Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I only really knew Marcus Samuelsson from shows like Top Chef Masters, and vague references to a chef who was combining Swedish and African flavors in his cooking back when I was thinking about working towards being a chef myself. I didn't know much about him, but was interested in hearing his story.
I have to admit to being impressed. Marcus has always been incredibly driven. As a child, it was to be a soccer player, and when it turned out that he wasn't going to be big enough to cut it, he turned all that energy into cooking. He somehow knew when he needed to push more, to learn more, even from a young age, and his skill and persistence placed him in key restaurants from Sweden to Switzerland to Austria to the United States to France to cruise ships and back to New York, where he has recently opened his newest restaurant, Red Rooster.
Listening to the audiobook enhanced the story quite a bit for me. Sometimes he misreads the words, and it doesn't always flow. Still, what ends up happening is that it feels like he has pulled a chair up to your table to tell about his experiences. By the end, I was completely rooting for his success, as well as for anyone he'd be able to have an impact on. I found a warmth to him, a compassion even, that I wasn't expecting. His love of flavors and how they connect to a community's history inform his cooking, and I think his perspective is important to our culinary world.
I feel like I'm gushing. Chefs do tend to make me that way, but I think unless you've worked in a restaurant, and served 200 tables with a third degree burn, you can't really get it - how much you pour into it; how much it energizes you. For an alternate perspective, Eddie Huang from the Observer offers a much more critical eye. He focuses on the issue of race, but to be fare, Marcus is not born American, and has learned about race relations in the states only through his own experience. I wish Huang had instead looked at what he had to offer. I think he missed Chef Samuelsson's intentions with the Harlem restaurant. He never intended to recreate what Harlem already had, but to tie it into the wider culinary experience, and his own.