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Yes, Chef: A Memoir (2012)

by Marcus Samuelsson

Other authors: Veronica Chambers, Susan Turner (Designer)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6796824,231 (3.84)94
"It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother's house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations. Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister--all battling tuberculosis--walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later, they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus's new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up. Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson's remarkable journey from Helga's humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson's career of "chasing flavors," as he calls it, had only just begun--in the intervening years, there have been White House State dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room--a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home. With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens up about his failures as a man--the price of ambition, in human terms--and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet the father he never knew. Yes, Chef is a tale of personal discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors--one man's struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen, and in the world"--… (more)

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» See also 94 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
I know Marcus Samuelsson from seeing him on Food Network, and I knew prior to reading this that he was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, but the rest of the story was new to me. He's lived an interesting life, and traveled to lots of interesting places, but the book isn't written in a particularly interesting way. I think a better author (or ghostwriter) could have done more with this. That said, I don't regret picking it up. I enjoy books that provide a glimpse into a world I've never experienced, and the world of the professional kitchen (to say nothing of the various international locations) is interesting and foreign to me. ( )
  duchessjlh | Aug 9, 2020 |
I enjoyed this a lot. I think some readers got turned off by Chef Marcus Samuelsson because he makes a lot of personal choices they would not have. But I get it, I had a lot of hard choices to make while I pushed myself forward in my career. I didn't find him heartless, I felt empathy throughout this book.

What's funny is that my parents would get it. A few days after my father died, my mother looked me in the face and said so you're going back to school (I was in my senior year of college). When my father passed away I graduated from grad school, I started my first federal job three weeks later. I didn't get a chance to mourn in probably the appropriate way according to other people, but I know my parents would have understood.

I loved reading this memoir that's shows Samuelsson from Sweden, to Austria, France, and the United States. We don't get recipes in this book, but you get a personal look at Chef Samuelsson's personal life and his views on food and other chefs. FYI Gordon Ramsey sounds like an ass. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
This was better than I'd expected, although I didn't know much about Samuelsson apart from him being an adopted Swede who's made it in the USA.

In this book, he takes the piss out of himself a lot, which is great; he rarely - if ever - takes the piss out of his profession, even though he once berates the harshess of the system in restaurants, where the hierarchy decides the pecking order. And the peckings are gruesome. Other times, he accepts it and even seems to like it, as I've found a lot of cooks do, masochistically. Maybe they should look up to "high-echelon" chefs like Thomas Keller, who seems to run their kitchens with respect and no stress as top priorities.

Samuelsson writes about being an outsider, not only in Sweden (as a black person, he was subject to racism as Sweden is still a xenophobic country in a variety of ways) but also in the cooking world. Still, time and time, he shows that hard work and dedication pays off. Always.

And he does this without braggadocio or any kind of loud-mouthed pretentiousness, which other chefs - notably Gordon Ramsay, who called Samuelsson and called him a "black bastard" according to this book - display all too well.

All in all, a seemingly honest portrayal that wears thin towards the end, but during the first 75% is very readable. ( )
  pivic | Mar 20, 2020 |
I didn't finish this book at about 35%, not because it is particularly bad, but because I completely lost interest after the first few chapters.

I've never heard of Marcus Samuelsson before (I don’t live in US and I've never watched American Master Chef). And although I rarely read autobiographies, this one perfectly suited one of my reading challenges, so I decided to give it a chance. Besides, it's the chef's autobiography, what could be wrong with it?! At least, that's what I thought.

And I really liked the first few chapters about Marcus' childhood. They are interesting, even vivid. And I really liked how he looks at his early years through the prism of tastes and dishes that he remembers from that period, his first culinary experiences and what he learned. That was what I expected.

But after these initial few chapters, everything started to go wrong. Exactly at the moment when Marcus began studying at a culinary school, so at the moment when everything should start. As if up to this point he had an idea for this book and suddenly lost all his inspiration and had to simply finish it because of the deadlines. Which wouldn't be that bad if it wasn't for the next 90% of the book.

The problem is primarily the writing style. Marcus Samuelsson may be a great chef of world renown but he is a very poor writer. This book has as much emotion as the daily report of the head of security of the hotels where Marcus worked. It is more like a ship captain's logbook or encyclopedic entry. Dry facts, no humor and God forbid any anecdotes. The style in which this book is written is so dry that it looks more like a poor biography written quickly for money than a memoir. Samuelsson has no funny stories to tell from his childhood and youth (it could be understandable if he had a really tragic life which he didn’t). He hardly tries to look at his past from the perspective of today. There is even nothing as simple as reflection that in this or that situation today he would have acted quite differently. And the description of the emotions that accompanied the most important events in his life are limited to the absolute minimum and described in such a colorless way that it is difficult to spot them.

I could get over it all if Marcus had an interesting personality, if I was interested in his story. But from the twelve (out of 29) chapters of his own memories(!) emerges the image of a mean, ambitious son of a bitch completely focused on his career and not paying attention to anyone else. A man obsessed with competition and being better than others, who despises people who are not as good as him. I have read over a third of his memories and this whole part is dedicated to one goal, showing how ambitious and how brilliant Marcus is. There is nothing nice about him, nothing human that would interest me enough to get through the emotionless chapters describing his stunning career.

Paradoxically for the memories of the chef, surprisingly little space is devoted to food. After the initial chapters about childhood, food goes to the background. It rarely takes more than one paragraph in a chapter and is mentioned as on the margins of the main story. I'm not talking about Marcus work in the kitchens but about what dishes and flavors he remembers from that period, or if any of those flavors influent his today's kitchen. But of course there is nothing like a look from the present days here, it would certainly disturb the perfectly boring and dry writing style. As a result, there is not what I liked so much in the first chapters of this book.

And then there's the race issue, Marcus is a black Swede. And I think he sometimes has a bigger problem with it than the people around him. Of course, I have no idea about the treatment of black people in Europe at that time. But despite this, sometimes it seemed to me that Marcus's skin color was a convenient explanation for his failures. It also seems to me that sometimes he was looking for racist context where there was no such one.

Anyway, this book could use a co-author. Someone who can write well and would add some life and color to this boring report on the life of Marcus Samuelsson. Although, as far as I was able to get to know the character of the author, he is probably convinced that he will do everything best alone. Which is clearly not true. I'd be able to finish reading this book but I didn't see any sense in it. What is the point in reading the autobiography of a person who does not interest you and whom you do not respect? ( )
  Sarielle | Jan 15, 2020 |
I really wish this book had included a few recipes (I know, I'm supposed to go buy Samuelsson's cookbooks now), because I typically ended each chapter either hungry or at least curious to taste the food and favors described. Born in Ethiopia, adopted and raised in Sweden, Marcus Samuelsson becomes a talented chef and his account of the journey is moving and well-written. I feel like this book taught me a lot about the cooking industry, with the hierarchical nature of professional kitchens and the training ambitious chefs receive. I have always loved good food, but I now have a much greater appreciation for what goes into creating good food and the nature of what happens behind the scenes in restaurant kitchens. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the dining industry, but also anyone who simply enjoys good food. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jan 11, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Samuelsson, Marcusprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chambers, Veronicasecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Turner, SusanDesignersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
To my two mothers, Ahnu and Anne Marie
First words
I have never seen a picture of my mother.
Quotations
I believe there's a door that opens from inside any great kitchen, a door that opens out and gives us the world. (p. 277)
Mormor had the unique experience of being surrounded by luxury despite living in poverty her entire life.
Bookstores are a giant present waiting to be unwrapped, full of stories and discoveries and lives.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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"It begins with a simple ritual: Every Saturday afternoon, a boy who loves to cook walks to his grandmother's house and helps her prepare a roast chicken for dinner. The grandmother is Swedish, a retired domestic. The boy is Ethiopian and adopted, and he will grow up to become the world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. This book is his love letter to food and family in all its manifestations. Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister--all battling tuberculosis--walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later, they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus's new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up. Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson's remarkable journey from Helga's humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson's career of "chasing flavors," as he calls it, had only just begun--in the intervening years, there have been White House State dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room--a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home. With disarming honesty and intimacy, Samuelsson also opens up about his failures as a man--the price of ambition, in human terms--and recounts his emotional journey, as a grown man, to meet the father he never knew. Yes, Chef is a tale of personal discovery, unshakable determination, and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors--one man's struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen, and in the world"--

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