“Yes, Chef”

Posted: 2nd January 2014 by Tammy in Grub, Travel
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Long ago I was married to a man who embraced a life of chaos, incredible food, comaraderie that rivaled that of combat veterans, and a continual quest for excellence – and by that I mean the restaurant world. Rising from lowly grunt in a tourist town eatery to apprenticeships at four star hotels and the kitchen of what we’d now call a “celebrity chef”, he eventually achieved the status of Executive Chef…and then continued to sweat blood for his craft. His stories about that world were often riotous, gut-wrenchingly funny, or bawdy, but above all else they were rooted in awe of the bounty found in nature. Incidentally, “Kitchen Confidential”? It’s very, very real.

Because of this world that surrounded me, in the early 2000s I knew enough about food to be excited about an opportunity to experience the work of Marcus Samuelsson while on a trip to Minneapolis. Under the leadership of Samuelsson, a Swedith chef of Ethiopian heritage, Aquavit, a Swedish restaurant, had added to its original New York City location with restaurants in Tokyo, London (I think) and Minneapolis, the most Scandinavian of American cities. By this time I had experienced a lot of amazing food, and I was looking forward to Samuelsson’s unique melding of flavors from dramatically different cultures. To this day I can’t think of a single culinary experience quite as dramatic and unexpected as that one. My palate was actually shocked!

About two months ago I stumbled across “Yes, Chef”, a memoir by Samuelsson published in 2012. I snagged it, remembering what a great experience Aquavit had been, but put off reading the book, thinking it would be yet another braggadocious account from yet another celebrity chef. How wrong I was! From a simply human perspective, this book was a very interesting read, starting with Samuelsson being orphaned in Ethiopia then being adopted into a middle class Swedish family, to chasing an international dream and changing the way people (chefs, critics, and otherwise) think about flavors. He’s passionate, reserved, all too human, and almost single-mindedly committed to his craft. If you have a chance and are at all interested in food, exploring your roots, or embracing a culture and making it your own, check out this book. And if you’re in New York before I am and can visit Red Rooster (his latest venture), let me know how it is!