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Two Chef’s Stories and Ubuntu

Chefs these days are writing their stories as well as cookbooks and I have been reading some of them recently. Favourites so far are: life, on the line by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas and Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I was particularly drawn in by Hamilton’s candid account of her journey, often a reluctant one, toward a challenging career as chef owner of world-class restaurant, Prune, in New York. That she was able to write such a compelling memoir about her private and public life while running a restaurant and mothering two children, speaks to her energy, confidence and amazing talent. The overriding message of her book for me is her steadfast belief in the power of food to provide a delicious vehicle for bringing people together for a memorable experience.

I recently re-visited a book that one of our sons gave me a few years ago: The Soul of a New Culture: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavours of Africa by Marcus Samuelsson. It’s funny how a book can come into your life at a time when you are not yet ready to take meaning from it, and for some reason after a rather long unopened stretch on the bookshelf, I picked it up again recently.

In the introduction to the cookbook, Desmond Tutu writes of the concept of “ubuntu”: “We say in Africa that a person is a person through other persons. A solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. We are made for togetherness, for friendship, for fellowship. Food is a part of that fellowship. We are created to live in a delicate network of interdependence and we are different precisely in order to know our need of one another.”

Author Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, adopted at age three by a Swedish couple, and brought up in Sweden. After culinary school and apprenticing in several European countries, he settled in New York where he continues to be a leading chef, and later returned to visit Ethiopia where he was inspired by the traditions of cooking and eating together, where “the company is savored as much as the food”.

Samuelsson, with Ethiopian, Swedish and American cultural experiences conveys a message of hope for our complex global world. He writes of the beauty and strength of the land and the people in Africa, something that our mostly negative news too often neglects to mention. I am reminded of the richness, colour and scents of African life so unique to the continent that we experienced in our two-year stay in Nigeria.

The African concept of ubuntu, “I am what I am because of who we all are”, inspires Samuelsson and he hopes that his book will inspire others to incorporate this message into their daily lives.

“As life in the United States and Europe gets faster, more convenient, and more isolating, Africa reminded me about the things that matter – friends, family, community, and the sheer enjoyment of life. It’s a state of mind that I hope this book will help you tap into wherever you are”.

The messages that these two authors convey of togetherness, hospitality, and global interconnectedness, these are the values I would like this site to promote.

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