Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stern (Knopf, $26.00, 271 pages)
There were moments when I felt like I was being called the N-word with no one actually saying it. No one had to and maybe they were too smart to. So it was left to me to decide whether it was because I was black or because I was just me…
Anyone who has read and enjoyed the classic Kitchen Confidential by the late Anthony Bourdain may enjoy the memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef by Kwame Ounwuachi. Like Bourdain, Onwuachi is an interesting mix of confidence and uncertainty. While struggling with numerous aspects of working in the restaurant industry, Onwuachi can come off as bombastic and arrogant as when he writes that “my arrival (in the District of Columbia) was greeted with a lot of excitement and anticipation.” Perhaps so, but it did not result in enough people visiting Shaw Bijou, Onwuachi’s signature restaurant, for it to remain in business.
The key reason Shaw Bijou failed likely goes to the base cover charge – sold as an admission ticket, of $185 per person, not including tip and drinks. The flaw in this account by a talented young chef is that he attributes most of his stumbles and unforced errors to racism, even when the reader sees other factors in play. Still, Onwuachi has gone on to earn the title of “The most important chef in America” from the San Francisco Chronicle. You will need to read the sometimes surreal Notes – an entertaining, imperfect story – to find out why.
Recommended for foodies and those interested in what it takes to run a successful restaurant and why restaurants fail.
A review copy was provided by Alfred A. Knopf. This book, which includes thirteen recipes, was released on April 9, 2019.
A Cat by Leonard Michaels (Tin House Books, $18.95, 128 pages); illustrated by Francis Lerner, introduction by Sigrid Nunez
“A cat is content to be a cat.”
A Cat is a nicely illustrated re-release of a book originally published in 1999. The book was written by the late Leonard Michaels, who taught as a Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. The line drawings for the original and this edition were by Francis Lerner, and they well represent the relaxed yet athletic nature of cats.
A Cat is both an examination of and a tribute to felines. Each page contains a parable-like statement about the nature of cats, although Michaels noted that we can never truly capture the essence of these creatures: “A cat reminds us that much in this world remains unknown.”
Michaels certainly loved cats: “Looking at a cat, like looking at clouds or stars or the ocean, makes it difficult to believe there is nothing miraculous in the world.” Cats remain in the present moment, making the most of life. In Michaels’s words, “For a cat just to live is splendid.” And cats show us that sometimes it is best to get out of one’s mind: “To be quick as a cat you must not think.”
Cats live on their well developed instincts, “However a cat looks or behaves, it is what it is, a small and intensely serious being, a cat.”
Well recommended for anyone who is willingly owned by a cat.
A review copy was received from the publisher. This new edition of A Cat was released on November 13, 2018. (Sasha the cat decided this was a great book to sit on top of.)
Realism. This is the word that summarizes why the film Roma is so great. It perfectly reflects the realism of Mexico’s class system. The indigenous people are at the bottom of the society, while light-skinned people who associate themselves with Europeans rule the land.
I well remember the servants I saw in Mexico. They were from the lower rungs of the ladder. One of my relatives was extremely poor and barely had the funds to survive. But somehow she always found some change in her purse. It was enough to hire neighboring ladies to do some house work; washing dishes or laundering or ironing clothes. The ladies would be extremely grateful as the change they earned might provide their family with food for a day.
Roma shows prosperous Americans what the life of an indigenous maid in Mexico is like. It also displays the role of politics in every Mexican’s life and how they react to and handle the current political situation. And, sometimes disturbingly, it shows the violence in the country that is never displayed on U.S. news programs.
In one situation, Roma shows how everyone helps in an emergency. The point is well made that we are all dependent upon each other as human beings, regardless of social status.
Roma is surprisingly good. I believe it has a solid chance to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. If it does it will break the glass ceiling in unique fashion and serve as a meaningful tribute to the lives of proud, striving and hardworking people.
Alejandro Reyes is a former production line supervisor for Procter and Gamble. Educated in Stockton, California, he is enjoying retirement in sunny southern California.