Part of my summer reading list, Yes Chef, was recommended by my Mother, an avid foodie and book lover – this book was right up her alley. Luckily for me, any book she’s into is worth a read so I grabbed it at the airport book shop before I caught my flight to New York and vowed to have it done before I went to The Red Rooster, Samuelsson’s highly celebrated restaurant in Harlem.
Marcus Samuelsson’s life began in a small town in Ethiopia. Struck with a horrendous case of tuberculosis that was threatening to kill him, his sister and their mother, they walked 75 miles to the capital city of Addis Ababa to the hospital for treatment. His mother somehow found her way to the front of a very long line of people suffering from the same disease and Marcus and his sister were treated and brought back to health. His mother, unfortunately was not cured from the disease and died before the family could reunite.
On the other side of the world, a couple who had desperately wanted kids but could not have them on their own, filled out adoption papers for anywhere in the world. They had no care for the race of the child, just that they wanted a boy. They had adopted a little girl not too long before and Mr Samuelsson desperately wanted a little boy that he could teach to fish. When Marcus became an orphan and his name was on adoption registries, the Samuelsson’s got wind that he was available and wanted him right away. The agent in Ethiopia would only agree to the adoption only if the couple took both Marcus and his sister and without much hesitation they agreed and were on the plane from Sweden to pick up their two new children.
Samuelsson’s tale from the beginning is stacked. An Ethiopian boy who loses his mother only to be adopted by a white family in Sweden, is grounds for an interesting plot. But the fact that he goes on to beat many an odd to end up in New York city as a chef who eventually not only wins Top Chef Masters, but cooks for President Obama at his first state dinner, borders on outstanding – a story movies are made of. It was equally as thrilling to read Samuelsson’s candor when it comes to hard work and the realities of ‘making it’ anywhere, especially in the world of food.
I like stories. Real life stories of how people get from point A. to point B. and am a tragic fan of a happy ending, so needless to say, this book was an overall win for me. Whatever lacked in the flow of the text was all forgotten as soon as I walked through the doors at The Red Rooster and began to get an even more real feeling for this man with such a colourful yet improbable past. His interest in bringing life back to the historical top of Manhattan felt authentic, you could almost see his fingerprints on everything from the decor to the perfectly crafted menu and somehow wanted nothing more than to yell from the mountaintops to everyone you know to “GO AND SUPPORT RED ROOSTER“. Not that the place needs any of my help, it’s beyond busy and filled with the perfect mix of cultures, ages and demographics that Samuelsson hoped to attract as he wrote in the final pages of his book.
So with all of that, read the book and if you’re ever in New York head on up to Harlem for some delicious soul food realized in a way only Marcus Samuelsson could.