NOTES FROM A YOUNG BLACK CHEF

A MEMOIR

Grit and defiance infuse a revealing self-portrait.

An ambitious chef chronicles his rocky journey to success.

In an impassioned debut memoir, Onwuachi, assisted by journalist and restaurant critic Stein, reflects on his unlikely transformation from a gang member to—at the age of 27—the chef of his own fine-dining restaurant in Washington, D.C., where he currently is executive chef at another venue. Growing up in the Bronx, he shifted between his mother’s cramped apartment and the upscale home of his sadistic father, who fell into ferocious rages and beat him. The beatings only incited the author’s rebelliousness, and his frustrated mother sent him to live with his grandfather in Nigeria to “learn respect.” Whatever self-knowledge he gained in Nigeria, though, did not survive the violence-ridden Bronx projects, where he soon earned status and money by dealing drugs. He continued to deal in college, pocketing $3,000 per week selling to dorm mates, until he was expelled. Depressed and rootless but enamored by cooking, Onwuachi took “a sad-ass parade of short-lived menial jobs” in restaurants and, briefly, worked with his mother, a caterer. As cook on a cleanup ship for the Deepwater Horizon spill, he grew certain that he had “the palate, the recipes, the heart” to be a first-rate chef. To hone his skills, he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, at the same time running his own catering company to pay tuition. An externship at the famed Manhattan restaurant Per Se and a job at the prestigious Eleven Madison Park were intense, eye-opening experiences. Onwuachi is forthright about the obstacles he faced: kitchens “poisoned by racism” and the assumption that “what the world wants to see is a black chef making black food.” Determined to succeed on his own terms, he learned “to hustle to get ahead, to write my own story, and to manipulate, to the extent that I could, how I was seen.” Recipes following each chapter show the range of Onwuachi’s talents.

Grit and defiance infuse a revealing self-portrait.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3262-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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