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Yes, Chef: Book Review

September 9, 2012

Yes, Chef: A Memoir
Marcus Samuelsson
Random House, 336 Pages

I first encountered Marcus Samuelsson on Top Chef: Masters, which I was mostly watching to humor my friend Lisa, who was my houseguest at the time. And then, there was Marcus Samuelsson, a man whose culinary life encompassed Swedish tradition, African tradition, and a fondness for incorporating strong flavors from all over the world. All of which, I think he explained rather nicely. Food as heritage and food as cultural touchstone. I was hooked, and rooting for him to win. (And yes, I thought he was dreamy and handsome. Sometimes I’m shallow!)

And then I went to a cookbook signing he did uptown, decided the cookbook was far too expensive and involved for the likes of my humble and lazy kitchen. I found myself face to face with him, within speaking distance, and could just about manage to squeak before I scampered away. Bit awestruck.

All of which is to say that I knew I was going to love this book, and find it fascinating. And I did. I love a foodie memoir, anyway. I was fascinated by the way Samuelsson’s life spanned cultures. Being adopted by an older Swedish couple meant a fortunate childhood, somewhat smoothing over a few racially charged moments. Proving himself as a chef, learning Swedish and French cuisine. I’d had no idea how race played out in professional kitchens, or among the culture of chefs.

And then the story turns to New York, where Samuelsson writes a little giddily, a little dazzled by all the cultures and food possibilities to experiment with. He has a good way with describing the physical, of tastes and colors, and the day to day chef experience.

A good read, and hit my sweet spots of chef memoir and thoughtful exploration of food culture. I think I’d like to go up to Red Rooster some afternoon and see what they’re about. (If I can get in!)

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