On A Roll With Reviews: Yes, Chef By Marcus Samelsson

20 09 2012

More than a month ago in this post, I promised to review Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson.  I had completed the book and was excited to share my brilliant insights thoughts.  Then PJ broke her arm and that threw my schedule off.  Two days ago she got her cast off, I think that means I can probably get back to the post.

The real question those of you who haven’t read the book yet but are fans of Samuelsson want to ask is, “Is the book as yummy as Marcus?”  The answer is unequivocally, yes.

The truth is, I was NOT a Samuelsson fan before I read the book.  I know to some of you that is simply blasphemy.  In reality, I didn’t know about him until he was on Top Chef Masters a few years back.  When I saw him on the show I recognized he was Ethiopian and did a quick google search.  And then I promptly laid the reputation of an entire nation that I love on his back (seems fair.)  I can’t even remember what he did on the show that bothered me, but it was enough to make me turn off Top Chef Masters and to write him off (being the forgiving sort that I am.)

Last year, when he held a fundraiser to provide famine relief, I took notice of him again most notably because people I respect, respect lust after him.  However, just recently, I also found out that I have a few friends, FRIENDS WITH CHILDREN FROM ETHIOPIA NONE-THE-LESS who do not know who Samuelsson is.  When an Ethiopian is famous around the world for something other than running, and when said Ethiopian looks like this…

Source: Mike Coppola/Getty Images North America

we should all know who he is.  But it is more than being Ethiopian.  How about the fact that he is a trans-racial adoptee who has won every major award in his chosen field?  Shouldn’t that get our attention?

Also, note-to-self, snap judgements based on a reality show probably are not the smartest way to go.

This summer, I put myself on the waiting list for his autobiography before it was officially released and had it in hand a few weeks later.

I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it.

In an effort to avoid, once again, a third grade book report format, please allow for a few bullet points.

  • Marcus was born in Ethiopia.
  • As a young child he and his biological sister were adopted by a white, Swedish family.
  • His grandmother taught him to cook and inspired his love for the culinary arts.
  • He paid his dues, or whatever it is called in the foodie world, in what seems to be both a typical and a somewhat extraordinary fashion.  Honestly, I know nothing about the journey most chefs take to make it to the top in fine-dining and found this aspect of the book fascinating.
  • He has returned to Ethiopia and established a relationship with his biological father, siblings and extended family members.
  • He won the second season of Top Chef Masters, has received many major culinary accolades and prepared a White House State Dinner.
  • Being adopted and being black played a role in every aspect of his life while simultaneously playing almost NO role in any aspect of his life.  And if that doesn’t make sense, I suggest you read not only Yes, Chef but also How To Be Black (which I reviewed here.)

Unlike most books I check out from the library How To Be Black, I returned this book to the library on time, which means I will not have any brilliant direct quotes in this post.  You will just have to trust that my interpretation is EXACTLY what Samuelsson was saying….

My favorite part of the book was at the end, where Samuelsson makes an attempt to sum up the role race has played in his life.  He acknowledges the labels OTHERS have given him… is he Black?  Ethiopian?  African-American? a Swede?  And he points out that these are LABELS OTHERS GIVE HIM.  Get it?  Labels from others don’t define him (us).  The fact that he has received so many different labels is proof that the label has more to do with time and place and probably most of all it has to do with the label-er, not the labeled.

If Saumelsson wasn’t so driven, hard-working and successful, I would give him the label of eye-candy.

I think you will enjoy this book.  And I really look forward to a time where my son is old enough to read Yes, Chef and see Samuelsson for the inspiration that he is.


*My version of WordPress will not allow me to use italics in the headline.  I actually know the book title should be italicized.




7 responses

20 09 2012

I’ve been meaning to do a review of this book too and you beat me to it – but your last bullet point is something that struck me about the book too, and that I really liked!

Now I have to go see if my library has How to Be Black…

20 09 2012
Semi-Feral Mama

If reviewing this book will get you writing again, I think you ought to do it.

20 09 2012


20 09 2012

You should also know that in the food world, no one has a bad word to say about Samelsson. And in the food world, everyone has something bad to say about everyone else … but Samelsson. He is one of those Julia Child-types beloved and respected by everyone.
Food is tough and, honestly, a pretty racist industry. It says a lot about Samelsson’s character and talent that he has been embraced by the industry, as well as by the people who actually eat his food. I have so much respect for this guy. And I, like most, dislike most people in the food industry (including my husband on alternating Thursdays.)

20 09 2012
Semi-Feral Mama

Have you or Gregg read it yet?

20 09 2012

You are making my parents’ Christmas shopping very easy this year. And I love that explained about about the title not being in italics in the headline. (Why, yes, I am a complete grammar nerd.)

22 09 2012

I’m waiting for this book at the library. He is absolutely delicious in every way!

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