Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

This is a food memoirs by an Ethiopian born, Swedish adopted and now American chef. I had not heard about Samuelsson before this memoirs. I think I picked this up because it I read some good things about it as a memoirs about food.

The book discusses not only food, but adoption, culture, soccer/football, and many countries including: Ethiopia, Sweden, Switzerland (it made me miss it!), Austria, New York City, France (I always miss it), time spent on a cruise ship, Ethiopia and more New York. I appreciate any book about travel and observing cultures. The author is a product of that in many ways so it was interesting to see his life over three continents and his journey as a top chef in America.

I did like the food moments and learning about little things from each food culture such as Swedish rustic cooking. I wanted to know more about Swedish pickling’s 1-2-3 method (Swedish vinegar, sugar, and water). I also liked the metaphor of fine dining as museum curation. Food as art that after consumed, you would see the world differently.

Like some chefs, Samuelsson fell into it after failing at being a football star and he admits he sometimes feels like a failed football more than anything. I don’t know if Gordon Ramsay has said that, but cooking was also his secondary choice after his failed football career. Ramsay is actually mentioned in this book. I have read a few things about Ramsay. I have watched and liked a lot of his British (not American) shows. I even just bought one of his cookbooks during my Boxing Day cookbook spree. I don’t find a lot of his food accessible (too fine, too limiting for my tastes), but I bought the one which had reviews for being accessible. I think he tries too hard with his persona, but I also think it’s somewhat admirable how driven he is about everything. There are a number of British chefs who have worked and been made by Ramsay. Two of the most prominent are women. In a boy’s club such as the restaurant kitchen, female chefs are rare especially those running one of Ramsay’s three star Michelin kitchens. Therefore, Ramsay is mostly in my good books. On the other hand, a lot of people have mentioned what a jerk he is and I don’t mean on TV, but behind the scenes. The jerk American persona is mostly played on his US shows. He has badmouthed a number of people, including the author of this book apparently. He’s allegedly a serial cheater. I also think he is arrogant sometimes, but so are a lot of TV chefs. Reading about how he screamed at Samuelsson and with a racist remark did give me pause.

I digressed a bit, but the book does discuss race and ethnicity a number of times. Fine dining is very much a man’s world and sadly, a white man’s world at that. It was intriguing to read in which Samuelsson tried to reach out to the Harlem community, employ women and not tolerate prejudice or abuse from his employees.

While the topics of the books were interesting and a couple of times, touching and candid, there was something about this book that I didn’t love. It had moments and I even felt sympathy for the author, but I didn’t fall in love with this book. It is not a must read, but a decent one if you like memoirs and biographies that feature food and chefs.

Read January 28-29th 2013.

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