Kendra's Reviews > Yes, Chef
by Marcus Samuelsson (Goodreads Author)
I was lucky enough to get my hands on Yes, Chef right before a long road trip. I took in five states and all 319 pages in less than two days, and turned the final page just as we pulled in to our final destination. All in all, they made for an excellent read.
Marcus Samuelsson's biography may very well be the first foodie book I've ever read. I have the standard requisite cookbooks on my shelf, and I dabble in gourmet every now and then, but I have steered clear of reading about the lives of those who produce the world's best foods--until now. And I'm so very glad I gave this book a chance.
I hesitate to describe this book as "that book about an Ethiopian-Swedish chef who made his mark in New York," as Samuelsson dedicates quite a lot of page space to speaking against labels and stereotyping. This isn't a just a book about a man with a complex history, but a book about the beauty of food and all of its history, origins, and complexities. Samuelsson's personal story is, of course, rather more fascinating than you'd expect, even if his voice was obscured on occasions by an authorial voice that happens to be a little out of sync. I was rather impressed that he acknowledged his ghost-writer so beautifully at the end, and I have to congratulate Veronica Chambers for doing such a good job of telling someone else's story without obscuring or apologizing for elements outside of her control. Her only fault is in her pacing. She rushes through some stages of Samuelsson's life that I would have liked to see more developed, and she lingered on certain others that were only tangentially relevant to the overall arc of the story. Still, she's eloquent when it counts, and concise in her woodcraft.
Sometimes, in reading Yes, Chef I felt that control was perhaps the central pivot of Samuelsson's life--it was what he strove for, agonized over, and never quite achieved. His focus was sharp, his goals clearly defined, and he sacrificed everything--perhaps more than he should have--in order to achieve them. And with his eventual success came the determination to reclaim what he'd lost: his Ethiopian heritage, his family, and his love of diversity in all areas of life. Quite apart from the reality and long-term effects of the decisions he made in his youth, Samuelsson matured into a chef of the highest caliber and goals--he didn't settle just to make good food, but to make a good place and to shape a better culture.
After finishing Yes, Chef, I talked over the boxes books must check before I can call them 'good'--and I decided that I can count this book as one of them. It may not have changed my life on a spiritual or even a behavioral level, but it has certainly broadened my understanding of food in general and gourmet ethnic cuisine in specific. I can better appreciate the hazards and struggles of celebrity chefs, not with pity but with a great deal of respect. I also feel the pull of the creative instincts which so clearly drive Marcus Samuelsson to craft unique and bold flavors, and find myself wanting to get back in the kitchen, to get back on to the streets, on airplanes, and in the thick of the fight for a better world. So yes, yes indeed, I count Yes, Chef as a very good book.