Why Marcus Samuelsson Hid Daughter’s Existence From His Coworkers
Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir Yes, Chef comes out this week, and beginning at 12 PM today you can listen to him discuss the book in an interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. (An excerpt from the first chapter is here.) But the most stunning thing we learn isn’t just the recounting of the obstacles Samuelsson had to overcome in order to be the famous chef he is today — the shock of losing his Ethiopian mother to tuberculosis and being adopted by a Swedish family as a child, the racial stereotypes and discrimination he encountered in the kitchen — but also the discipline and shrewdness he relied on to reach the top.
For instance, when he suddenly found himself the father of an unplanned daughter at the age of 20, he was forced to hide her existence from his coworkers in order to avoid discrimination and stereotyping.
“I think I was always aware that my resume did not just have to be great, it had to be fantastic, with zero way of my employer to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to hire him. There might be something.’ And I was very young and just didn’t know how to deal with the whole situation properly,” he said. “And I always lived in this fear that maybe they’re not going to hire me … I felt like if I go out of the world and work, and go as far as I possibly can, then that’s my way of taking care of her.
“I didn’t want to be another black man that was not responsible. In many ways, maybe I wasn’t responsible, but I was lucky enough to have a structure with my Swedish mother to help me out.”
If that sounds rather conniving and devious, consider what Samuelsson had previously faced in the kitchen: a culture where black people were forever delegated to the dishwasher, a boss who made him cook for his dog, and a mentality that would have prevented him from being one of the world’s best chefs. (Also, famous chefs yelling racist things at him.)
What would you have done?