Review of Notes from a Young Black Chef: Adapted for Young Adults

Notes from a Young Black Chef: Adapted for Young Adults
by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein
Middle School, High School    Delacorte    288 pp.    g
4/21    978-0-593-17600-9    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-17601-6    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-17602-3    $10.99

When chef Kwame Onwuachi opened his high-end (if ultimately ill-fated) restaurant Shaw Bijou atop the then-new National Museum of African American History and Culture, the significance of the moment was not lost on him. He knew he was “standing on stories,” including those recalled by exhibits of whips and shackles and a stack of bricks the height of a man, each representing a person enslaved by Thomas Jefferson. As a Black chef in America, Onwuachi intends to keep the history alive, from Africa, the Middle Passage, and all of the “thousands of black and brown chefs — called cooks, domestics, servants, boys, and mammies who were kept out of restaurant kitchens (or overlooked within them).” He traces the influences that led him from Bronx streets and projects, to Louisiana, to ­Nigeria, to an oil clean-up ship in the Gulf of Mexico, to drug dealing in college, and on to the Culinary Institute of America, food competitions (including Top Chef), and Thomas Keller’s acclaimed New York City restaurant Per Se. This adaptation for young readers effectively prunes and tightens sentences, removes swear words, and takes out the recipes (as étouffée, chicken consommé, corn velouté, and egusi stew might not be big draws for young palates). While Onwuachi notes the challenges of being a Black chef in a white food culture, his dream is to see kitchens full of “white, yellow, brown, and black faces” and restaurants full of “brown and black diners, who, looking at their plates, feel seen, ­celebrated, and recognized.”

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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