Blanche’s Book Club: ‘Notes From a Young Black Chef’.

On Sunday, I tried my best to avoid social media — I didn’t have any interest in seeing all of the Father’s Day posts. I don’t need a reminder that my dad is gone, and the holiday was looming over me like a dark, gray cloud all week.

Last year for Father’s Day, I packed up a rental car and drove to the edge of the country. I spent three days in the Chihuahua desert, the darkest place on earth (literally), and slept in an airstream.

I saw Prada Marfa, the Marfa lights and braved the dark corners of my mind. But I also had an anxiety attack. My comforts involve cell service, cable TV and kitty Blanche — all of which I’d left behind.

While I regret no adventure, I stayed close to home this year, and decided to curl up in my patio chair with a book. It was Blanche’s Book Club’s latest read: “Notes From a Young Black Chef” by Kwame Onwuachi. Here is the book’s description from Penguin Random House:

By the time he was twenty-seven years old, Kwame Onwuachi (winner of the 2019 James Beard Foundation Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year) had opened—and closed—one of the most talked about restaurants in America. He had launched his own catering company with twenty thousand dollars that he made from selling candy on the subway, yet he’d been told he would never make it on television because his cooking wasn’t “Southern” enough. In this inspiring memoir about the intersection of race, fame, and food, he shares the remarkable story of his culinary coming-of-age.

Growing up in the Bronx, as a boy Onwuachi was sent to rural Nigeria by his mother to “learn respect.” However, the hard-won knowledge gained in Africa was not enough to keep him from the temptation and easy money of the streets when he returned home. But through food, he broke out of a dangerous downward spiral, embarking on a new beginning at the bottom of the culinary food chain as a chef on board a Deepwater Horizon cleanup ship, before going on to train in the kitchens of some of the most acclaimed restaurants in the country and appearing as a contestant on Top Chef.

Onwuachi’s love of food and cooking remained a constant throughout, even when he found the road to success riddled with potholes. As a young chef, he 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. A powerful, heartfelt, and shockingly honest story of chasing your dreams—even when they don’t turn out as you expected—Notes from a Young Black Chef is one man’s pursuit of his passions, despite the odds.

I saw this book on a new releases display at the library and knew I wanted to read it — I watched Chef Kwame on “Top Chef” and remember being disappointed when he was sent home.

I came from a long line of restauranteurs, from a family whose roots were made of gravy and whose blood ran hot with pimentón.

I’m so glad I decided to read this book because his story inspired me. He worked hard for his dreams, even after living a life completely opposite of them. He changed things around quickly, and he did them even when many told him he couldn’t.

This book touches on issues with family, politics, and culture… all in the midst of food, and it was a fantastic story. I’m planning to visit DC next year and will definitely be stopping at Kwame’s restaurant for a taste of the food I read about in this book.

We still had distant family in Texas and Louisiana and when one of these southerners headed north, they brought packages of Gulf shrimp, boudin, spicy andouille, crawfish, and red beans. These my mother stored in our pantry and refrigerator and carefully rationed. She never knew when the stocks would be replenished next. But they formed a little embassy of the Deep South in the north Bronx, a heaven where gumbos and jambalayas were stirred, and peel-and-eat shrimp were peeled and eaten.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who needs a nudge in going after their dreams. Also good for foodies and “Top Chef” fans, of course.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will read is “Girl, Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis.

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