Book review: Notes from a young black Chef.

Notes from a young black chef

Following your dream

I read a lot of FIRE blog posts about “finding your passion” or what does “financial independence” mean to you. That’s why I thought it appropriate to review this book here as a blog post. Just finished up the audible version which is narrated by the author, Kwame Onwuachi. As an aside, I was also the IT Director at a major New York City culinary school for 7 years, so I have some particular insight into the authors’ observations.

Crazy ride

I’m always fascinated by New Yorker’s stories. It’s one of the things that drew me here when we decided to move here 20 years ago. Native New Yorker’s are of particular interest, because it’s a way of life that they learned from birth. Hyper competition in a city of 8 million people has a unique type of branding that you can’t get in most other environments. In fact, I often joke that I never fully understood Sesame Street until I moved to New York city.

I first heard of this book when I caught an interview with the author while on a Saturday morning show with Soledad O’brien. There was something about his tone and demeanor that made me want to find out more about his story. I’m not going to detail every little bit of the book, but suffice it to say, he had an interesting and challenging story. He also had both good and bad role models. For someone to go through parents divorce, living in Africa for a couple years while 10 yrs old, starting a business, becoming a drug dealer, finding his passion, working as a chef on an oil rig, winning a TV chef contest and landing an offer to start his own restaurant…all before 30 is a breathless synopsis.

When someone offers you a blank check

Just when you think there is going to be a fairy tale ending, the plot thickens. Chef Kwame was offered an opportunity to open a restaurant where he would be the head chef and lead a team of others. As a person fascinated by money and finance, I found this part of the story, the most interesting. Actually, I found it fascinating. Fascinating because, the “money people” had an idea for a food concept, but they changed their plans, based on the chef’s concept of what he wanted to cook. The chef did not want to be “pigeonholed” into creating food that was geared around “black heritage” or what has been traditionally interpreted as that type of food. While it was riveting to hear Kwame say that the investors said they “didn’t care if the restaurant ever made money.” I immediately got a “sinking feeling” in the pit of my stomach when I heard that. I’ve rarely seen people that have money, not care if they make more. Usually MUCH more. I knew it would probably end badly. Unless you have “Oprah money”, not many people can sustain a “money pit” indefinitely. I also had personal experience with working in a restaurant, management of food costs, and even assisting in the opening a new restaurant from the ground up. So many things can go wrong. Anyway, I won’t ruin the end (or the beginning) of the story, but it’s a fascinating journey that is still playing out. In the end, a changing target focus, some hubris and some poor financial management cause the restaurant to close up shop after only 3 months. The story is riveting for anyone looking for motivation in any area of their life. Sometimes the most important lesson is to balance effort and drive with humility.

There’s no doubt Chef Kwame will land on his feet and thrive but this is another important chapter in his fascinating story.

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