Reviewed by Charles Shea LeMone
CHARLES SHEA LEMONE is an author who lives in Ferrum.
“Yes, Chef,” a memoir, is akin to a sumptuous, unforgettable four-star restaurant meal that excites all the senses. From the very first page, the author’s words are vivid and layered with strong physical details and incorporate raw as well as subtle emotions of honesty and depth.
Marcus Samuelsson was born in a small farming village in Ethiopia. Although he has never seen a photograph of his mother, the cooking herbs and spices used in that region will always be his link to visualize her.
When his mother desperately needed medical attention he was too young to make the long trek on foot to the nearest hospital with her. Holding his older sister’s hand, and carrying young Marcus, his mother undertook the long journey on the last full day of her life. He was 3 years old when a couple from Sweden adopted the two orphans and became their loving and dedicated parents.
Among other valuable life lessons, Samuelsson learned fishing from his father and tenderness from his mother. However, it was time spent with his maternal grandmother, helping her prepare big meals from scratch, that he cherished most.
His other love was soccer. After competing as a starter for a couple of seasons he was cut from the local team, not for a lack of talent but for lack of adequate size. He soon put that disappointment behind him when he chose to attend a culinary school. There he embraced a new goal in life, to become a world-class chef.
From one part of the globe to another, Samuelsson survived working for several renowned chefs. He recounts how novices, and even seasoned cooks, were sometimes fired at an alarming rate; and how the kitchen hierarchy was rigidly fixed with work ethic expectations more demanding than a military boot camp.
All the while his steadfast focus, the abuse he endured, the notes he meticulously took, the mentors he beseeched, the experiments he made, were all about learning to prepare and serve quality dishes of the highest order in his quest to open his own restaurant.
Former President Bill Clinton can attest to the fact that The Red Rooster, in Harlem, is the culmination of Samuelsson’s goal.
This memoir is certain to inspire readers to put more creative thought and time into the meals they prepare.
But I must warn everyone, do not delve into any section of this book on an empty stomach.