Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review - Yes, Chef, Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, Chef: A Memoir


Marcus Samuelsson


Category: Nonfiction: Memoir: Food & Cooking; African-American; Living Abroad

Synopsis: Chef Samuelsson recounts his life as an Ethiopian orphan reared in Sweden, an apprentice in Europe, and a chef in America.

Date finished: 24 July 2013

Rating: ***½

I read this book because of peer pressure. Everyone’s been raving about it, and I’ve seen it everywhere. And I figured if that many people are excited about it, I must have missed something when I first checked it out and decided against it.

But I’m here to say I don’t get it. I don’t understand the hype. It’s not a bad book, not poorly written, not uninteresting, but I found it just sort of average. In culinary terms, it’s a simmer, not a boil.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out why this book missed the mark for me. I normally love a good memoir about displacement and the search for home, about chasing flavors (as Samuelsson calls it), about food, about different cultures and parts of the world. So why didn’t I like this one? I wonder if a lot of people reading this book don’t read a lot of memoirs, so it felt new and fresh to them. I can understand that. I tend not to read a lot of memoirs by men because they just don’t seem to resonate with me—could that be it?

I don’t know. Maybe it was as simple as not really liking the guy. He’s not a bad guy, and his book seemed honest enough, but there was something about him I just didn’t trust, I just didn’t buy. Seems judgmental, but there it is.

Or maybe it falls more squarely into the “celebrity” memoir category than I originally thought. Celebrity memoirs are generally only so good.

Lest you think I thought it was all bad, I’ll have you know that I really liked the peek into three-star restaurant kitchens. It was definitely eye-opening. I appreciated the talk of mixing food flavors, but was surprised that he doesn’t refer to this as “fusion” cooking—has this term been kicked to the curb? And I especially enjoyed the parts about his childhood in his grandmother’s kitchen.

I just felt something was missing, or maybe that something was overemphasized, and I was disappointed.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Maman’s Homesick Pie – Similar story to Samuelsson’s—she was born in Iran, raised in America, taught to cook in Europe (France, esp.), and opened her restaurant in America. She talks about fusing different flavors, ingredients, and techniques into something new.

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