Marcus Samuelsson made his name as one of the youngest executive chefs in Manhattan and a familiar face on the Food Network.
What might be less familiar is Samuelsson’s fascinating personal history, which he lays bare in Yes, Chef. Born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson and his sister became dangerously ill with tuberculosis. Their mother walked with them from their remote village to Addis Ababa, where she died. The children were adopted by a loving Swedish family.
Samuelsson spent much of his childhood at the elbow of his Swedish grandmother, an excellent home cook, and went on to work at restaurants in Europe. But after a horrific car accident killed one of his closest friends, Samuelsson sought an apprenticeship to take him away from his grief. He landed at New York’s Aquavit, a restaurant that is, he writes, “more Swedish in its menu than any I had ever worked in.”
This was the beginning of a love affair with New York City. To read his descriptions of the food he eats, from steamed buns in Chinatown to roasted meats from street vendors, is to almost viscerally experience the smells, sounds and sights of the city.
Although he traveled the world learning about every cuisine from French to Mexican, Samuelsson was at a loss when a student asked him to describe trends in African cooking. He had not set foot on the continent since he was a toddler. Rediscovering his Ethiopian roots led him to open the successful Red Rooster in 2010, deliberately choosing the underappreciated streets of Harlem as the site for the restaurant.
Samuelsson’s is the most unlikely of journeys, and he takes readers along every step of the way in this delicious memoir.