Notes from a Young Black Chef

Notes from a Young Black Chef

A groundbreaking memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, from the Top Chef star and Forbes and Zagat 30 Under 30 honoreeBy the time he was twenty-seven, Kwame Onwuachi had competed on Top Chef, cooked at the White House, and opened and closed one of the most talked about restaurants in America. In this inspiring memoir, he shares the remarkable story of his...

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Title:Notes from a Young Black Chef
Author:Kwame Onwuachi
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Notes from a Young Black Chef Reviews

  • LeeTravelGoddess

    Am I biased?? MAYBE, but so what!!! We don’t get many black chef memoirs and I gobbled this up like I was a hungry bear! The story was wonderful, tantalizing, a filling course of the best foods and I tell you I still want more. It’s funny how I was reading two very different stories by two very different men named Kwame— 💚.

    This particular memoir is not your Normal “rags to riches” but rather a gathering of life’s lessons to become someone and something that was kind of unfathomable— a freakin c

    Am I biased?? MAYBE, but so what!!! We don’t get many black chef memoirs and I gobbled this up like I was a hungry bear! The story was wonderful, tantalizing, a filling course of the best foods and I tell you I still want more. It’s funny how I was reading two very different stories by two very different men named Kwame— 💚.

    This particular memoir is not your Normal “rags to riches” but rather a gathering of life’s lessons to become someone and something that was kind of unfathomable— a freakin chef! And it didn’t take long for him to find his niche. I am compelled to travel to DC to go to his restaurant, see the African American Museum and come back to my Coast all in a weekend.

    I was literally on the edge of my seat thinking this can’t be how the story plays out and thankfully it did not, I am even more convinced that our journeys are ours and ours alone... and what is meant for you will be there waiting for you when YOU are ready. Overall a wonderful book and shout out to his moms— some moms really don’t get enough credit 💚💚💚!!! TAKE THE JOURNEY WITH KWAME, I’m glad I did!

  • Audrey

    This was an excellent food memoir. I admired Kwame when he was on Top Chef and thought his food looked and sounded amazing. I didn’t realize that his first restaurant closed soon after Top Chef aired. Kwame brings up a lot of relevant issues with race in the restaurant industry. While I think mistakes were made in the opening of his restaurant (pricing of the menu as well as not vetted partners), he raises valid points as to what people expect from chefs who are not white and how easy it is to b

    This was an excellent food memoir. I admired Kwame when he was on Top Chef and thought his food looked and sounded amazing. I didn’t realize that his first restaurant closed soon after Top Chef aired. Kwame brings up a lot of relevant issues with race in the restaurant industry. While I think mistakes were made in the opening of his restaurant (pricing of the menu as well as not vetted partners), he raises valid points as to what people expect from chefs who are not white and how easy it is to be pigeon holed into their background. Lastly, I loved that he talked about his love of Harry Potter mixed in with all his experiences. I hope to try his restaurant next time I’m in DC and wish him the most happiness and success.

    I received this arc from the publisher but all opinions are my own.

  • Alysa H.

    I enjoyed this book very much. Kwame Onwuachi has a powerful and timely story to tell, and I was riveted by his experiences. In a way, all you need to know before you decide whether to read this book is right there in the title: he's young, he's black, and he's a chef.

    Young: Onwuachi has had a busier life than some people twice his age, but I admit to sometimes rolling my eyes when he expresses dismay at his own youthful exploits -- "Oh, I was so young and naive then!" It's like, dude, it was on

    I enjoyed this book very much. Kwame Onwuachi has a powerful and timely story to tell, and I was riveted by his experiences. In a way, all you need to know before you decide whether to read this book is right there in the title: he's young, he's black, and he's a chef.

    Young: Onwuachi has had a busier life than some people twice his age, but I admit to sometimes rolling my eyes when he expresses dismay at his own youthful exploits -- "Oh, I was so young and naive then!" It's like, dude, it was only 2 years ago and you are still not even 30.

    Black: Onwuachi's identity as a black man, and specifically as a black man from NYC with family from the American south (mother's side) and from Nigeria (father's side), is central, and important, and very interesting to read about.

    Chef: This book is an entry in a long line of chef memoirs that will satisfy lovers of the genre. Onwuachi's culinary career trajectory, and how it has intersected with his more personal journeys, is the stuff of food world legend.

    And the fourth word in the title? Notes. While none of the chapters read like fuzzy sketches, I would say that each one strikes a separate thematic note. The book goes more or less in chronological order, but not entirely. Some chapters do repeat bits of information and parts of anecdotes already covered in other chapters.

    One more editorial criticism is that there are a few factual errors in the book that kicked me right out and also made me wonder about the truthfulness of other, less provable things. For instance, in NYC, the Union Square Barnes & Noble is NOT on 14th Street, it's on 17th Street. If Onwuachi (or Joshua David Stein, or the editors) didn't check that, what else did they not check?

    Eh, I do get a sense that this is not the sort of book that lets hard facts get in the way of a good, emotionally honest story. That's not necessarily a bad thing; in fact it's true about many memoirs. Just... buyer beware :)

    ** I received an ARC of this book via Penguin's First to Read program **

  • Katy

    Rounding up to 4 stars. I'm not entirely sure why I picked this one up since I'm neither a foodie nor knowledgeable about the culinary world / fine dining, but I ended up being interested by Onwuachi's journey even if I had to google a few food terms.

  • Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: This was a thoughtful memoir that tackled issues of racism head-on, but I wanted a little more depth.

    "By the time he was twenty-seven, Kwame Onwuachi had competed on Top Chef, cooked at the White House, and opened and closed one of the most talked about restaurants in America." (source) These incredible accomplishments were in part possible due to the influence of his family. His mother inspired his love of cooking from a young age, passing on family recipes with origins from the bar hi

    Summary: This was a thoughtful memoir that tackled issues of racism head-on, but I wanted a little more depth.

    "By the time he was twenty-seven, Kwame Onwuachi had competed on Top Chef, cooked at the White House, and opened and closed one of the most talked about restaurants in America." (source) These incredible accomplishments were in part possible due to the influence of his family. His mother inspired his love of cooking from a young age, passing on family recipes with origins from the bar his grandparents ran as a safe gathering space for black people in 1960's Texas to recipes reflecting his father's Nigerian origins. Throughout his life, his family shared food with love and his realization that he could provide this experience for other people started him down the path towards becoming a professional chef. Along the way, he had to overcome barriers shaped by racism and classism from his school years through his time in some of the most renowned American kitchens.

    The only other celebrity memoir I've read that acknowledges a co-author was I Am Malala and there I felt the tug-of-war between the journalist co-author and Malala's younger-sounding voice. There was no such conflict here. I thought Kwame's story was presented well, in a single, consistent tone. His passion, his nerves, his humility, and his ambition came through in a really balanced way. Personally, I also thought he used precisely the right amount of profanity to emphasize the things that mattered most to him.

    For all that I thought the author presented his emotions really well, the only times I felt emotionally engaged by this book were when he was talking about the racism he experienced. I thought it was heartbreaking and infuriating that at 10 years old, he could tell that his teachers saw him as more of a threat than his white peers. I thought the same thing when, as a successful adult, he still had to endure poor treatment by both a cop and a supervisor due to his race. These are incredibly important stories and I admired the forthright way he discussed the racism he's encountered. I wish other parts of his story had drawn me in just as much.

    I think one reason I wasn't drawn into this story more was that the writing felt a little light. In the prologue, there was a wonderful section where we learned about the history of the food Kwame was creating. I would have loved more of this. As is, we got some fantastic bits on his personal connection to the food later on, but little history. As someone who doesn't know much about cooking higher end food, I'd also have liked more details about what Kwame learned. Again, we got bits of this, as when he discussed the technique for creating a consommé, but I wanted information like this for so many of the other meals he cooked.

    The author did make some very insightful observations about his life. I particularly admired his discussion about how he has always shaped his appearance to the extent he could, given preconceptions about him because of his race and gender. This was a theme throughout, from his splurging on nice clothes as teen to his comfort with putting on a persona for Top Chef, since moving through the unwelcoming world of haute cuisine required him to do the same every day. I wanted more of this too. That was definitely my main complaint with this book and not the worst problem to have!

    The recipes at the end of each chapter would mostly be 'stretch' recipes for me, taking slightly longer than I usually spend or involving a single ingredient that I've never bought. I think they'd be perfect for someone wanting to try something just a little out of their comfort zone, while still capturing the spirit of the meals Kwame discussed in his memoir.

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