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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. In this memoir, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age. Growing up in the Bronx and Nigeria (where he was sent by his mother to "learn respect"), food was Onwuachi's great love. 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. In this memoir, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age. Growing up in the Bronx and Nigeria (where he was sent by his mother to "learn respect"), food was Onwuachi's great love. He launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars he made selling candy on the subway, and trained in the kitchens of some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the country. But the road to success is riddled with potholes. As a young chef, Onwuachi was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the world of fine dining can be for people of color, and his first restaurant, the culmination of years of planning, shuttered just months after opening. -Notes from a Young Black Chef is one man's pursuit of his passions, despite the odds.


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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. In this memoir, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age. Growing up in the Bronx and Nigeria (where he was sent by his mother to "learn respect"), food was Onwuachi's great love. 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. In this memoir, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age. Growing up in the Bronx and Nigeria (where he was sent by his mother to "learn respect"), food was Onwuachi's great love. He launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars he made selling candy on the subway, and trained in the kitchens of some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the country. But the road to success is riddled with potholes. As a young chef, Onwuachi was forced to grapple with just how unwelcoming the world of fine dining can be for people of color, and his first restaurant, the culmination of years of planning, shuttered just months after opening. -Notes from a Young Black Chef is one man's pursuit of his passions, despite the odds.

30 review for Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Larry H

    A memoir AND recipes? I’m so here for that. Writing a memoir before the age of 30 may seem a little premature, but the life Kwame Onwuachi has led up to this point, and his accomplishments in the culinary world, a community not known for its diversity at the top, is noteworthy. (He is currently the chef of an acclaimed restaurant in Washington, DC, Kith/Kin, and he was recently named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine.) In Notes from a Young Black Chef , Onwuachi talks about his diffic A memoir AND recipes? I’m so here for that. Writing a memoir before the age of 30 may seem a little premature, but the life Kwame Onwuachi has led up to this point, and his accomplishments in the culinary world, a community not known for its diversity at the top, is noteworthy. (He is currently the chef of an acclaimed restaurant in Washington, DC, Kith/Kin, and he was recently named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine.) In Notes from a Young Black Chef , Onwuachi talks about his difficult childhood, shuttled between his mother, who struggled with making ends meet as a caterer, and his physically and verbally abusive father. When his mother was unable to control his trouble-making tendencies, he was sent to Nigeria to live with his paternal grandfather, and it was there he began to appreciate his heritage and the culinary delights of African cooking. He was smart but rebellious, which led to him being kicked out of school after school. He followed a risky path—joining a gang, dealing drugs, always staying one step ahead of the law, until his drug-dealing operations led to him being kicked out of college. While he always had an affinity for food and cooking (even at a young age he used to help his mother in the kitchen), it wasn’t until he worked as a cook on a ship serving those cleaning up after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that he realized the culinary world was where he felt the most passionate, the most at home. Onwuachi discusses starting a catering company, his journey through culinary school and learning from some of the greatest kitchens, being on "Top Chef," and the highs and lows involved with opening his first restaurant in Washington, DC, a tremendously ambitious project that taught him a great deal about the business and himself. (It was not the same restaurant he operates now.) It’s funny; most of the memoirs I tend to read are those written by chefs, and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. As you might imagine, someone who has accomplished so much before the age of 30 isn’t always going to be humble, but Onwuachi never stops recognizing that were it not for the path he chose, he might not be alive now. (His "Acknowledgments" page is particularly poignant.) I read this very quickly and, thanks to the descriptions of the food he cooked and the recipes he shared, I was really hungry afterward! If you enjoy books written by chefs or about the culinary world, definitely pick up Notes from a Young Black Chef . See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com. You can follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    From Louisiana to the Bronx, from Nigeria and to the Culinary Institute, landing in Washington D. C. this young man has learned to cook his own story, his own culture. A childhood filled with abuse from his father, support and love from his mother, to his grandfather in Nigeria, who taught him that his ancestors would always be part of him. Selling drugs in college, then cooking for some of the best restaurants to competing Top Chef, he has pulled himself together and fought for a life of which From Louisiana to the Bronx, from Nigeria and to the Culinary Institute, landing in Washington D. C. this young man has learned to cook his own story, his own culture. A childhood filled with abuse from his father, support and love from his mother, to his grandfather in Nigeria, who taught him that his ancestors would always be part of him. Selling drugs in college, then cooking for some of the best restaurants to competing Top Chef, he has pulled himself together and fought for a life of which he could be proud. As I was reading this I was thinking to myself, How many different lives he has lived." He has fought for recognition, struggled to change the opinions of those who thought a Black Chef shouldn't be in fine dining. I enjoy cooking, and this book contains reckless, or a pdf file for those like myself, who listened. The food mentioned here was such a variety, some down home easier meals to recipes and ingredients of which I had never heard. I fell into his story, sympathized with him during his struggles, felt sad for the young boy who was abused. His first foray into running his own restaurant was not successful due to many circumstances out of his control but I hope his future endeavors will be more successful. He reads his own story and it was impactful to hear his own story in his own voice. Some readers may find his words, the anger behind them at times, arrogant or agressive. I though understood and think he needed and still needs these qualities to survive and thrive.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    Cooking has always been a passion of mine, so when my co-moderator at the nonfiction book club mentioned that she wanted to read a new memoir by an up and coming top chef, I decided to join her. Notes From a Young Black Chef came at a good time for me as this year celebrity memoirs have become my go-to genre in between denser reads. Reading this story that is dubbed as rags-to-riches but is a really one of a person of color breaking through a glass ceiling in his field, one can not help but be c Cooking has always been a passion of mine, so when my co-moderator at the nonfiction book club mentioned that she wanted to read a new memoir by an up and coming top chef, I decided to join her. Notes From a Young Black Chef came at a good time for me as this year celebrity memoirs have become my go-to genre in between denser reads. Reading this story that is dubbed as rags-to-riches but is a really one of a person of color breaking through a glass ceiling in his field, one can not help but be captivated by Kwame Onwuachi’s life. Kwame Onwuachi was born in November 1989 in the Bronx, New York to parents Patrick and Jewel. What was supposed to be two souls passing in the night became a forced marriage of two distinct people and cultures. Jewel hailed from Louisiana by way of Texas and always enjoyed cooking. Her food held the distinct flavors of creole, Cajun, Deep South, and a melding of spices. Learning from her mother Cassie and stepfather Winston, Jewel Robinson thrived in the kitchen and became an executive caterer. Although low on money in between jobs, her cooking was a labor of love and she passed this on to her children Tatiana and Kwame, who both helped her with catering jobs from early ages. Kwame eventually became a top chef, yet Tatiana prepares award winning cheese cake, always a winner in my book. It is through women that Kwame learned to put his soul into his food preparation, and this has remained true through his short life. Although Kwame’s parents divorced when he was young and his father was abusive, he learned about his ancestry through his father’s Nigerian roots. When his mother believed that life on the New York streets was becoming to tough for Kwame, she sent him to live with his grandparents in Ibusa, Nigeria. It is there that Kwame learned about efusi stew and the origins of his ancestry. His grandfather is a scholar of the Pan-African movement who obtained a PhD from American universities but chose to return to his roots. Running a compound in a rural community, he showed Kwame among other things how to sacrifice a chicken to the ancestors and to show them respect. It is this lesson that he brought more than anything else upon his return to the United States. After a series of bad breaks, Jewel moved her catering business to New Orleans and Kwame decided to follow in her footsteps. People of color comprise a sliver of prominent chefs in the United States and a series of chance meetings landed Kwame catering jobs and a slot in the Culinary Institute Of America. I thought I cooked gourmet style until I read the descriptions of the school and the high end kitchens where Kwame worked. Each meal is a production and a work of art requiring a team of 10-20 dedicated chefs. Despite finding few mentors who look like him in top kitchens, Kwame has landed positions in the upper echelons of New York restaurants. There, he was met with the same racial slurs and silent abuses that he faced while working at a barbecue joint in Louisiana. Sadly, other than distinctly ethnic restaurants, few chefs of color are in the position to mentor up and coming cooks like Kwame and his ideas appear to be cutting edge. He, to his credit, has not let the racist remarks push out of the industry, and at the time of publication, has opened five high end restaurants and been named to a who’s who of Americans under age 30. Notes From a Young Black Chef are full of anecdotes of perseverance and recipes. I would have preferred more in depth writing and found out what Kwame is doing now rather than reading about his current profession on the back jacket cover. Then again, not every book can be a literary masterpiece. I did enjoy reading about the workings of Culinary Institute and of high end restaurants. People are always telling me to open a restaurant and I can use this as proof that is a lot of work. Yet, Kwame has prevailed and finding his own space among top chefs. It will be intriguing to see where he is in ten years and if he has carved a space among the best of the best American chefs. 3.5 stars

  4. 4 out of 5

    PorshaJo

    Rating 4.5 I had no idea who Kwame Onwuachi is and had no knowledge of this book. While browsing my library for new audio books I came across this one. To be honest, I grabbed it just based on the title. It had the word 'chef' in it. I figured I could hear about the lifestyle of a chef and more importantly food. I'm a sucker for any foodie book. So I grabbed it and jumped in with no expectations. This one tells the life story of twenty-seven year old Kwame Onwuachi. I know, I know...I thought the Rating 4.5 I had no idea who Kwame Onwuachi is and had no knowledge of this book. While browsing my library for new audio books I came across this one. To be honest, I grabbed it just based on the title. It had the word 'chef' in it. I figured I could hear about the lifestyle of a chef and more importantly food. I'm a sucker for any foodie book. So I grabbed it and jumped in with no expectations. This one tells the life story of twenty-seven year old Kwame Onwuachi. I know, I know...I thought the same thing. 27 and writing his memoir, what can he possibly talk about??? But the author begins to tell the story of his life from a very young child to where he is right now, opening a fine-dining restaurant in DC. One of the most talked about, and most expensive restaurants, under high profile circumstances, realizing his dream, to the ultimate closure of that restaurant...3 months after opening. He details about major events in his life that shaped him, the food in his life and how that played a part of where he is today. But more important, his drive and determination. Yeah, not all his choices were great, but whose are. I loved the story of his upbringing, the stories of his life - being sent to Nigeria to live to 'learn respect' but learning so much about food and his heritage, selling candy bars in the NYC subway to make money for his startup business, his time at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and working in various kitchens either across NYC or in the South. And man, he can talk about food too. Obviously I really enjoyed this one. It's funny as twice I shut it off in the beginning saying 'nope, don't like it'. But I knew I had to give it a bit of time. The author narrates the audio himself. At first, I thought he talked too fast but I grew to like the voice and narration. Does he appear arrogant? I really didn't think so. He's proud of where he came from, where he's at, and he's confident. I found this one fascinating. I couldn't care about his time on Top Chef (I don't watch that show, too much fake drama and not enough food.) It's such a small part of this story. My only issue, hence only 4.5, I could have done without political jabs, and I think it ended a bit too abruptly. I wanted to hear more. Overall, so glad I 'read' this one. A must for anyone into food, into hearing about what it's like to work as a chef, or if you just want to hear a great story.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Anne Bogel

    You may recognize Kwame Onwuachi's name from his stint on Top Chef. But before that, he started his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars he made selling candy on the subway in NYC and worked in notable restaurants across the country. By age 27, not only had he competed on Top Chef, he served dinner to Present Obama at the White House and closed his fine dining restaurant shortly after opening it. He's honest about his mistakes but he also delves into the racism he's experienced in t You may recognize Kwame Onwuachi's name from his stint on Top Chef. But before that, he started his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars he made selling candy on the subway in NYC and worked in notable restaurants across the country. By age 27, not only had he competed on Top Chef, he served dinner to Present Obama at the White House and closed his fine dining restaurant shortly after opening it. He's honest about his mistakes but he also delves into the racism he's experienced in the various kitchens he’s worked in. His voice is a welcome addition to the food memoir canon.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Yaaresse

    With the exception of Malala Yousafzai, who has lived more in 21 years than many people will live in a lifetime and has a Nobel Prize to prove it, I'm not sure anyone under 30 really has enough self-knowledge of life experience to write a memoir. (I realize the same could be said of many people over 30 who have written memoirs, too.) Onwuachi certainly knows how to market himself. He admits in the book that he puts on different personas for different audiences, so the reader can only ask "Which With the exception of Malala Yousafzai, who has lived more in 21 years than many people will live in a lifetime and has a Nobel Prize to prove it, I'm not sure anyone under 30 really has enough self-knowledge of life experience to write a memoir. (I realize the same could be said of many people over 30 who have written memoirs, too.) Onwuachi certainly knows how to market himself. He admits in the book that he puts on different personas for different audiences, so the reader can only ask "Which one are we getting here?" I suspect we're getting whichever one he thinks will generate the most buzz and biggest payoff. (Question: why would someone who was a "gifted" student and wrote essays skillfully enough to win culinary grants need a co-author to tell his own story anyway?) Onwuachi seems far more invested in being a "brand" and being flashy than in anything else. For his wins, he is quick to take credit. For his stumbles, he is even quicker to find excuses. He seems fixated on luxury and appearances. He (or his co-author -- it's hard to tell who is driving this bus) is quick to tell us about his designer shoes or how someone allegedly was impressed with his fine wool suit. He mentions going to "the best" restaurants, by which he means the most expensive, but we get zero details on the meals he ate. Were any memorable for him beyond the bragging rights of eating at a "known" and expensive place? He goes on and on about how, when planning for his first restaurant, he had to have luxurious and custom-made doors, plates, chairs, etc. He "agonized for months" about the lighting fixtures. Funny thing though: he never says much about food except a few bland lines that felt phoned in and a few quotes from other people praising his cooking -- which seem to be thrown in to convince us that other people think he's brilliant rather than to tell us anything about the food. Onwauchi is keen to emphasize the rarity or cost of an ingredient, but he never says much about its smell, taste, texture, history, etc. It's all about the image, never about the flavor or the craft. He's far more about the "celebrity" than the "chef." He presents as shallow and self-absorbed, quick to take offense and quick to claim entitlement. He may be talented, and he may be smart; however, he's not very likable: he comes off as insincere and drunk off his own bathwater. I think the part where he completely lost me is that he mentions (many times) how his mother (and later his half-sister) continually struggled to make ends meet, and yet while he fills his closet with Prada and Armani clothes bought when he made thousands a week dealing drugs, not once does he mention helping either of them with some cold, hard cash. If he ever did, you know he would have written in into the book because that would make him look good, and he's all into looking good. But then, broke because he blew all his "hard earned" cash on designer clothes and partying, he turned around and convinced his mother to drain her meager savings account to subsidize his culinary school tuition. I guess it was her money and her decision, but that is some serious entitlement. When his father goaded him by saying "Why don't you just go back to selling drugs?" Onwuachi suddenly developed scruples and got offended? Yeah, it was hardly great parental advice, but I can't help but wonder if what his father really meant was, "Oh, OK, so when you were flush, you screwed around and wasted your resources, and now you come around asking for handouts because suddenly something is important to you?" His dad sounds like a major jerk -- although we're only getting one side of the story -- but you can't expect to sever a relationship, even with good reason, and still make a claim on the other person's wallet. When Onwuachi finally gets around to talking about being a chef, he talks about creating an autobiography through menu...at the ripe old age of 26. Then he complains that people call him pretentious. Well...yeah. That's pretentious. To have an autobiography that means anything to other people, you have to have experienced something outside yourself. Maybe, if he's still around in a decade or two, he'll have something to say that is worth reading. Right now, he's just not nearly as interesting or unique as he thinks he is.

  7. 5 out of 5

    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!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brandice

    I first learned of Kwame Onwuachi when I saw him on Top Chef several years ago - He was one of my favorite contestants that season. Despite being a pretty terrible cook, I absolutely love the show and have been a die-hard fan for years. Notes from a Young Black Chef is Kwame’s memoir detailing his rise in the culinary world and the lessons he’s learned along the way. He’s only 30 but has experienced a lot in life already. Kwame grew up in New York and briefly spent time in Nigeria with his grand I first learned of Kwame Onwuachi when I saw him on Top Chef several years ago - He was one of my favorite contestants that season. Despite being a pretty terrible cook, I absolutely love the show and have been a die-hard fan for years. Notes from a Young Black Chef is Kwame’s memoir detailing his rise in the culinary world and the lessons he’s learned along the way. He’s only 30 but has experienced a lot in life already. Kwame grew up in New York and briefly spent time in Nigeria with his grandfather. He also spent time later living with his mom down in Louisiana. His mom had a catering business, he grew up enjoying the show Iron Chef, and eventually started his own catering company. While he endured a lot in his personal life and had many obstacles to overcome, including financial challenges and a tough childhood, Kwame didn’t always make responsible decisions either, even when he was old enough to know better. Unfortunately, he’s also experienced racism in the culinary world. In addition to Top Chef, Kwame cooked for the crews involved in the Deepwater Horizon spill, held positions in a few high-end restaurants, and had his own fine dining restaurant in Washington D.C., though sadly, this was a short stint as it closed just a few months after opening. With a resume this varied at just 30 years old, Kwame has accomplished a lot. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Kwame himself. While I think his confidence is warranted, there were multiple points where I felt he came off as arrogant, yet some of his experiences also seemed to humble him. Overall I enjoyed Notes from a Young Black Chef and found Kwame’s story interesting.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    "I come from a long line of restauranteurs, from a family whose roots were made of gravy and whose blood ran hot with pimentón." I enjoyed Kwame's memoir (and he's still very young and has many successes and breathless leaps ahead of him.) I had no idea how varied his experiences were and how much he had done even before Top Chef. I hope to eat in one of his restaurants eventually, especially if he stays in DC.

  10. 4 out of 5

    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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melissa (LifeFullyBooked)

    3.5 stars Listened to the audio of this book, narrated by the author. I became a fan of Kwame during his stint on Top Chef, so I was fascinated by his family background and all he has overcome in order to be the success he is at such a young age. He's a bit arrogant, but overall his memoir is so intriguing because he has had to rise above racism, classism, and so many other things to show the world that a young black chef can cook fine dining meals and do it well. His relating of his history is qu 3.5 stars Listened to the audio of this book, narrated by the author. I became a fan of Kwame during his stint on Top Chef, so I was fascinated by his family background and all he has overcome in order to be the success he is at such a young age. He's a bit arrogant, but overall his memoir is so intriguing because he has had to rise above racism, classism, and so many other things to show the world that a young black chef can cook fine dining meals and do it well. His relating of his history is quite strong and very gripping, yet I found the second part of the book to be a bit short-sighted and immature. I wonder how he will feel about this book in another 20 years when he goes back to reflect--will his arrogance make him laugh or will it make him shake his head with wonder at how he thought he had everything all figured out at age 26. I know it's heartbreaking that his restaurant didn't succeed, but hopefully he has taken lessons from that experience and let it mold him into a better chef and person overall. I'm very glad I read this book and it made me want to expand my cooking horizons into some more African dishes. I look forward to seeing what Kwame does in the future.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jameil

    3.5 stars. The first half of the book is really strong. Kwame has honed telling his origin story and knows how to sell his success. He also names names in a very juicy way. I would love to hear how they feel about their portrayals in this book. I can also see plenty of people wondering about his mentions of race throughout. He attributes this to the nebulousness of racism that’s not attached to the n-word. It’s can be hard to pin down for outsiders when it’s not attached to a hood. The second ha 3.5 stars. The first half of the book is really strong. Kwame has honed telling his origin story and knows how to sell his success. He also names names in a very juicy way. I would love to hear how they feel about their portrayals in this book. I can also see plenty of people wondering about his mentions of race throughout. He attributes this to the nebulousness of racism that’s not attached to the n-word. It’s can be hard to pin down for outsiders when it’s not attached to a hood. The second half suffers from the problems of so many memoirs written too close to painful events: a myopic point of view. There’s very much a feeling of “Yes, I can admit some fault, but it was mostly their fault and they are generally sucky people and okay maybe I’m wallowing but it’s just so unfair to me and the people I like!” I don’t doubt the closing of any enterprise that you’ve invested this much of yourself is devastating. I just think this book would be better served with some distance from the pain. Mentions of a girlfriend (fiancée?) were also placed in confusing spots and not fleshed out leaving you to wonder the point of mentioning her at all. I guess so you still have one when she reads your book. 😂 The few recipes included are a mix of the likely unattainable for people who don’t live in a city with huge west African population or frequent trips to the motherland ($15 egusi seeds on Amazon, anyone??) and some I wanted to make immediately like the gumbo and and chicken curry.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)

    Kwame Onwuachi may seem too young to have a memoir on the shelf but once you read his impressive story, you won’t be surprised. Growing up in the Bronx, Onwuachi was surrounded by amazing food and a mother who made it her career. He was sidetracked as a youth by the streets, an abusive father, and an awareness of racism that left him frustrated and angry. His mom sent him to Nigeria to learn respect, where he lived with his grandfather and began to understand and appreciate his ancestors. While h Kwame Onwuachi may seem too young to have a memoir on the shelf but once you read his impressive story, you won’t be surprised. Growing up in the Bronx, Onwuachi was surrounded by amazing food and a mother who made it her career. He was sidetracked as a youth by the streets, an abusive father, and an awareness of racism that left him frustrated and angry. His mom sent him to Nigeria to learn respect, where he lived with his grandfather and began to understand and appreciate his ancestors. While his perspective changed, his attitude returned with him to the U.S.---along with an unwavering determination. Selling candy on the subway and drugs in college, Onwuachi eventually started his own catering company. He trained in the kitchens of high-profile restaurants, attended the Culinary Institute of America, competed on Top Chef, and opened (and closed) his first restaurant — all before the age of 30. Onwuachi is honest and raw in this memoir; reflecting on both the highs and lows of his life thus far. While many reviews I’ve read mention arrogance and too much focus on appearance (he loves to talk about the designer brands he purchases), this didn’t really bother me. He knows who he is and what he wants, achieving all of it because he had the confidence (and yeah, arrogance), ambition, and talent. I recommend Notes from a Young Black Chef: A Memoir to readers who enjoy food/memoir/autobiography. For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

    Thanks AAKnopf for sharing NOTES FROM A YOUNG BLACK CHEF with me. memoirs have a special place in my book loving heart. This one is no different. It is Kwame's coming of age story, navigating life as a young black male in a predominantly white (and unwelcoming) industry, and his perseverance on never giving up on his dreams. It was well written, engaging and I loved the recipes at the end of each chapter.

  15. 4 out of 5

    britt_brooke

    Through food, Kwame passionately, and honestly, unfurls his life story. His tumultuous upbringing resulted in several moves and you can taste the influences in his dishes. Maybe one day, I’ll be fortunate enough to dine at one of his restaurants. I admire his confidence and drive to succeed in an industry that wanted him - a black chef - to fit a certain niche. Solid memoir. More than just food. Much more.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ms.pegasus

    Chef Kwame Onwuachi wrote this memoir when he was 28 years old — shortly after his signature achievement, the Shaw Bijou, closed a mere three months after its opening. It was a brutal blow in a brutal industry driven by massive egos, ambition, relentless stress, and too often, a level of rage and abusiveness that would make Gordon Ramsay seem mellow by comparison. However, Onwuachi's memoir is about much more than the elite world of haute cuisine. It is an unsettling view of the world seen throu Chef Kwame Onwuachi wrote this memoir when he was 28 years old — shortly after his signature achievement, the Shaw Bijou, closed a mere three months after its opening. It was a brutal blow in a brutal industry driven by massive egos, ambition, relentless stress, and too often, a level of rage and abusiveness that would make Gordon Ramsay seem mellow by comparison. However, Onwuachi's memoir is about much more than the elite world of haute cuisine. It is an unsettling view of the world seen through the lens of racism in America. Onwuachi spent most of his formative years living in the Bronx. When he was ten he was sent for two years to live with his grandfather in Nigeria. (His grandfather was a respected Igbo chief and accomplished academic who repatriated to Nigeria in 1973, despairing of the racial climate in America). The Kwame story is one of fortitude in the face of that same racism. He contrasts the alienation he felt in the Bronx with his time in Nigeria. He suggests that some of that racism contributed to the rage and abusiveness of his own father. Living in the neighborhood of the Webster Housing Projects of the Bronx, Onwuachi portrays a cycle of increasing resentment: “The guys at Webster had all been in and out of lockup. I was in fact the only one who hadn't seen the inside of a jail cell. Even when they weren't serving time, the guys from Webster were constantly hassled by cops. This was at the height of Mayor Bloomberg's stop-and-frisk years, so it wasn't uncommon to be thrown against a wall and searched a few times a week.” (p.95) For me, the scariest incident occurred when he was working nights to pay his tuition to the Culinary Institute of America. As anyone in the industry knows, work hours can extend late into the night. It was 2:00 AM when he was stopped by a traffic officer near his lodings at the Institute. He speaks of his own terror and the officer's attitude of resentful distrust. He was then cuffed and arrested for some unpaid traffic tickets (tickets that might well have been accrued by his abusive father who had lent him the vehicle in lieu of any substantial contribution toward his tuition). Onwuachi also speaks candidly about his gang affiliation in the Bronx and a lucrative career distributing marijuana and alcohol at the University of Bridgeport. His life could easily have gone in the direction of his best friend Jaquan who never left the projects. Throughout these pages one senses Onwuachi's struggle to establish his identity, an identity that comes from within and not shaped by the alienating circumstances of his life. “For as long as I can remember, I've been able to move back and forth, uptown and downtown, between the black and white worlds and in between....I knew how to be black in Nigeria, black in Soho, black in Harlem and the Bronx.” (p.112) He expresses that restless search in his cooking. When he speaks about his cultural roots, it is recital of geography rather than people. His father and grandfather were from the Nigerian delta; his mother's parents came from the bayou country of Lousiana and later moved to south Texas. His stepfather Winston was from Trinidad. The spicy comfort foods of his youth are invoked again and again in his memoir: mirepoix of celery, bell pepper and onions, gumbo, Indian and Trinidadian curries, egusi stew, and jollof rice. These are the flavors he returns to after the debacle of Shaw Bijou. After the book was written, he was given free reign to create his own menus at “Kith and Kin” in the InterContinental Hotel in Washington D.C. There Onwuachi fuses these hot flavors with the innovative techniques and imagination he honed at Tom Coliccio's “Craft,” Thomas Keller's “Per Se,” and “Eleven Madison Park.” One senses an expansion of vision and a more sustainable ambition in Kith and Kin. His interest in a history broader than his own personal experience bodes well for a more mature perspective on life. It is an innovative path he is carving out for himself rather than one defined by the past and those he perceives as exclusionary. NOTES: "Per Se" chef Eli Kaimeh's name is misspelled (incorrectly given as "Kamieh") This review of “Per Se” reveals the brutal and highly subjective impact of a bad review: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/13/di... Onwuachi opens his memoir at the opening night of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a museum linking the historical and the contemporary which in a way mirrors what he is doing at “Kith and Kin”: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/mus... An update on Onwuachi's career: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/di...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I finished this one feeling like a diner at Onwuachi’s restaurant, Shaw Bijou: unsatisfied, disappointed, and maybe even a little turned off by the product being Vanna-Whited in front of me. The product in the book, of course, is Onwuachi himself. No doubt he’s a talented chef, and his story certainly isn’t over at the ripe old age of 27, which (I think) is how old he was when Shaw Bijou shuttered its doors forever. That said, I hope that before he gets to work on the metaphorical sequel, he spe I finished this one feeling like a diner at Onwuachi’s restaurant, Shaw Bijou: unsatisfied, disappointed, and maybe even a little turned off by the product being Vanna-Whited in front of me. The product in the book, of course, is Onwuachi himself. No doubt he’s a talented chef, and his story certainly isn’t over at the ripe old age of 27, which (I think) is how old he was when Shaw Bijou shuttered its doors forever. That said, I hope that before he gets to work on the metaphorical sequel, he spends like six months at an ashram in a state of much-needed self-reflection, because, well, the dude is kind of an asshole. I’ll explain: 1. The man thinks he’s got nothing left to learn — I mean Jesus, he wrote (“wrote”) a memoir while still in his twenties. When his restaurant failed, he pins blame on everyone — his “cowardly incompetent” business partners, the food critic who expected more from a meal costing $500/head, the poor line chef who got called out for being too heavy-handed with the salt — rather than considering for one hot second that maybe, just maybe, he needed to say “hey, as the head chef, I’m accountable for this, and I didn’t deliver.” Pointing fingers is easier, though, isn’t it? 2. I don’t care what you price your restaurant at. I don’t care if you’re young. You’ve got the chops to show me a flawless fine-dining experience full of flavors and precision and ingenuity, and it’s going to cost me $500? Cool, I’m in — but you better fucking get it right. Thomas Keller always gets it right. EMP always gets it right. Meanwhile, Onwuachi seems to think the restaurant critic who wrote a meh review needed to extend a grace period to Shaw Bijou (and really, to him) so it could “find its footing.” No. You don’t get to find your footing after I give you 500 bucks. 3. Onwuachi proudly brags about his affinity for “the best” of everything, by which — in a barfy Trumpian way — he means the most expensive. He can’t wait to tell us about all the Prada he’s wearing, which is all fine and good until you remember that his mother is barely scraping by working as a caterer after spending every last penny she had on Onwuachi’s private schools (that he got kicked out of). When he decides to go to culinary school, though, and finds himself short on tuition, does he eBay or Poshmark all his designer shit to foot the bill? Nope! He sure doesn’t. Instead, he asks his mother to basically give him her lifesavings — which she does, sweet woman — and then we never hear about it again. (He asks his dad the same question and then objects when his dad [who admittedly sounds like a giant dickwad] doesn’t react the way he wanted.) And yet: Onwuachi’s charm is palpable. Yeah, he’s cocky, but he’s talented, too. He’s got vision and determination and grit. The book’s not especially well written, per se*, but it’s entertaining (when it’s not being annoying and/or infuriating, that is). I hope time and age do their magic on Onwuachi so he can play his next hand not just as someone a little older, but a little wiser, too. *Pun very much intended.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Esther Espeland

    I liked parts of this and he has had an interesting life! But I also think it’s a tough deal to write a memoir before you’ve hit thirty

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rekha

    I can’t figure out why this book isn’t higher rated on GR. I found it fascinating. The story of Kwame Onwuachi - his voyage from the streets of New York to Top Chef and beyond. I found his backstory and evolution interesting and the behind the scenes peek of Michelin starred restaurants fascinating. Heard Micheal B Jordan’s bought the film rights - can’t wait to see it. Highly recommend.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rejena

    This book is excellent. It does everything it should do as a memoir but takes it a step further with commentary on the American education system and all the ways it teaches young black boys who they are and more importantly who they should never dream of being. I love that it doesn't pull punches or hesitate to drop names regarding the racism he experienced from the food industry. I love the recipes. The writing. I just really enjoyed this book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Krystal

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. My Rating is 3.5 This book is a memoir about a young man trying to find his footing in the culinary world, a world that is still washed with European cuisine as the standard of excellence. He had a rough childhood and a rough start to adulthood as he begins his career as a chef. I have mixed feelings about this book. The reason why I had mixed feelings about this because I'm torn between loving his ambition and hating his arrogance. I understand his arrogance, though. When you know you are one of My Rating is 3.5 This book is a memoir about a young man trying to find his footing in the culinary world, a world that is still washed with European cuisine as the standard of excellence. He had a rough childhood and a rough start to adulthood as he begins his career as a chef. I have mixed feelings about this book. The reason why I had mixed feelings about this because I'm torn between loving his ambition and hating his arrogance. I understand his arrogance, though. When you know you are one of the very few African-Americans in your field, and you have exceptional talent and the education and experience to back it, then you do have to sell yourself in a way that would cause people to notice you in order to stand out in your field and scoop up opportunities where you can. Now, the downfall to this is that you have an inflated persona of yourself, and that makes it hard for you to put blame on yourself. I know this because I'm like this as well. I read his story and was like, "unless your investor is Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, then you don't have a blank check to build a restaurant." I would've built a budget and presented it to the partners before anything got started. When they saw the number, they could've then told me, "Yeah, that's doable" or "Woah, not that blank of a check" and we could've worked from there. But I also know that I know this because I studied business since I was in middle school, therefore I know things like this. My expertise is in business, while others choose to become experts in other fields, only knowing enough about business (or personal finance) to get by. I also know that his spending habits as a young kid and into adulthood showed me that he was an irresponsible spender. That would play a major role in the demise of Shaw Bijou when the investors came up to him talking about a "blank check." A lot of his struggles were self-inflicted, like he would't have such a hard time starting his catering company if he would've saved his money from the Gulf ship (at least some of it) instead of going out to New York every time he got his weeks off. But weirdly enough, the thing that I loved the most about this book was the way it opened my eyes to the industry. My brain triggered to, "Hey! There aren't a lot of black chefs in the industry! Why isn't our cuisine considered when we think of having a fine dining experience? Where are all of the women chefs? Where are all of the black women like me? You know we can throw down in the kitchen, why are we not doing fine dining? How messed up is our society to say to me that a woman's place is in a kitchen, but not in a fine dining kitchen? Why are there white men on every cooking magazine? That's not what the kitchen looks in the average American household. Where's my grandma's greens and my auntie's oxtails and my granny's chicken and dumplings?" I'm learning as I enter into my thirties that you really start to discover yourself in this decade. Kwame wrote about his childhood through his late twenties. I always tell people that you don't know shit in your twenties. You think you know everything, but then life happens, and you realize that you don't know shit. Then you turn 30 and you learn how life really is and who you really are. I'm only 31, so I still don't know much, but I'm learning. If I read this book when I was 22 years old, I would've thought differently about it. I know, though, that when his next memoir comes out when he's in his forties and fifties, he'll look back on this one and say, "I didn't know shit, but now I know something. Here's what happened and here's what I know." I only wish for the best for him, and I hope and pray that he will continue to open doors for our people, our cuisine, and our image to society. Everyone enjoys black cuisine and it's time for the world to acknowledge the simple fact that we (along with a host of other ethnic groups) deserve a seat on the stage.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    I've really been on a memoir kick this year- and #6 did not disappoint. NOTES FROM A YOUNG BLACK CHEF is Kwame Onwuachi's story about coming up in New York and coming into his career as a chef. He finished 6 on Top Chef and just closed his dream restaurant- all before the age of 30. He talks a lot about his upbringing and what it's like to be Black in America. There's a dash of behind the scenes at Top Chef thrown in, but what I loved the most was his fearlessness. He's not at all afraid to name n I've really been on a memoir kick this year- and #6 did not disappoint. NOTES FROM A YOUNG BLACK CHEF is Kwame Onwuachi's story about coming up in New York and coming into his career as a chef. He finished 6 on Top Chef and just closed his dream restaurant- all before the age of 30. He talks a lot about his upbringing and what it's like to be Black in America. There's a dash of behind the scenes at Top Chef thrown in, but what I loved the most was his fearlessness. He's not at all afraid to name names and to call out the racism that exists in the industry. Ego? Sure. But who's going to believe in you if you don't believe in yourself? Fans of Born a Crime will like this one. 4.5🌟 #tbrread2019 And don't miss the dedication in the back 😩💔

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    What a pleasure this book was! I'm always down for a great restaurant read and this hit all of that and more. I remember rooting for Kwame on Top Chef and I loved how he presented the 'chicken and waffle' incident here in this memoir, its interpretations because he's Black, and the reasons for it / why he had to "please pack your knives and go" on that episode. It wasn't the concept, it really was the frozen waffles. Other highlights: - comparing the Culinary Institute of America to Hogwarts - m What a pleasure this book was! I'm always down for a great restaurant read and this hit all of that and more. I remember rooting for Kwame on Top Chef and I loved how he presented the 'chicken and waffle' incident here in this memoir, its interpretations because he's Black, and the reasons for it / why he had to "please pack your knives and go" on that episode. It wasn't the concept, it really was the frozen waffles. Other highlights: - comparing the Culinary Institute of America to Hogwarts - mention of the man with the skittles and m&ms tattoos who ran the subway candy selling routes - his mother in general. What a gem of a human! - this book in makes you want to jump up and cheer. It's laced through with that magnetic Chef-esque exuberance and swagger. - I love that he pushed his own narrative in person and through his food. From his website and a sentiment shown throughout the book: "Celebrating his heritage ranging from Nigeria and Jamaica, to West Africa and the Caribbean, to New Orleans and New York, and now immersed in The Wharf of Washington D.C., Chef Kwame finds his culinary impetus in everywhere he's from, everywhere he's been, and the influence of those who know him best." I sincerely hope that his DC restaurant Kith and Kin makes it through this Covid-caused downturn. With the #BlackLivesMatter movement happening now I couldn't help but highlight all the salient points that Kwame brings forth as a Black fine-dining chef, a few of which are below. On why his grandfather went back to Nigeria: "...concluded that the government wouldn't let black activists live in peace until they were either in the ground or in a cell. In 1973, my grandfather realized he could never be free, truly free, in the United States." On racism and micro-agressions: "It's the unspoken shit, the hard-to-prove, hard-to-pin-down, can't-go-viral day-to-day shit. It's being passed over, time and time again. It's having opportunities you know you earned never materialize. It's that no matter how hard you work, it's never good enough. It's not even seen." On what a casting director for a chef-tv show said: "The problem is, Kwame, and I hate to say it, but America isn't ready for a black chef who makes this kind of food." "What kind?" I asked. "Find dining: veloute. What the world wants to see if a black chef making black food, you know. Fried chicken and cornbread and collards." If the price for being on TV was to become a caricature, I'd rather remain uncast. To emphasize only that aspect would mean becoming an actor in the long and ugly play of degrading black culture for the benefit of white people. On a restaurant owner telling him not to wear a Harriet Tubman t-shirt: "It was news to me that publicly celebrating Harriet Tubman had become a political statement. I had thought it was celebrating a shared history."

  24. 4 out of 5

    Boz Reacher

    I was really excited for this one but I would make an argument that maybe one downside of writing a memoir before you're thirty is that you're still full of shit.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Beth Anne

    I ended up reading most of this book in just two days, I couldn’t put it down. Kwame’s story is real and powerful. It’s not an exaggeration to say that cooking literally saved his life. He was honest about his failures and about his work ethic. He worked hard to become who he is, and yet he is also the product of his ancestors — their hard work, heritage, and even their flaws. I loved the recipes that were I clouded in this memoir and hope to try some myself.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kaytee Cobb

    3.5 stars. I think Kwame has a unique perspective and I'm glad for this book, I just wish he gave himself more time to season and marinade (see what I did there?) through his life experiences. This book would be richer for it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robin Tobin (On the back porch reading)

    Love this! Read it along with Sweetbitters by Stepany Danier. A perfect foodie pairing of novels... PopSugar 2020 - Book written by an author in their 20s

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    i’ve long been obsessed with food culture/writing and chefs since my early days of watching iron chef (the original) and anthony bourdain’s ‘no reservations’. however, it wasn’t until the third season of netflix’s chef’s table that a question began to spin in my mind: where are all the black chefs? it’s as if they didn’t exist in the world of fine dining, or michelin stars. the most i’d see of them on cooking centered shows was over a bbq pit or serving up local cuisine in a small restaurant. th i’ve long been obsessed with food culture/writing and chefs since my early days of watching iron chef (the original) and anthony bourdain’s ‘no reservations’. however, it wasn’t until the third season of netflix’s chef’s table that a question began to spin in my mind: where are all the black chefs? it’s as if they didn’t exist in the world of fine dining, or michelin stars. the most i’d see of them on cooking centered shows was over a bbq pit or serving up local cuisine in a small restaurant. they were not hailed as culinary giants or savants like grant achatz, rene redzepi, or magnus nilsson. they were...invisible, and nowhere to be found. then i saw the first season of ugly delicious and edouardo jordan came on screen at his seattle restaurant junebaby, and i realized that the black chefs i’d been searching for were there; i just had to look really hard. afterwards, i began to research and ran across this memoir from kwame onwuachi (and chef’s table finally aired an episode featuring a black chef, mashama bailey, better late than never i guess) and i knew i was on the right track. this book not only gives the reader onwuachi’s journey to becoming a culinary giant in the making, but the very real sacrifices he’s made in order to bust through the glass ceiling of the food world; a ceiling that is damn near cement for any young professional that isn’t a white guy. over the course of the book, you feel as if you’re in the kitchen, in the trenches, toiling with onwuachi as he works his way from being a server in chain restaurants to cooking on a cramped ship then operating a catering company before enrolling at CIA and working the kitchens of Per Se & Eleven Madison Park, to finally ascending into the world of fine dining with his very own restaurant—only to crash and burn a couple of months later due to unreliable investors. still, onwuachi isn’t a quitter, and by the end of the book we see he is still ready to fight for his dream of elevating the cuisine of the african diaspora and african american food scene to that of the world of fine dining. as a lover of food docuseries/stories and chefs alike, this is the kind of story i’ve been needing all these years—one where a young black chef doesn’t dive head first into french cuisine per se, but remains avidly focused on the food of his roots, his mother and family. a food that tells his life story, the food that first lit the fire for his love of cooking. “notes from a young black chef” helps remind me that while the culinary world may try and push black chefs and food culture to the backburner, there are people, like kwame onwuachi and countless other black chefs, that are doing their best to push back and forward.

  29. 5 out of 5

    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 **

  30. 5 out of 5

    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.

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