A Book We Love: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
I believe that traveling is the hardest part of a sales rep’s job, and I think most of my colleagues would agree, but I think that the reasons they find it hard would be different from mine. Travel is difficult for me because I don’t have a kitchen. Cooking meals is very therapeutic for me and I genuinely miss all of the prep, clean up and satisfaction of making a meal when I am on the road. I’ve tried staying at hotels that offer kitchenettes in the room, but it just isn’t the same without my spices, my fancy knife and the rhythm you develop in your own kitchen. To help combat this need for fresh-cooked food I’ve become a reader of anything food related: Food & Wine magazine, blogs too numerous to mention and every chef bio I can get my hands on. (I watch all the food competition shows, too – anyone else watching The Next Food Network Star?) As soon as I heard that Marcus Samuelsson had a biography being published, I started scouring bookstore back offices for a galley (yes, it is a Random House book and I could have just asked for one, but the thrill of the chase was part of the fun!). Eventually I found one (thank you Ivy Books!) and could barely wait to begin.
The first sentence of Yes, Chef reads: “I have never seen a picture of my mother.” When Marcus was just two years old in Ethiopia his mother and older sister contracted tuberculosis. His mother valiantly walked for days to get to a hospital, ultimately saving the children, but not herself. Luckily for Marcus and his sister a Swedish couple was willing to adopt them both, headless of race or nationality. These humble beginnings seem to haunt Chef Samuelsson and eventually lead him back to Ethiopia on a quest to find the family he never knew. But the family that raised him, that began his love of bold flavors and interesting combinations, remains the main focus. Without the support they lavished upon him, and the work ethic they taught him from a young age and the devotion that only a mother can show he wouldn’t be the roaring success that he is today.
Marcus Samuelsson always seems calm cool and collected whenever I’ve seen him cooking, speaking or judging competitions on television. His outward persona is one of ease and regality, but seemingly approachable at the same time. I am happy to report that his book is just as easy. The text flows, and I found myself looking at the acknowledgements long before I should have been to see if he had a “ghost writer” to thank – I didn’t give him nearly enough credit! From his harsh beginnings as an Ethiopian orphan, to his Swedish adoption, through his soccer playing years as a youngster, and into his burgeoning career as an executive chef no word is misplaced or unnecessary. Whether you are a fan of the underdog story, the happy ending or a foodie like myself, you will walk away from this book grinning from ear to ear.
If anyone wants to make a trip to Harlem to eat at Red Rooster let me know – I will happily make our reservations.