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Inspirational chef bio for a struggling teen?

Hi, I'd like to get an adopted teenager who's going through a hard time a biography or autobiography of a successful chef who's also gone through a hard time. I was hoping Marcus Samuelsson's book might be that. -- In profile, he's a perfect role model for this particular kid, being a person of color and adopted, reconciling the influences of several very different cultures, etc. -- But Amazon reviews make me think it might be a bit too simplistic and self-congratory in tone. This is a very smart and discerning kid who will not respond well to BS. Has anyone read this book? Can anyone recommend another chef biography that might be better? Thanks very much, Ninrn

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  1. Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.

    5 Replies
    1. re: knucklesandwich


      I lost nearly an entire night's sleep because I made the mistake of starting it when I got home from work, and didn't stop until I was finished...

      1. re: kcshigekawa

        I disagree. Sure, the book details Hamilton's difficult upbringing, but her anger and family disfunction never really get resolved. I felt Hamilton found a way to cope, but not necessarily resolve her past problems.

        As much as I enjoyed this book reading it as an adult, I don't think it accomplishes the job the OP is looking for.

        Unless the autobiography must be about a chef, what about Ben Carson, the Hopkins neuro-surgeon?

        1. re: Indy 67

          I couldn't agree more with Indy 67's opinion about Hamilton's book.

          The observation of "but her anger and family disfunction never really get resolved. I felt Hamilton found a way to cope, but not necessarily resolve her past problems." is spot on. I don't think it sends a good message to the type of reader the OP describes.

          As recommended further down thread, I would recommend Apprentice.

      2. re: knucklesandwich

        -1 Didn't like it at all. I can't believe all the high praise and hype this book got.

        I don't think this is the right choice for troubled kid. The author had her share of problems when young and overcame them, but she just sort of swapped them out for other problems as a grown woman.

        1. re: Bart Hound

          I share your opinion.

          Hats off to ms. Hamilton to go from a broken home to a successful restaurant. However, I don't know how much a young person of color might relate to her; I'm not young, nor of obvious color, but I did own and run two successful restaurants over the years, yet I still did not relate very well.

      3. I immediately thought of Eddie Huang's brand new memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, but you may not find it age-appropriate - obscene language, accounts of drug use, etc.



        1 Reply
        1. re: small h

          I've only read the reviews, not the book, but we had a big laugh at home about Huang's educational background. He's an alum of the same law school as the Spouse (different years, though), and we didn't know anyone (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) who behaved in anything less than an exemplary way while at school there. At least one of those people dropped out due to excessive drug use. Another is a very successful, respected professional in another field. Go figure.

          1. re: GH1618

            There it is. I'd forgotten the title. I think Henderson's book would be inspirational. I enjoyed the Samuellson book, and didn't find it too self-congratulatory...the man DID overcome quite a bit, IMO.

          2. Thanks for these recommendations.... I'll take a look at them.

            While I appreciate that most chef bios stress hard work, most also seem to glorify drug and alcohol abuse, criminality of one form or another, and all-round jerkish behavior. I guess that's what makes them marketable, but I'd love to find one about someone who learns that honesty, respect and kindness are as important as hard work.... Oh, well... Off to the library website to request your recommendations. Thanks again.

            8 Replies
            1. re: ninrn

              Might not be exactly what you have in mind - but I'd suggest you watch "Chopped" on Food Network with your teenager, because with so many of the chefs, they had a hard time in their childhood or as an adult - and food, discovering that they could cook it and make something they never thought they could, literally saves and changes their lives. It's entertaining, inspiring and, you get cooking tips!

              1. re: happybaker

                Totally agree about Chopped. It definitely has that inspirational angle and there's no glorification of jerks. We watch together when we can, but she's not my kid, so I wanted to find something to give as a gift. Still a perfect suggestion, though.

                1. re: ninrn

                  I'm not sure "jerk" is the right word, but if you're trying to steer your teenager clear of deviant behavior the food service industry is probably not an ideal choice.

                  1. re: TheCarrieWatson

                    I was thinking exactly the same thing. When my son the chef first had me read Kitchen Confidential he prefaced it with "...this is my life... minus the heroin addiction" (thank goodness for the little things). Drinking and drug use are rife in the restaurant business. On the other hand, if he's really interested in the biz and thinks it's all about the glamour of celebrity chefs, a book like Bourdain's might open his eyes to the reality of working in a kitchen and it might steer him in a better direction. I really never thought of Bourdain as glorifying drug use - he just painted a fairly accurate picture of the life of many (thankfully not all) chefs.

                    1. re: bobbert

                      I agree with TheCarrie and bobbert - the food service industry is not the poster boy of sanctimonious career choices.
                      I read Kitchen Confidential in the middle of my 12 year restaurant career, and I thought the same: "this is me +/-" and "thank god I'm not alone in the world"...

                      However, reading stuff like this (IMO) will naturally glorify the subject. mMaybe lotsa people will think "line cook, heroin addict, no problem; it leads to stardom, best sellers, and hit TV shows..."

                      My brother asked me to put his impressionable 14 year old son to work in my kitchen one summer. It wasn't testing the waters for a career choice, but actually a scared-straight tactic.
                      He was a dish bitch for 3 months and learned useful things like unique swear words, appreciation for waitress anatomy, and intro to drug culture and alcohol abuse (don't get me wrong, I forbid drug use in the kitchen and alcohol consumption only begins at end-of-shift...but it IS a kitchen afterall).
                      His biggest lesson: he never wants to work in a kitchen again.

              2. re: ninrn

                I don't the Henderson book "glorifies" his background, but I haven't read it. He probably wouldn't have had an interesting book if it weren't a story of redemption.

                1. re: GH1618

                  I'll definitely look at the Henderson book, GH1618. I think I heard an interview with him and he sounds like a good guy. (As for glorifying the thug life, I was thinking more of Huang, who also seems like a good guy, but who really loves to gangsta it up despite the fact that he comes from a comfortable middle class home). With the Henderson book, I'm concerned this kid will get stuck on the huge amount of money Henderson made so quickly as a young drug dealer and think that looks pretty good. Also, she has relatives in prison, and I'm afraid his stories of prison life might be traumatizing. I'm still going to read both Henderson and Huang, though. It's all in the telling, at the end of the day.

                2. re: ninrn

                  No such problems with Jacques Pepin's "The Apprentice." Of course his experience was in another time and place, but it emphasizes the importance of learning, experience, self-discipline, and hard work. Kindness? That's not really part of the job description. Respect? Pepin shows his respect not only for the chefs and cooks who taught him the basics but for others like Craig Claiborne whose influence he acknowledges.

                  Also, it's fairly short, a good read, and sometimes very funny.

                3. I loved Marcus Samuelsson's book and I didn't find it self-congratulatory at all. I think it would be an excellent choice. I listened to the audiobook, read by Chef Samuelsson. He did a great job telling his own story.

                  My sister, who is a professor, teaching middle-school level teacher ed classes, also listened to it. She is not nearly as interested in food as me. She loved the book and thought it would be very appropriate for many of the young adults she deals with.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: onrushpam

                    Thanks so much, Onrushpam. I was hoping the negative reviews I read weren't on target. I've requested that at the library too and am hoping it works.

                    1. re: onrushpam

                      +1 on Sanuelson's bio. He accepts responsibility for fathering a child during a quick fling, consistently supports the daughter financially, and eventually works very hard to develop a relationship with her.

                      Not a bad message for a modern teen.

                    2. White Heat: Marco Pierre White.
                      Blood Bones and Butter: Gabrielle Hamilton
                      Kitchen Confidential: Anthony Bourdain

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: petek

                        White Heat: Marco Pierre White - definitely not. just finished it - should have been subtitled "My Life as an A**hole".

                        1. re: WNYamateur

                          True enough,but he's no more of an A hole than the rest of the foulmouthed, megalomaniac top celebrity/superstar chefs... :)

                      2. Jauques Pepin - The Apprentice.

                        Amazing book. Jaques is the coolest guy ever and he had a rough start. Very inspirational. The guy overcame a ton of hardship but always remained positive.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Bart Hound

                          I can't believe Jacques Pepin's autobiography, The Apprentice, has not been the unanimous answer to the OP! It is written with grace, humility, and not a trace of self-pity. And his mother's recipe for eggs is a gem.

                          1. re: greygarious


                            I have not finished the book, but the fact that he was farmed out as a child,as so many were, just so he could have FOOD while he worked, and he deals with it with such grace.

                            + 2, actually.

                          2. re: Bart Hound

                            Agree on The Apprentice. Good book and I think the look into a different culture adds value too.

                          3. AB's Kitchen Confidential. Good old Tony hit the bottom pretty hard and crawled his way back.
                            And no BS in the book.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Puffin3

                              Problem with KC is AB kind of glorifies the low life. not what a kid needs.

                            2. Yeah, Marcus Samuelsson "did you know I was raised in Sweden?" spends too much time patting himself on the back IMO.

                              1. Jacque Pepin's The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen

                                It's a great read about a life of hardship was accepted as the norm, and his wondrous rise to the present. Lots of stuff about finding his way in the world.

                                Hope your teen finds what they're looking for, even if it's only themselves.

                                1. Grant Achatz, Life on the Line; it's a engaging memoir, not ony of how Mr. Achatz learned to cook (becoming one of the world's most acclaimed chef's in the bargain), but how he dealt with cancer. Great, unsentimental story of a man dealing with the ups and downs of life.

                                  1. (call me cynical)

                                    All chef bios are self-congratulatory, that is the point of a bio.

                                    How they came from being a nobody with $10 in their pocket to run a multi-restaurant/book/tv empire ...

                                    1. Not a chef bio, but maybe check out "Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street"

                                      1. Hi, I realized I'd never followed up after all your helpful posts. I went with Samuelsson's "Yes, Chef!" in the end. There's a Scandinavian connection for this kid, too, so, at the end of the day, the parallels were just too compelling. She was thrilled. (It didn't hurt that he's cute.) We look forward to reading many of your other suggestions as well. I shared some of your comments on this thread and others regarding the realities of the professional kitchen, and she's decided that's probably not the path for her after all. She said she feels like she's had enough stress and roughness without taking on this rough and stressful a profession. She's still cooking up a storm, though, and getting scarily good at it. So thank you, Chowhounds, for all the suggestions and insights. They helped a lot.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: ninrn

                                          Glad it worked out. She could still consider catering or selling a special item she cooks/bakes. Either can be a sideline or a full-time career, depending on how entrepreneurial one is. People sell foodstuffs on www.etsy.com, which is a helpful platform for home-crafters.

                                          1. re: ninrn

                                            The kitchen is not the militant brigade it once was.

                                          2. Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway)

                                            1. Another follow-up: I finally read Samuelsson's "Yes, Chef!" myself, and felt glad that's the one I chose to give the kid. It's a quick, lively read and very interesting. Samuelsson definitely comes off as a very bright and driven stress-case who survives by an almost ruthless self-compartmentalization, but until the final chapter on Red Rooster, I wouldn't say there's much in the way of bragging. Even then, to me, it just sounds like a young man who has failed in most of his independent business ventures voicing a series of desperate hopes and affirmations for a place he's sunk his whole being into.

                                              There are significant similarities between Samuelsson's background and that of the kid I gave the book to, and, even though Samuelsson paints himself as far from perfect, there are some excellent "lessons" in it: -- The importance of giving yourself over completely to an endeavor. -- The importance of being aware of, ready to accept, and grateful for everything good that comes your way. -- To push on even when you're scared to death and to not be cowed by other people's anger. -- That while the world may define you as black first and everything else later, you can choose to define yourself differently while still honoring and embracing your heritage.

                                              Thanks again to all of you who took the time to post on this thread. I'm reading Eddie Huang's book now, will read as many as I can of your other recommendations, and can't wait for Jacques Pepin (saving him for last because I love him so much). I'll pass them on to my young buddy when I'm done.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ninrn

                                                Care to branch out slightly?

                                                I would recommend Peter Mayle's Provence books.
                                                They are hilarious, food-centric, deal with real people in real life, and are well written.

                                                I find Ruth Reichl to be uneven, but Garlic and Sapphires is very accessible.

                                                And, of course, you can go a step further away and delve into Bill Bryson.