Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein

Notes from a Young Black Chef

Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein

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.

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“Kwame Onwuachi’s story shines a light on food and culture not just in American restaurants or African American communities but around the world.” —Questlove
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.

“This is an astonishing and open-hearted story from one of the next generation’s stars of the culinary world. I am so excited to see what the future holds for Chef Kwame—he is a phoenix, rising into better and better things and showing us all what it means to be humble, hungry, and daring.” —José Andrés

Advance Galley Reviews

Chef Onwuachi grew up in the projects, had an abusive father, joined a gang in high school, sold drugs in college. Then he left that all behind and began his life as a chef. This amazing memoir follows Chef Onwuachi through his many adventures, but once he begins his journey in food, his personal life seems to fall by the way side. Instead the reader is beguiled with tales of food creations and kitchen adventures, including the prevalence of racism and verbal abuse. Meeting, dating, and marrying his wife isn't even mentioned! I spent most of the book with my mouth watering and that was even before I got to the recipes at the end of each chapter. I think the only thing that somewhat annoyed me was that the book starts out a couple weeks before he opens his restaurant Shaw Bijou but ends after that restaurant's closing. The timeline felt clunky. However, Chef Onwuachi amazed me with all that he has accomplished, before turning 30, and I would gladly pay $185 for a tasting menu!

Reading Kwame's story was an interesting read. It's interesting to see what shaped him and what changes he's gone through. It was definitely worth reading.

I love foodie/chef memoirs. This one was pretty decent. My husband and I are big Top Chef fans, so it was fun to learn more about Kwame from that perspective, although he clearly sees that experience as a minor piece of his story. I would definitely have enjoyed more about his time on the show, but the little bit there was felt like a concession to the readers, not an experience he felt shaped him. I really enjoyed the first half of the book - Kwame's early story and transition into cooking was very interesting and unique from other food-focused memoirs I've read. I struggled with the end of the book, though. Once he shifted to talking about the Shaw Bijou experience, I could feel his bitterness over the experience through the page. I get why he is bitter, but it felt like he was telling a story that doesn't have a resolution yet (he says as much) and from which he doesn't yet have enough distance to clearly articulate how it is shaping him. Overall, an interesting read and I'm glad I took the time.

I remember Kwame vividly from his season of Top Chef. I was seriously surprised at his life! Kwame has been through a lot, and it was fascinating to read through his journey. I also enjoyed the inclusion of several of his recipes throughout the book. I plan to make a few of them in a future! I found the book a little hard to get into, but once I did, I blazed through it in a day. I will be passing this one on to fellow Top Chef friends for sure!

I hadn't even made it through the first page when I knew this would be a book that I needed to add to my collection. I rarely read nonfiction but have a soft spot for biographies. I was fascinated and engrossed in every word of Kwame Onwauchi's life story from the beginnings cooking with his mother in the kitchen, to being in charge of his own kitchens. One thing I enjoyed about this book is that Kwame's story clearly isn't over. These first chapters are beautifully written and pulled me in every step of the way but I love that Kwame will continue to accomplish great things and hopefully inspire young chefs everywhere to reach for the sky, the stars, whatever cuisine and kitchen they desire to create or be a part of. I loved the integration of the food throughout the narrative. Each chapter ended with a recipe and I am dying to try out each one! Stein and Onwauchi worked together to bring to life the story of Kwame through the stories of every meal he has ever plated or been a part of. A beautiful story about getting up every time you're knocked down and fighting even when the need to fight is unfair. I loved this book, I can't wait to cook each recipe and I'm excited to buy this book for friends interested in cooking and growing alike.

I love books about cooking, by chefs or food reviewers, and about other cultures. While I was unfamiliar with Kwame Onwauchi, I have the greatest respect for him. I enjoyed reading about his early life and how his mother’s cooking influenced his love for cooking and for his culture. His experience working in other restaurants taught him how not to react and how to treat his employees with respect. His story of the DC restaurant and its closure so soon after opening is sad. I loved this book!

A fascinating memoir Kwame Onwaugh has written an open honest look at his life his struggles his successes.I watched him on Top chef the fact of his ambition and talent his drive is very engaging .He ends each chapter with a recipie.Highly recommend.

I enjoyed this book very much. Kwame Onwuachi has a powerful and timely story to tell, and I was riveted by his experiences. In a way, all you need to know before you decided whether to read this book is right there in the title: he's young, he's black, and he's a chef. Young: I admit to sometimes rolling my eyes when Onwuachi expresses dismay at his own youthful exploits -- "Oh, I was so young and naive then!" It's like, dude, it was only 2 years ago and you are still not even 30. Black: Onwuachi's identity as a black man, and specifically as a black man from NYC with family from the south (mother's side) and from Nigeria (father's side), is central, and important, and very interesting to read about. Chef: This book in an entry in a long line of chef memoirs that will satisfy lovers of the genre. Onwuachi's culinary career trajectory, and how it has intersected with his more personal journeys, is the stuff of food world legend. And the fourth word in the title? Notes. While none of the chapters read like fuzzy sketches, I would say that each one strikes a separate thematic note. Some do chapters repeat information and parts of anecdotes already covered in other chapters though. One more editorial criticism is that there are a few factual errors in the book that kicked me right out and also made me wonder about the truthfulness of other, less provable things. For instance, in NYC, the Union Square Barnes & Noble is NOT on 14th Street, it's on 17th Street. If Onwuachi (or Joshua David Stein, or the editors) didn't check that, what else did they not check? Eh, I do get a sense that this is not the sort of book that lets hard facts get in the way of a good, emotionally honest story. That's not necessarily a bad thing; in fact it's true about many memoirs. Just... buyer beware :)

Engaging and incredibly well written memoir! I was unfamiliar with Chef Kwame Onwuachi but I was completely sucked into his writing on page 1. I look forward to one day dining at his restaurant now and greatly appreciate his work and life's story. Thank you for sharing!

This book was so fascinating. I have never watched Top Chef nor have I ever worked in a kitchen so I walked into this book with no idea what to expect. The voice of the storytelling was compelling and succinct, and yet so full of detail I could envision it all. It was beautiful, heartbreaking, and so well described that I felt like I was able to see what he was seeing. His honest descriptions of people and events showed that people are both good and bad, situations can go how you want and how you don't but continuing to put one foot in front of the other is so important. I would definitely recommend and read anything else Kwame Onwuachi comes out with. I also loved that each chapter had recipes at the end of them that connected so well to the story. They sounded complicated but also seemed so approachable.

This memoir is the unapologetic story of an ambitious, young black man with nothing to lose and everything to gain. This book caught me by surprise, as I wasn't expecting Kwame's life to take the twists and turns that it did. It's a short, yet interesting read, and at the end of each of the chapters is a recipe related to the story. I finished this book wanting Kwame to win in each of his ventures. It's amazing what he has overcome to accomplish the things that he has, and I think the story makes for a great cautionary tale of the various paths your life can take depending on the choices you make. I highly recommend this autobiography.

This book exceeded my expectations. I expected an engaging story about a young black man becoming a chef, but I didn't expect how beautifully written this would be. I got caught up in Kwame's story and his struggle. I thought this was an illuminating look at the culinary world but also what it means to be a young black man living in America.

I received a copy of this ebook from in exchange for an honest review. This is a short and interesting read. Following Onwuachi from his childhood selling candy to pay for his first catering company to the opening of his restaurant in DC this is a fascinating read. I didn't realize Onwuachi had been on Chopped and would have liked a bit more in depth about his success as a chef and what that means for him now. The book is relatively short and shares a compelling story about identity and perseverance.

When I first "met" Kwame - through TOP CHEF - I remember thinking, "how young is this guy? And how many lives has he lived already??" It was wonderful to go on this journey with him and learn more about he different lives he has lived. I appreciated that he doesn't fall into self-pity while discussing his trials and is forthright in regards to his choices - for better or worse. This is a young man who is blazing trails in an industry where POC are expected to stay in their Southern Classics lane and follow the well-worn path white men have trampled before them, and I am fascinated by the life of someone with whom I have nothing in common except a love for food. This is a memoir not just about food, but about the ingrained racism in our society and specific examples of the microaggressions POC face every single day. Bravo to Kwame for working through it. I can't wait to see what he does next.


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