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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 75 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 24. 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 importantly, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem.
At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By loix on 06-27-12
A fun and inspiring civics lesson
I initially chose this book expecting to read a few good stories about food and anecdotes about people in the industry. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the chef has pulled off the rare feat of infusing this account of his quest for flavors with compelling (but not preachy) lessons about life.
Chef Samuelsson's accent (mostly stress patterns and unorthodox pronunciation of certain words and groupings) takes a little getting used to, but his lovely voice, command of the various foreign languages mentioned in the book, and emotional connection to the story make the adjustment easier, and more importantly, are unlikely to be found in narrators for hire that quite a few long-time Audible listeners complain about.
This is *not* one of those memoirs that practically anyone with some measure of media exposure seems to be hacking out these days and whose content is probably not even worth the paper and ink that went into the production of the physical volume. The writing and the way Chef Samuelsson frame the narrative were excellent and reflected the same incredible focus that has earned him well-deserved accolades and success. I will let my fellow listeners get acquainted with the wonderful details of the story, especially the chef's family, but I must express my admiration for their uncommon decency and work ethic.
33 of 33 people found this review helpful
By Cariola on 08-07-12
Much More than an Amuse Bouche
If you could sum up Yes, Chef in three words, what would they be?
Fascinating, moving, human.
What other book might you compare Yes, Chef to and why?
I don't usually read memoirs, but the only other one I've read is Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. There's no comparison.
What about Marcus Samuelsson’s performance did you like?
It was great to hear him read his own work and know when some of his revelations were working on his emotions.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
No--it wasn't "fast food" but rather a fine meal to be savored over time.
Any additional comments?
I don't usually read memoirs, but a recommendation from another LT reader convinced me to give this one a try--and I'm glad that I did. I knew the bare bones of Marcus Samuelsson's story--that he was adopted from Africa by a Swedish couple and worked his way up to become a top chef in America--and I had seen him on TV. But his memoir proves him to be both a dedicated chef and, as an author, a brutally honest man who examines his own mistakes unflinchingly.
Samuelsson doesn't remember much about Africa; he was less than two years old when his mother, who was suffering from tuberculosis, walked many miles to get treatment for him and his older sister. She died in the hospital, and the children were quickly adopted by a forty-ish Swedish couple. Most of his memories are of a loving home, and of the grandmother who first sparked his interest in food. But as might be expected, there were also times when it wasn't easy being a black boy in a small Swedish town.
Samuelsson's early years as rising as a chef were marked by absolute ambition, and he paid an emotional price. He missed the funerals of both his father and grandmother, and he neglected a daughter born out of wedlock until she was 14 (although his parents paid his child support--and billed him later--and kept in touch with Zoe). But there's no whining here: Samuelsson admits his mistakes and takes the blame for their repercussions. After he had achieved a good measure of success and had time to reflect on what was lost, it was too late to mend some fences. But Samuelsson worked to build a relationship with Zoe and with his newly-rediscovered Ethiopian family.
Samuelsson gives us a fascinating look into the world of elilte chefs, a world that is at one moment cutthroat and at the next takes the term "networking" to new heights. But Yes, Chef is more than a professional memoir; it's the very human story of a man I've come to respect.
19 of 19 people found this review helpful