When I saw that there was a book that combined my love of cooking with unique memoirs on the A More Diverse Universe list, I knew my search for a book to read for the challenge was over.
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson tells the story of an Ethiopian boy and his journey through tragedy to Sweden, where he is adopted by a family. From there we follow him on his quest to become a chef and to live up to all that he represents: His sundried Ethiopian roots and his saltwater-encrusted Swedish upbringing. Samuelsson provides us with an inside look at what it takes to make it in a gourmet kitchen, and how to keep moving even when you fail. We learn that celebrity chefs are only human, but it is their humanity that makes their food so great. In Samuelsson’s case, we learn that we cannot abandon our roots, indeed synthesizing all that came before us with all that we have seen is the best way to achieve success.
His most poetic passages are those that describe his mother – whom he has never known. I loved reading about how is food identity developed. And it was eye-opening to see what a black man faces in America – and elsewhere – through his eyes. In Sweden, he was generally unique in his color, and he was informed of this in the schoolyard. It seemed as he travelled through kitchens around the world, his color followed him, too. Executive chefs wouldn’t give him the time of day. But I was awed that instead of breaking him, these experiences not only made him stronger, they made him a better chef and restaurateur. Instead of worrying about his employees’ skin color, he focused on their talents, giving them a chance when the rest of the restaurant world would not. His choice to pay it forward instead of perpetuating the discrimination is noble.
The story has something for everyone, but it is especially perfect for those who enjoy cooking, for those who want a window into a unique soul, and for those who wish to see inside the mind of a man who as unique in his background as he is extraordinary in his ability to mix traditional and exotic flavors into a wholly different form of gourmet cuisine
That is where the value of diversifying out bookshelves originate: We can not get the fullest picture of something if we are not getting the view of all races and ethnicities. A memoir by a white chef will look very different I think, and would not include the same difficulties. It is only when our books reflect the diversity of our world that we can truly embrace it.