Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson with Veronica Chambers
I don’t generally like celebrity biographies or memoirs, but Yes, Chef is why I can be persuaded to keep trying them: it was definitely worth reading!
A heads-up though, if you only like reading memoirs by people if you can admire everything about them, this probably isn’t the one for you. Samuelsson is highly ambitious, and writes bluntly about the sacrifices he made and continues to make in pursuit of his professional goals.
What becomes harder to read about is when the sacrifices aren’t just his: his parents pay for his ambitions, but so does a girlfriend who didn’t fit in with his goals, and most especially his daughter, product of a one-night stand, whom he doesn’t meet until she’s a teenager. He wasn’t even going to pay child support until his mother insisted that yes, he was. I appreciate his honesty in admitting these less-admirable moments, but I found myself feeling so sorry for his daughter.
That said, I still found his story fascinating – born in Ethiopia, adopted by a Swedish family, now an American citizen and celebrity chef. His story is very unique, and I loved hearing about how he developed as a chef and restaurateur. It also made me wish I could taste some of the dishes and meals he described – many of the flavors he discusses aren’t ones I’m familiar with, and I had no frame of reference for imagining what they’d be like.
Recommended, with some cautions if you’re super sensitive to language. If you’re at all familiar with the language used in professional kitchens you’ll know what I mean. And if you don’t like reading a lot about food, this isn’t the book for you – it plays a significant role in his story and is featured prominently.
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.
Yes, Chef chronicles Samuelsson’s journey, from his grandmother’s kitchen to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of chasing flavors had only just begun—in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs, and, most important, the opening of Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fulfilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, and bus drivers. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.
Title: Yes, Chef: A Memoir
Author: Marcus Samuelsson with Veronica Chambers
Category: Nonfiction / Memoir
My Rating: 4 Stars
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!