I know a few local chefs by name; I know a lot about others from different places, thanks to the books they write – and the Food Network or Bravo. The latter is where Marcus Samuelsson’s name surfaced on my radar. His memoir, Yes, Chef, provides a detailed, honest look at how he emerged onto the contemporary food scene.
Samuelsson begins his story with a powerful sentence that has nothing to do with food, but everything to do with who he is: “I have never seen a picture of my mother.” He shares how he and his sister made their way from Ethiopia to Goteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden, where they were adopted by Lennart and Anne Marie Samuelsson. He learned to cook by watching his grandmother. He learned technique by apprenticing in Switzerland, France and the United States.
As much as the memoir is about his progression through various kitchens, Yes, Chef is also about finding passion, experiencing prejudice and learning how these disparate aspects can be powerful motivators. Samuelsson reveals his flaws, his quirks as well as his strengths in a straightforward voice.
Ethiopian by birth, Swedish through adoption, and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Samuelsson might seem an unlikely poster boy in the food world. Yet, it is his internationality that makes him so appealing. His quest as a chef, as he says, was to “chase flavors.” So far, it appears to be quite a pursuit.
Random House, 2012