Yes, Chef – A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson


Yes, Chef, a memoir about the distinguished chef Marcus Samuelsson, left my mouth watering and my tummy hungry after reading the vivid images of food he describes. I am definitely going to have to save my money for a trip to New York so I can eat at his restaurant, Red Rooster, in Harlem, so that I can experience first hand his delectable food.

You may be familiar with some of Samuelsson’s story that has captured the attention of the media. At the age of 24, Samuelsson became the youngest chef to receive a three-star rating from The New York Times, in 1995, while working as a chef for Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant in Manhattan. The James Beard Foundation named him best chef in New York City, in 2003. He cooked for President Obama’s first state dinner in 2009, and in 2010, he was the winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef Master’s.” Samuelsson is now the owner and executive chef at his own restaurant in Harlem, Red Rooster.

Yes, Chef tells Samuelsson’s struggles to make it as a Swedish adopted black chef. His journey was not an easy one. He was born, Kassahun Tsegie, to an impoverished woman named Ahnu in rural Ethiopia. By the time he was two years old he and his mother and sister, Fantaye, had all contracted tuberculosis. They walked 75 miles in the blistering heat to the capital of Ethiopia, to be treated at the hospital, where his mother died at the age of 28. Orphaned and alone they were taken in by a nurse who helped arrange their adoption. A couple from Göteborg, Sweden, Ann Marie and Lennart Samuelsson, adopted them and changed their names to Marcus and Linda Samuelsson.

Samuelsson describes himself as a driven man. He tells about playing soccer as a teenager and how he was crushed after being cut from a team when he was 16, because of his small size. He says, “I sometimes think of myself more as a failed soccer player than as an accomplished chef.” I suppose the saying “if at once you don’t succeed, try try again,” applies here, or at least if you don’t succeed at one thing find something else that you’re good at and you’ll be brilliant.

Samuelsson tells, in detail, about his gradual climb in the world of cooking. He describes the grueling work and the awful treatment he received as an underling in the kitchen. In one of the kitchens where he trained, of a Swiss hotel, he explains that the stress level was so demanding that he would have to step out of the kitchen to vomit every morning. He explains that working as an underling in a kitchen, “you have to completely give yourself up.”

Samuelsson states that he is passionate about “chasing flavors.” His favorite spice, he explains, is berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend, he describes it as the salt and pepper of Ethiopia. He states that berbere is so important to him because he learned so much about himself and his life through this spice. He explains that when he traveled to Ethiopia and started to understand his own culture and rituals, he started to really develop a love for berbere. I think his journey to Ethiopia is the culmination of his story. Samuelsson was able to learn about his heritage and discover Ethiopian cuisine in a new light. It is so important for an internationally adopted child to be able to connect with their culture, whether through travel, books, movies or even new recipes.

Samuelsson’s life was both fascinating and at times quite challenging. His rise to success is rewarding to read about, somewhat because he doesn’t sound arrogant or boastful. His success, however, was not simply handed to him on a silver platter; he worked very hard to get where he is today. His story is very compelling, from his Ethiopian roots to his adoption into a family in Sweden, to his classical training as a chef to finding love. This book is full of different themes that might interest anyone and provide interesting table talk at your next meal.

For more information about MLJ Adoptions’ international adoption programs, please click here.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.