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Yes Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

I am a bit conflicted about this book. It’s a good book. It says on the cover that it is about the life of a chef and it certainly delivers on that count. I gives you a real insight into a chef’s life, the long hours, the training, the mistakes, the learning experiences, the joys, uncertainties and difficulties of the restaurant business. It is also the story of Samuelsson’s life and it is told with an honesty that I appreciate. He talks about his mistakes, his errors of judgement, his (excessive) ambition and (complete) self absorption without trying to hide or gloss over anything.

But the problem is that the nothing is treated in depth. There are plenty of family stories and emotional moments that should have been given a lot more space than they were. Like his reaction to his father’s death. Samuelsson was in the States cooking at Aquavit when his father passed away. He made the decision not to go to Sweden for the funeral because leaving the States then would have affected his visa situation. That would have a been hard call to make. And it does portray him in a negative light. Now I’m not about to make judgments on anybody’s choices, but the way the incident was presented…it lacked the emotional depth it should have had. He keeps saying that his father’s death was real blow to him, but the way he says it, makes that a bit hard to believe.

Another incident that comes to mind is his first meeting with his daughter who he basically ignored for the first fourteen years of her life. This part of the book reads as if Samuelsson just wanted to rush through the narrative as quickly as possible. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t want to face the emotions it brought up, but why write about it, if you cannot treat it with the honesty and the emotion that it deserves? The nature of the narrative here, makes it seem as if this man does not care about anything or anyone. It’s all about the cooking. Even when he talks about meeting his wife and falling in love with her…there is a distinct lack of emotion in the writing that is a bit off putting.

Samuelsson didn’t write the book himself, of course. He had a writer friend do it for him. The writing is fairly fluid in the beginning of the book, but then it starts to read like a bunch of anecdotes strung together rather than a coherent story. There is a lot of writing here about food and it is all very good…whether it talking about the idea behind a dish, the emotion or the tradition behind it, the writing makes you feel as if you can see and smell everything if not taste it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the quality of writing in the book is inconsistent. It’s a good book. But it could have been so much better.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
paulliver
Jul. 7th, 2014 12:31 pm (UTC)
Different authors treat different aspects of the stories differently. When you read "Lord of the Rings," most of the loving detail goes into the world building at the beginning, which is why book one is so much longer than necessary, while the resolutions and battles towards the end are comparatively summarized. Tolkien didn't care much about battles or weddings, he cared about legends.
sapna_sricharan
Jul. 7th, 2014 12:50 pm (UTC)
True. But there is a difference between a work of fantasy fiction and a memoir. A memoir is by definition personal. I can understand that Samuelsson was perhaps keen to write a book that only chronicled his experiences as a cook. Why go into his personal life at all then?

Why bring up a daughter that he fathered and then basically abandoned for fourteen years if he's only going to treat it as a nugget, something to talk about and dismiss quickly? Why not just leave all of that out?
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