Book Review: “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food” by Marcus Samuelsson

Happy Sunday everyone! One thing I’ve been trying to do more during quarantine is cook. It’s not something I’ve every really been super comfortable with, but I think that mostly comes from just not doing it enough! So, during quarantine, my husband and I have been trying to cook at home more often and get more comfortable in the kitchen.

Another reason I’m so glad to start cooking more is because I LOVE cookbooks. I love them and I can’t help but buy them because they’re always so beautiful and have so many pictures of delicious food. However, I’ve always felt kind of guilty collecting cookbooks when I don’t actually…cook.

I also can’t say that I’ve ever read a cookbook from cover to cover. Until now! In February, I read “The Rise” by Marcus Samuelsson. I had flipped through it and been somewhat intimidated by the recipes, but I also noticed how much great information it had about black chefs and other culinary figures. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn more about black history from a culinary perspective! Which is something I knew very little about before now. I learned SO much from reading this book, and I’m so excited to continue finding resources to learn more!

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food” is a cookbook that chronicles black food, chefs, and other culinary figures throughout history and in today’s world. It shows what an immense impact these foods, techniques, and people have had on the American food we experience today! The information included in this book is absolutely wonderful. The design is also so beautiful and inviting and I loved all of the photography. At first, I was really intimidated by the recipes included in the book. It made me feel like this may not be incredibly useful as a cookbook for someone who is an amateur (like me), but I could still get a lot out of reading the biographies scattered throughout. However, I have to say that even my fears of being intimidated ended up being unwarranted. Yes, there are many complex techniques and possibly hard-to-find ingredients incorporated in many of the recipes, but it’s apparent that Samuelsson was very aware of this. As you read, there are many tips for approaching any cooking techniques that may seem overwhelming, and there’s an entire section at the end of the book dedicated to providing resources for finding, storing, and using some of the more “unique” ingredients found in the recipes. This last section actually changed my entire perspective on the “cooking” aspect of this cookbook. Yes, the recipes are complex (and interesting, and flavorful…), but every effort was made to make them approachable for even the least experienced of home cooks (like me!). Overall, “The Rise” is an educational, inspiring, and delicious read that I would highly recommend to anyone!

Below you will find a more thorough review containing my thoughts about the book. If you’re wanting to avoid any spoilers, you are welcome to jump to the TL;DR summary at the bottom of the page if you’d prefer!

“The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food” by Marcus Samuelsson
The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook:  Samuelsson, Marcus, Endolyn, Osayi, Komolafe, Yewande: 9780316480680:  Amazon.com: Books
  • Year of Publication: 2020
  • Genre: Cookbook
  • Summary:

In The Rise, chef, author, and television star Marcus Samuelsson gathers together an unforgettable feast of food, culture, and history to highlight the diverse deliciousness of Black cooking today. Driven by a desire to fight against bias, reclaim Black culinary traditions, and energize a new generation of cooks, Marcus shares his own journey alongside 150 recipes in honor of dozens of top chefs, writers, and activists—with stories exploring their creativity and influence.

Black cooking has always been more than “soul food,” with flavors tracing to the African continent, to the Caribbean, all over the United States, and beyond.

Format: Hardcover

Themes/Main Ideas: Black cooking is more than just soul food. Black cooks have always had a huge influence on American food. Food activism is incredibly important in our communities. Black cooking and fine dining are not mutually exclusive.

Character Development: This is a cookbook, so there aren’t any characters. However, something unique about this cookbook is that, in each section, there are mini-biographies dedicated to a variety of black cooks and other figures in the culinary world. I absolutely LOVED reading these. It’s amazing how many ways there are to be involved in the culinary world (chefs, writers, activists, etc.), and I loved reading about the incredible work that these people are doing. I also discovered some new restaurants to try once it’s safe to travel again!

Plot/Pacing: Again, this is a cookbook, so there is no plot. I will say that I enjoyed the pacing of this cookbook in the sense of how it balanced the profiles and the recipes. In the beginning of each section, there would be an introduction and then a profile of a chef. After this profile, there would be a handful of recipes inspired by their story. This would repeat several times and at the end of the section there would be some extra recipes inspired by people who didn’t necessarily get a full biography included in the book. I just loved everything about this. I loved getting to read about someone’s life story, and then see how it was transformed into such thoughtful and creative recipes.

Writing Style: The writing style of this cookbook is really unique. Perhaps the most important thing to note is how it’s not organized like a standard cookbook. The recipes aren’t grouped by meal category or primary ingredient (i.e. breakfast for meal category or meat dishes for primary ingredient), the chapters are as follows: Rise – Where Black Food is Headed; Remix – Black Food Integrates Many Cultures; Migration – The Influence of the American South; Legacy – Old and New Journeys from Africa to the Americas; and Origins – a Pantry of Ingredients, Techniques, and Recipes. There are also guides that group these recipes in a more traditional sense if this will help you navigate the book, but I really loved the unique organization of the content of this book.

“Bingeability”: Moderate. I read this pretty quickly! The short biographies and recipes are quick and easy to read through, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to read it all in one sitting. I was sad when it ended!

Emotional Investment: Moderate. It seems odd to be emotionally invested in a cookbook, but I really was! I was truly so excited about how much I was learning, it made me want to keep coming back to it.

Windows and Mirrors: Black history. Black cooking. Food activism. Chef career. Restaurant ownership.

Overall Thoughts: I never would have thought that I would want to sit and read a cookbook cover to cover, but here we are! As I was reading this, I would sometimes think to myself, “This is great! I’m learning so much, but as a cookbook it seems pretty inaccessible. I don’t see how I could rate this any higher than 4 stars.” However, the more I kept reading, the more I fell in love with everything about this book. There were notes with many of the more complicated recipes with tips or suggestions for other, simpler techniques which made the recipes more accessible.

Truly though, it was the final chapter, “Origins,” that really changed my perspective. In this chapter, there is a focus on many of the ingredients and techniques that are used throughout the recipes in this book. In the introduction of this chapter, Samuelsson acknowledges how many of these ingredients may seem overwhelming, unfamiliar, and/or difficult to find. He then includes a page dedicated to brick-and-mortar as well as online stores where you can purchase many of the more “unique” ingredients. However, what I found really powerful was when he posed a question of “why.” He suggested we ask ourselves why we don’t already have these ingredients, why might we not go in to a nearby specialty store that carries them? There are many ingredients that used to seem “unique” in the past but are now common kitchen staples (such as sriracha), so why are the ingredients presented in this book any different? The more we seek out these ingredients, the more common, accessible, and affordable they will become. Yes, they may not be convenient to purchase right now, but if we continue to use our power as consumers and put our money toward the things we want to see more of, we have the power to change this dynamic. It really forced me to think about why I felt so intimidated by the recipes, and what steps I could take to change this.

In the end, I did still end up docking 1/2 a star because, although I feel more confident now that I could make these recipes, it would still require a lot of effort and a lot of money to get all of the ingredients. I don’t mind doing this occasionally, but life as a teacher is busy (not to mention our measly salaries), so the majority of my cooking is quick, convenient, and inexpensive. It would have been great if there were slightly more low-effort recipes mixed in here so that I could add them to my repertoire and make them more frequently. I also would have appreciated more pictures to go with the recipes (most recipes had them, but not all, and as an amateur those photos really help me!).

I’ve been a fan of Marcus Samuelsson ever since I started watching Chopped on the Food Network; I just think he seems like such an incredible chef and man. So, I was really excited to purchase this cookbook and learn more about him personally and professionally! Overall, I adore this cookbook. As I was reading, many of the biographies include references to other resources and materials. By the end, I had added several audiobooks to my Audible library, added many cookbooks to my online shopping cart, and bookmarked several websites with other resources and restaurants to explore in the future. While I may not be the greatest chef (or even a semi-decent home cook), I felt so inspired after reading this cookbook. I can’t wait to continue learning more and practicing my cooking skills!

Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book. It’s great as a nonfiction resource about black cooking and chefs throughout history (and in modern times), and it’s also a great cookbook with many interesting recipes!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

TL;DR:
Year of Publication: 2020
Genre: Cookbook
Summary: In The Rise, chef, author, and television star Marcus Samuelsson gathers together an unforgettable feast of food, culture, and history to highlight the diverse deliciousness of Black cooking today. Driven by a desire to fight against bias, reclaim Black culinary traditions, and energize a new generation of cooks, Marcus shares his own journey alongside 150 recipes in honor of dozens of top chefs, writers, and activists—with stories exploring their creativity and influence.
Themes/Main Ideas: Black cooking. Black chefs. American food. Food activism. Food history.
Character Development: None, it’s a cookbook. However, there are many wonderful biographies of black chefs, activists, and others involved in the culinary field.
Plot/Pacing:
Again, no plot since it’s a cookbook, but the mini-biographies and recipes were balanced nicely.
“Bingeability”:
Moderate.
Emotional Investment:
Moderate.
Windows and Mirrors:
Black history. Black cooking. Food activism. Chef career. Restaurant ownership.
Overall Thoughts:
Compelling final chapter. Some difficult recipes (in a technical sense), but many resources are provided so that home cooks can find success with them. Great resource.
Recommendation: Yes
Rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

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