“The more I exposed myself to cooking, the more I realized that I wanted to chase flavors, that I will always get excited by tasting something new or taking something good and tweaking it until it becomes something great. The more you train your palate, the more sensitive you become.” Marcus Samuelsson, Yes, Chef—A Memoir
Good books have the power to transport us to another world. Autobiographies can inspire us to self-reflect on our own lives as we vicariously live and see life through the eyes and experiences of the author. Marcus Samuelsson’s thoroughly engaging new memoir, Yes, Chef did all of that for me this past week.
I now know and greatly admire this multi-talented chef. With diligence, integrity and an incredible number of long hours and hard work, determination and grace he has become more than just a “celebrity chef.”
Marcus Samuelsson’s story touched me over and over. I could hardly stop reading and rooting for his success. What an amazing life. From his birth in a rural Ethiopian village to many years later becoming the chef/owner of his dream restaurant in Harlem. Yes, Chef—a Memoir includes us in the details and emotions of his journey.
- The strength, integrity and love of his adopted Swedish parents
- Sundays cooking with his Swedish grandmother, Helga, fueling his passion for cooking
- Turning his first major disappointment, being cut from the soccer team, into a decision to go to culinary school
- Traveling the world chasing flavors all the while training and refining his palate
- Intense and often humiliating culinary training in hierarchical kitchens with typically tyrannical chefs/teachers/mentors
- Winning the 2003 James Beard Award for the Best Chef in New York City
- Having to use all of his savings to buy the right to use his own name
- Rediscovering his African heritage and reconnecting with his birth father in Ethiopia
My own journey
As a chef myself, I followed Marcus Samuelsson’s career journey closely. Reading his hotel experiences, I would stop to remember my own. A four-star hotel in Portland, Oregon was the site of my first of two hotel jobs. Working with the kind and respectful German bakers helped refine my techniques. This was a time when women were very rare in hotel kitchens. I unfortunately also had to contend with the advances of the executive chef.
I studied for a month at the Wilton School of Cake Decorating. Responding to a posh West Hollywood hotel’s newspaper ad, I wowed the very talented and creative French pastry chef with my gum paste orchids. He hired me to make cakes in the well-equipped basement bakery.
As with many bakers, too much white sugar took its toll. There were times when the chef’s timing was off. Sheet pan after sheet pan of burnt cookies he’d grab from the huge revolving oven. He’d throw them onto the cement floor yelling French obscenities louder than the crash of the pans.
At other times, working in the glass-windowed and temperature controlled “chocolate room” he would make the most beautiful chocolate and pulled and blown sugar creations.
He introduced me to many new ingredients such as Callebaut chocolate, incredibly rich hazelnut praline paste and a deeply flavored coffee liqueur. He helped refine my techniques. He taught me his recipes for fresh raspberry butter cream (oh my, pure essence of raspberries), mousse cakes and all things chocolate.
Many of these techniques and refinements I shared as “Baker’s Tips” in Fruit-Sweet & Sugar-Free. Also included are my adapted and healthier versions of a few of his recipes, i.e., a gorgeous multi-layered Black Forest Torte and the best ever Tarte Tatin (and perhaps the only one made without refined white sugar).
Each One, Teach One
“I want to believe that I am here to teach one and, more, that there is one here who is meant to teach me. And if we each one teach one, we will make a difference.” Marcus Samuelsson
Reading Yes, Chef I realized this African-American saying “each one, teach one” also played an important part in my journey. Foundational for the books and articles I’ve written and the classes and co-workers I’ve taught. And today it inspires this blog and my culinary coaching.
To be gifted with knowledge, to make it your own and then share it with someone is good. When that person assimilates this knowledge, makes it his/her own and passes it on to someone else—you know you’ve made a difference.
Check out Chef Marcus Samuelson’s website. There you’ll learn more about him, his new restaurant the Red Rooster and find some of his recipes. He’ll inspire you to begin chasing flavors yourself.
Look for a sense of identity in your food
Just as Marcus Samuelsson does, perhaps you do also. You find a recipe to make and then go about adding your personal touch. Certain changes reflect you and make the dish yours. I would love to hear about how you add this “sense of your own identity to your food.” When do you consider a dish your own?
Just finished reading this excellent interview with Marcus Samuelsson in the Washington Post and had to share it with you. He comes across with such integrity and forthrightness that I respect and am inspired by him all the more.