Book review: ‘Yes, Chef’ by Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, ChefEthiopian-born, Swedish-raised American chef Marcus Samuelsson had anything but a conventional upbringing.

After his African mother dies of tuberculosis following the 75-mile walk to a hospital that saved the life of he and his sister, 3-year-old Marcus is adopted by a loving white couple from Sweden. Raised with a grandmother who instills a passion for food and fascinated by the tastes and flavors of his dual heritage, Marcus turns his sights on cooking. His ambitions propel him from kitchens in Göteborg to fine restaurants in Switzerland and France, eventually landing him in New York City.

Now a successful chef and a “Top Chef Masters” winner, Samuelsson documents it all in Yes, Chef: his honest account of what it took to land him where he is today . . . and a loving ode to his varied roots — and phenomenal food.

This memoir landed in my hands on a rainy day at the library. I was wandering the audio shelves in search of something different — and I’ve been on a serious foodie fiction and food-related memoirs kick lately. Though I’d never heard of Marcus, something about his story jumped out at me. I devoured his memoir — pun intended — and am already fantasizing about how to get up to Red Rooster to taste his dishes in person.

Where to even begin with this story? Marcus’ rise to the top was filled with potholes and setbacks, disappointments and grief — but he persisted. While it’s hard not to judge some of his steely-eyed decisions harshly, thinking him cold-hearted, I believe Marcus was just a young man with ambitions that couldn’t be dampened. His laser-sharp focus on pursuing cooking came above everything else — and I couldn’t help but admire that.

Despite some of his more surprising decisions, Marcus comes across as raw and humble in his retellings of the moments that shaped his life. His descriptions of family — specifically, what “makes” a family — were touching and heartbreaking, and I cried my way through one of the early chapters. I was fascinated by his African and Swedish roots, and revelled in his descriptions of life in Göteborg (or “G-berg,” as the kids affectionately call it). The narrative detoured a bit as Marcus arrived in New York, but I loved feeling his sense of camaraderie with the wide-ranging people that inhabit the city.

Whether or not you’re familiar with Samuelsson, he has a fascinating story to tell — and I loved that Yes, Chef also pays homage to the many people who helped him continue climbing a ladder that might have otherwise become sawed-off. Also touching on issues of class, race and culture, this memoir was a thought-provoking read that held me captive from beginning to end.


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0452298059 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audio copy borrowed from my local library


About the audio: Samuelsson narrates his own story — and honestly, despite having to get used to his accent, I can’t imagine it any other way. His unique vocal patterns and careful word choices would have been lost on another narrator. As it stands, listening to Yes, Chef was an interesting and moving experience.


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11 Comments

Filed under 4-star reads, book reviews

11 responses to “Book review: ‘Yes, Chef’ by Marcus Samuelsson

  1. This is exactly the kind of memoir I love! I love to read about someone who makes it in spite of a difficult start.

  2. I bet the audio of this was SO cool. I adored this book, but hearing it from Samuelsson’s voice would make it even better!

  3. sandynawrot

    I’ve been on a memoir kick in general lately, and if it has food in it, all the better. I’m not familiar with him, but I admire his tenacity to succeed. I think you have to be a bit focused and determined to make it in that business.

  4. Whoa what a life.
    And can I just say, his mother was one amazing mother. That is the mark of a good mama.

  5. I didn’t know any of that about him! I’ve seen him on Food Network a lot, but I had no idea of his past. This book sounds really interesting!

  6. I’m a huge fan of Marcus Samuelsson, and I just picked this up on audio. I’m looking forward to it even more now!

  7. I’ve read about this recently, and like you found it appealing though I’ve not heard of him. Hope you get to the restaurant sometime!

  8. I liked him a lot when I’ve watched him on various Food Network shows, so I’m absolutely taken with this memoir. I didn’t realize he has such a varied background. Must read!

  9. Kim

    I flew through Ethiopia for work and read an interview about Samuelsson in the Ethiopian Airways in flight magazine. His story intrigued me at the time and now I’m convinced I need to read the book!

  10. I read this one and loved it!

  11. Chefs lead artistic lives only after they have suffered their apprenticeships. As the late Chef Tell told it, “In the German system they allowed you to make any mistake once. After that, they kicked you where it hurts.”

    I would be honored, Meg, if you would review my biography of Chef Tell and share with your readers what you find.