For fans of The Measure of My Powers and Notes from a Young Black Chef, a memoir about food, family, and the recipes that brought one woman home when she needed it the most.
Suzanne Barr’s journey to become a chef started when she was 30. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she moved home to Florida to take care of her. Suzanne escorted her mother to doctor’s appointments, bathed her, and kept her company, but the hardest part of the experience was that she didn’t know how to cook for her. She didn’t even know where to begin.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2017 when Suzanne became the inaugural Chef-in-Residence at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. She wanted to create a menu that represented who she was as a chef and it emerged as a love letter to her mother. Her Rite of Passage Menu, as she called it, changed her. It started her on a journey that has brought her closer to her mother, to her ancestors, and to her Jamaican heritage.
But a lot has happened before and since.
My Ackee Tree tells the story of a woman who is always on the move, always seeking; who battles the stereotypes of being a Black female cook to become a culinary star in an industry beset by dated practices and landlords with too much power. From the ackee tree in front of her childhood home, through New York City, Atlanta, Hawaii, the Hamptons, and France, Suzanne takes us on her unpredictable journey, and at every turn, she finds light and comfort in the kitchen. Told in a voice as fresh and honest as her cooking, My Ackee Tree is a celebration of creativity, soul searching, and motherhood that asks, “How can I keep the things I love?”
About the authors
Suzanne Hancock has taught at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and is the author of Another Name for Bridge. She lives in Montreal.
Praise for My Ackee Tree:
“Suzanne Barr is not only a brilliant chef but she's also a talented, honest storyteller. In My Ackee Tree she shares her amazing story, her love of food, music, family, adventure, and her journey to become a chef, wife, and mother. Her generous heart and soul is poured out on every page with such passion, emotion, humour, strength, and resilience. My Ackee Tree is inspiring and heartwarming—and such a gift.”
—Chef Lynn Crawford, bestselling author of Farm to Chef and Hearth & Home
“Any good cook knows that layering one's seasonings is necessary to make a great dish, but in My Ackee Tree, Suzanne Barr shows how layers also make a life rich, full, and complex. Through the recounted conversations, meals, and recipes that thread together her upbringing, Suzanne brings food to life, and life to food. Communicating an inspiring and quintessentially Black experience of finding oneself on life's winding, rocky, joyful, not-so-straightforward road, her stories will ignite scent memories for anyone with roots in the Caribbean, and her recipes, when you cook them, will foster a love of that same world, no matter where you're from.”
—David Zilber, New York Times bestselling co-author of The Noma Guide to Fermentation
“Part love letter, part coming of age tale, Suzanne Barr’s stories in My Ackee Tree build a tapestry of will and hope. Driven by love for her mother, Barr is able to fulfill a promise to herself: she cares for her dying mother and discovers the gift of her native food. This is her personal homecoming. It nurtures her soul and spirit, and it’s where she discovers her passion to be a chef. Bravo!”
—Alexander Smalls, author of Meals, Music, and Muses and Between Harlem and Heaven
“I loved Suzanne's memoir. It is a delightful mix of family, food, and love. It seems cliché to say it, but I really wish I could be one of her regulars, enjoying her signature dish of Big Chick Thighs and feeling the magic she and her husband Johnnie transmit to their diners.”
—Kristina Gill, food editor and co-author of Tasting Rome
“To a fellow chef, Suzanne has always been an inspiration. Learning more about her story, and all her triumphs and all her trials, only inspires me more. Thoughtfully written and with delicious recipes, it’s a must-read.”
—Amanda Cohen, co-author of Dirt Candy
“I was instantly taken by Suzanne's good nature and her authenticity. Her cooking is all about robust flavours with a personal twist, but it’s always solidly rooted in her family background. We've only had a small taste of what Suzanne is capable of in the kitchen and I look forward to watching that evolution.”
—Mark McEwan, author of Great Food at Home and Mark McEwan Rustic Italian
“The strength and power of women in kitchens not only rests in our dedication to our craft, but in our stories and in our deep connections with our past and each other. Suzanne Barr has given us a beautiful glimpse into this strength, where we learn about how she built an inspiring career on the foundation of family and community. She is one of the most important voices in food today, not only because of what sets her apart, but because of how—through her skill and dedication, her sincere care and rich heart—she pulls us all together.”
—Lisa Donovan, author of Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger
“[Suzanne Barr] recounts her experiences in the culinary world as a Black woman, battling stereotypes and challenging the status quo. With honesty and vulnerability, she shares her story of finding ways to keep the things she loves.”
“Barr takes us along for a journey through the meals, recipes, and conversations of her upbringing and her path in becoming a chef, wife, and mother. Through all the twists and turns—from the ackee tree of her childhood home to NYC, Toronto, and beyond—it’s full of soul, heart, humor, strength, and food inspired by Caribbean roots. Her passion for cooking permeates each chapter, and her zest for life is contagious.”
“[My Ackee Tree] offer[s] up a series of captivating tales about [Barr’s] journey as a chef along with a collection of recipes from throughout her life.”