Yes, CHEF by Marcus Samuelsson

Born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson was three years old when his mother walked him and his sister 75 miles to be treated for Tuberculosis.  Once they arrived at the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Adapa, Marcus’ mom died on the disease, but Marcus and his sister were treated and recovered.  Now orphans, they were both adopted by a middle class family that lived in Sweden.

And this is where Marcus started to learn about food.  His new Grandmother Mormor took Marcus under her wing and showed him how to cook and to use everything.  She made everything herself and taught Marcus that nothing went to waste.  Fresh baked bread was served the first day with lunch and dinner, on the second day it was good for toast, and then after that it was good for croutons and breading for battered fish.

As a teen Marcus first applied to work at a McDonald’s but was turned down for employment due to his color.  (How funny to think that now one of the most famous chefs in the world was once denied to flip burgers and shake salt in fries…)

As years went on Marcus worked in restaurant after restaurant learning the kitchen as well as the back of his hand.  He loved to try new things together and soon Head Chefs were looking to his for new menu ideas and new flavors.  Eventually Marcus was given opportunities to travel back to Ethiopia to learn the flavors of his home land.

When he was Head Chef at Aquavit he earned a coveted three star rating for his cooking in the New York Times that sent him forward in huge strides, including being on several Top Chef TV shows, and cooking for the White House.

Marcus’s story is not all up hill, there are times of career crisis, emotional happenings, law suits, and eventually he is led to opening his current Restaurant the Red Rooster in Harlem. 

Marcus first hand lets the reader know the price of ambition, the cost of wanting perfection, the battle to be respected by his peers, and ultimately his road to finding the restaurant of his dreams.

Fish Tostadas

Why did I want to read this book?  I first seen this book in a Shelf Awareness email.  Oddly, although I do not have the patience to cook, I love reading about those who do and succeed.  Marcus’ story from Ethiopia as a lost boy to the Big Apple as a household name was one I wanted to know more about.

Yes Chef delivered everything I hoped it would.  Marcus tells his story in an honest and humble tone from beginning to end.  My copy of this book is covered in little post it arrows where I marked how he prepared truffles (you add them to the sauce at the very end so as not to cook all the flavor out), and his Spanish breakfast (ripe tomatoes peeled and then crushed on toast adding a grind or two of black pepper), and how to make a lobster lasagna.  When curing duck breasts Marcus would soak then in a large pan of salted water with a plate weighing them down for 6 hours.

Mouth watering yet?

And in between pages of mixing seasonings and different flavors is Marcus’ story.  Growing up and moving out… restaurant experiences that are detailed from where he got it right, and from when he should have been fired and by grace he was not.  And then into Marcus’ life as the one doing the firing and trying to find kitchen held that understood the demands of a kitchen, one employee even telling him,

“You can ask me to be on time, iron my shirt, shave or not to wear sneakers, but you can’t ask them all of me… it’s too much.”

~Page 309 Yes CHEF


Yes Chef was interesting and a fun book to read that I will refer to again and again.  Marcus is a true story of battling against the odds, fighting prejudices and coming out on top.  His tips on food throughout the book are things I want to try, things I would have never considered, but when I read Yes CHEF, I felt inspired.

Highly recommended to lovers of memoirs, cooking related books and success stories… I loved this book.


Marcus’ fried chicken served at Red Rooster

marinate chicken in coconut milk (I would use chicken breasts not whole chicken, but that’s me)

cure in lemon

steam it and bone it

fry in day old oil

serve with greens, sweet potato fries, buttermilk dressing and hot sauce and pickled watermelon rind


This review is part of Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads


Purchased from Amazon

Amazon Rating

Goodreads Review

30 thoughts on “Yes, CHEF by Marcus Samuelsson

  1. What an interesting story! I love hearing about how people have come to life in the kitchen. Sounds like a great read as well as an inspiring one!

  2. His story sounds amazing and this is one that I would enjoy! I love to read about other people creating food too!! 😀

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