Walnut Creek's 'One City One Book' program appealing to a 'broad spectrum' of readers
By Lou Fancher
Bookies and foodies unite with the 10th annual "One City One Book" selection "Yes, Chef: A Memoir," by Marcus Samuelsson with Veronica Chambers.
The Walnut Creek Library Foundation and Contra Costa County Library program serve up free community events on the book's literary and culinary platform. For the first time this year, free paperback copies will be distributed, adding to the 50 books purchased for circulation and audio and e-kindle books available to library patrons.
"Yes, Chef" tells the story of Samuelsson's remarkable journey from his birthplace in an Ethiopian village so small it does not appear on area maps to top honors as the James Beard Foundation's "Best Chef New York City" (2003), guest chef at the Obama White House (2009), winner of Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" (2010) and more.
Along the way, his sensitivities were refined by Lennart and Anne Marie Samuelsson, the Swedish couple who adopted him; Helga, his grandmother; and Tsigie, his birth father and the link to his Ethiopian roots and family. Today the product of apprenticeships in Swiss, French and American restaurants, Samuelsson sits atop a small dynasty of cookbooks and establishments, including the Red Rooster, located in Harlem and featuring diverse American cuisine, art and music.
"The book selection committee met in January to begin the process," said foundation administration director Susan Moon. "Library staff, board members, and volunteers read and discussed about 10-15 books, looking for titles that had general appeal, were in paperback and (offered) ample programming possibilities."
Beyond the basic requirements, criteria leading to Samuelsson's book being selected included universal themes that would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers and provocative subject matter that might fuel animated discussions. People's passion about food is a constant, Moon suggested, and the 21st century advent of celebrity chefs and cooking shows fed the flames.
"The idea of people reading and discussing the same book -- especially a book with such powerful themes like "Yes, Chef" -- is exciting. We're essentially trying to get the community to form one big book club."
Previous years have spanned the globe, featuring John Steinbeck's "The Pastures of Heaven," Gail Tsukiyama's "The Street of a Thousand Blossoms," Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake" and Jacqueline Winspear's "The Mapping of Love and Death."
"When you read a good book, you tell a friend or family member, "Check out this book I just read." We're excited to share this amazing read," says program manager Kelli Nero. "We also have events lined up that were inspired by Samuelsson's story."
A local chef's panel on Sept. 21, moderated by this newspaper's Food Editor, Jackie Burrell, presents Paramita Roy, executive chef and owner of Kanishka's (Neo-Indian gastropub); Kevin Weinberg, executive chef and co-owner of Walnut Creek Yacht Club (seafood); and a third, yet-to-be-named chef.
"Good Grief Cooking" author Lisa Rubino appears Sept. 10; a two-hour workshop led by Shirley Good and Neal Rosenau introduces memoir-writing techniques on Sept. 26; Walnut Creek butcher Gary LaPerle presents local history and tips on the meat industry Sept. 30; and a book discussion and dessert potluck closes the program Oct. 7.
LaPerle is a 38-year veteran in his field, beginning at age 14 at the city's first butcher shop, Lawrence's Walnut Creek Meat Company.
LaPerle, 58, said working for the Lawrence family was pleasant, and that becoming hooked on the diversity of his labors and the interaction with customers, he never looked back. "I couldn't imagine doing anything else. It's fun when you're selling the best. I was told early on by one of the owners that he didn't care if I ever touched a knife. He wanted every customer to be served well."
Still working on his presentation, LaPerle says he'll talk about how to cook a $23 filet roast, where tri-tips originate, organic, grain or grass fed beef, antibiotics and hormones used in meat, and more. And rest assured, if he's asked about books, he'll have an answer librarians' love: "Oh sure, I read. I like to read everything."