I don’t have a particular interest in celebrity chefs, but my reasoning in reading this book was not because of a fascination that isn’t there. Rather, it was because it came highly recommended to me. In the end, it did disappoint, at least a little.
I was a huge fan of the movie, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” which is about a man, named Jiro, who owned a sushi shop. If you’ve never seen the movie, it kind of all revolves around hard work and perfecting your craft. That is much of what this book is about.
Marcus Samuelsson was adopted from Ethiopia to Sweden where he grew up cooking with his grandma. After high school, he went on to several posts where he essentially interned as a cook. Even he was given menial tasks like attending to the herb garden, he gave it his all and his hard work paid off. He continued to get opportunities because of his work ethic and his creativity. He moved to New York City in the 90’s and eventually became the head chef for a Swedish-American restaurant. After this, he re-opened the famous Red Rooster in Harlem for which he is universally known for.
Another sub-theme of the book (besides hard work) is racism and how being a black man in the kitchen puts you at a disadvantage. I thought this was one of the most intriguing parts of the book. He was turned down for culinary jobs when he had more than enough credentials just because of the color of his skin. In opening the Red Rooster, he talked about the problems that he faced, not only because it was a budding restaurant but because it was situated in a socio-economic area that was predominately African-America; his vision for the restaurant was to hire those who are disadvantaged in Harlem to retain the symbolic history of the original Red Rooster. That came with its own problems: people quitting without warning, employees getting beat up while depositing their paychecks are among the few he mentions. This dynamic of serious upscale restaurants being run by and for the African-American community in Harlem was a revolutionary idea and he explains the significance (and the tragedy that there isn’t more) at the end of the book.
All in all, this was an interesting book, but not one that I would recommend you go out of your way for.