Yes, Chef, Marcus Samuelsson
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.
Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister—all battling tuberculosis—walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Göteborg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus’s new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up.
Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of “chasing flavors,” as he calls it, 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 the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fulfilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.
With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens up about his failures—the price of ambition, in human terms—and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet the father he never knew. Yes, Chef is a tale of personal discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors—one man’s struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen, and in the world.
That is a serious blurb for one book.
Autobiographies are a funny category to me. I find them fascinating, but also so irritating when I’m reading how self-congratulatory the subjects can be. I guess, if its your own book about your life you’re allowed to brag, but have a little humility please! I like how Samuelsson comes across on television, but to an extent this was his description of being the best and most ambitious chef ever.
I have not seen Samuelsson’s season of Top Chef Masters, but I do enjoy him on Chopped so I was curious to read his story. It was quite a journey from his birth in Ethiopia to his adoption in Sweden with his sister and then his travels as a chef. I hadn’t given much thought to issues of race in the culinary world or in the celebrity chef scene and I was glad to read his experiences and perspective. I think its always fascinating to read stories of immigrants to America and Samuelsson’s story was interesting because he has made so many stops in between Sweden and New York.
I’ve never worked in a restaurant in any capacity, so I enjoyed the descriptions from his cooking school to the fine kitchens Samuelsson has worked in. I particularly laughed at his calling out of Gordon Ramsey for being a pretentious jerk! This book definitely made me hungry as I was reading it! I liked reading Samuelsson describing as he tried to come up with his first signature dish at Aquavit. As I was reading this I was excited for Samuelsson to hit it big-even though I knew he already had. He seems reasonably honest about his missteps in life-as a father (he was basically a sperm donor until his daughter turned 14) and as a chef even if they were glossed over as part of his larger story. I would have liked to read more about how he has experienced Ethiopia as an adult and with his wife having the experiences of an immigrant, but I can also understand keeping that part of his life more private.
Read this with snacks on hand!