James Beard Award–winning chef and author of several cookbooks Marcus Samuelsson has appeared on Today, Charlie Rose, Iron Chef, and Top Chef Masters, where he took first place. In 1995, for his work at Aquavit, Samuelsson became the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star review from the New York Times. His new memoir is Yes, Chef.
From Samuelsson's Q & A with Tom Thornton at Austinist:
To begin with, “Yes, Chef” was a great read. There was hardly a wasted sentence. How did the idea of a memoir come about, and how long did the process take to complete?--Marshal Zeringue
It took five years, and the whole idea, to me, was to respect the reader the way you respect a diner in a restaurant. Every word, every sentence did matter, and I wanted to do something tasteful and crafted, but also inspired. However long the journey was, there's just a lot to cover, whether it's race, whether it's adoption, whether it's family. But, in order to do that, just like you said, you want it not just to be stuff, you want it to be meaningful.
There’s a lot of candor in the book, in the sense that to succeed, you really felt that you had to give up social life, relationships, everything that didn't really have to do with the kitchen. Do you feel like that's the norm for other successful people in your field?
Everyone has a different journey. I just knew that that's what it would take for me. I'm not from France, and many chefs come from really strong, cooking-traditional places. I didn't come from a cooking family, my grandmother cooked, but my father didn't have a restaurant or anything like that. I just felt for me, given everything that I had, and also being a person of color, I just knew I had a lower margin for error. So I just had to keep the knives sharpened and focus on it.
The Swedish flavors and foods that you grew up with still aren’t common in the US. You mentioned going through the trials of finding the right balance at Aquavit over time. Do you still find it a challenge to sort of integrate those flavors into and get acceptance for them in the US?
No, I've been extremely lucky mainly because...[read on]