I’d heard tidbits about Marcus Samuelsson here and there; my cousin had an Aquavit cookbook in Montreal and I’ve seen his name pop up in a few of the blogs I read, but I didn’t really know anything about him.
When Yes, Chef, Samuelsson’s memoir, kept appearing on “must-read” food book lists, I figured it was time to find out more about him. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down.
Samuelsson takes a unique path to fine dining; he is orphaned in Ethiopia and eventually adopted by a Swedish couple. He starts cooking in Sweden using traditional French techniques, while longing to incorporate bolder, brighter flavors from all over the world.
The book delves into a Samuelsson’s journey from the bottom rungs of the professional kitchen ladder to the top, and how his work ethic and humility got him there. Sometimes professional success relies on shutting up and getting the work done, and not being an entrepreneurial go-getter who is constantly reaching for the next best thing.
I enjoyed how his career is interwoven with the story of his personal life, and the book talks as much about family and building relationships as it does about learning to cook amazing food. He talks about race too, and how being a black man in fine dining wasn’t always the easiest place to be. His reflections on the intersection of race and class and restaurants and the food systems are a fascinating, ground level look at issues that are so often talked about by high-level politicians or do-gooders.
Reading the book made me hungry – and I insisted we go out for Ethiopian food while I was in the middle of it. Reading Yes, Chef reminded me about the holistic eating experience; how food can be nourishment and flavor and family and love and hard work and humility all rolled into one delicious meal.