows around the world until he eventually finds his true home in Harlem where he can combine flavors to his heart and his customers’ stomachs’ content. Yes, Chef provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek of what shows like Top Chef only hint at — the grueling hours and staggering competition, the charismatic personalities and rigid hierarchy that is the basis of modern cuisine today.
At the end of this memoir, I had a greater appreciation of what is involved in a truly elevating dining experience as well as the turns of fate and the power of ambition/hard work that can result in a life well-lived. I recommend this memoir especially to “foodies” or aspiring chefs.
Interested in winning a copy? Drop me a comment below!