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.
Corked by Kathryn Borel (Grand Central Publishing, $23.99, 262 pages)
Katherine Borel has cobbled together a crass, in-your-face, self-indulgent account of her fifteen-day trek with her father across France. Borel flits back and forth between recollections of past incidents, which feed into her need to connect with her father before time gets past her, and this seemingly epic journey. Phillipe Borel, an aging hotelier, comes off as highly opinionated and not the least shy about meting out criticism to anyone who has the misfortune of serving him.
“We forgot to shut the window before falling asleep and had allowed a swarm of robust northern France mosquitos to enter and do their bidding.”
Corked reads like a frantic TV sitcom with a bad laugh track. The reader is held hostage while belly button lint smelling is interspersed with nearly poetic descriptions of wine and grapes. Oh, and did I mention that father Phillipe barfs his way through the first one hundred pages? Borel delights in describing his actions in nauseating detail.
Alas, these characters are too well-developed for this reviewer’s taste. A bit more continuity and a bit less trying too hard to be very, very cool might have helped. Borel may need to connect with her father, but the reader needs a strong stomach to get to what good parts this book may contain.
Reviewed by Ruta Arellano. Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.
Korean at a Glance: Phrases Book & Dictionary for Travelers (Second Edition) by Daniel Holt and Grace Massey Holt
Let’s suppose you’ve been called to do some business in South Korea, a country you’ve never visited before. As an “accidental tourist”, Korean at a Glance is just the guidebook you’ll need!
This is, first, a phrasebook that shows how to pronounce useful words and phrases in Korean. It also shows what these phrases look like in writing. Just as importantly, this book is divided into twenty-six sections such as Food and Drink, Shopping, Communications, and Driving a Car. These will help you to do as the Koreans do during your visit to Seoul and elsewhere. Most impressive are the colored maps of Central Seoul and the Seoul Metropolitan Subway system that are found inside the front and back covers. Also, this little guidebook comes in a nice plastic cover to help prevent it from getting dirty or damaged during your sojourn.
Kudos to Daniel Holt and Grace Massey Holt of Sacramento (friends of this reviewer) for doing such a great job of updating this guide that was first released in 1988.
Kimchi to all!
Barron’s, $8.99, 338
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.