Yes, Chef & The Good Food Revolution
“A hundred years ago black men and women had to fight to get out of the kitchen. These days, we have to fight to get in.” – Marcus Samuelsson
Since it’s election time, you might recall Marcus Samuelsson for his role as guest chef at the first state dinner for the Obama presidency. This year Samuelsson published his well-received memoir titled Yes, Chef. The book describes his rise from Ethiopian orphan to world-renowned chef and the many failures and successes he’s experienced along the way. But Yes, Chef isn’t Samuelsson’s first publication. He’s also the author of several cookbooks on African, Scandinavian, and American cuisines.
In Good Food Revolution, Will Allen also shares his personal food journey and what led him from basketball courts and executive boardrooms to becoming a trailblazer in urban farming. To his credit, Allen also founded Growing Power, an organization which not only produces community farmed foods, but also educates, develops, and supports a number of positive community efforts.
If books by men of African descent and their passions for food are of interest to you, grab your spatula and take a flip through these books:
Marcus Samuelsson was only three years old when he, his mother, and his sister—all battling tuberculosis—walked seventy-five miles to a hospital in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Adaba. Tragically, his mother succumbed to the disease shortly after she arrived, but Marcus and his sister recovered, and one year later they were welcomed into a loving middle-class white family in Göteborg, Sweden. It was there that Marcus’s new grandmother, Helga, sparked in him a lifelong passion for food and cooking with her pan-fried herring, her freshly baked bread, and her signature roast chicken. From a very early age, there was little question what Marcus was going to be when he grew up. Yes, Chef chronicles Marcus Samuelsson’s remarkable journey from Helga’s humble kitchen to some of the most demanding and cutthroat restaurants in Switzerland and France, from his grueling stints on cruise ships to his arrival in New York City, where his outsize talent and ambition finally come together at Aquavit, earning him a coveted New York Times three-star rating at the age of twenty-four. But Samuelsson’s career of “chasing flavors,” as he calls it, had only just begun—in the intervening years, there have been White House state dinners, career crises, reality show triumphs and, most important, the opening of the beloved Red Rooster in Harlem. At Red Rooster, Samuelsson has fufilled his dream of creating a truly diverse, multiracial dining room—a place where presidents and prime ministers rub elbows with jazz musicians, aspiring artists, bus drivers, and nurses. It is a place where an orphan from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, living in America, can feel at home.
The son of a sharecropper, Will Allen had no intention of ever becoming a farmer himself. But after years in professional basketball and as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter & Gamble, Allen cashed in his retirement fund for a two-acre plot a half mile away from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. The area was a food desert with only convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to serve the needs of local residents. In the face of financial challenges and daunting odds, Allen built the country’s preeminent urban farm—a food and educational center that now produces enough vegetables and fish year-round to feed thousands of people. Employing young people from the neighboring housing project and community, Growing Power has sought to prove that local food systems can help troubled youths, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health. Today, Allen’s organization helps develop community food systems across the country. An eco-classic in the making, The Good Food Revolution is the story of Will’s personal journey, the lives he has touched, and a grassroots movement that is changing the way our nation eats.
Happy reading, y’all.