We are staying in the restaurant business with Sweetbitter, a novel in which a young woman moves to New York and finds a job in a fancy restaurant. The first half of the book is a well-researched description of the workings of high-end restaurants, with a heavy display of wine erudition. It’s not exactly gripping but it moves along tolerably. The second half descends into a tiresome and obviously hopeless love triangle. What a bore.
Tag Archives: restaurants
Chop Chop starts as the twisted life of a restaurant kitchen, viewed by a poor English degree graduate who needs a job, any job, then blossoms into an even darker tale of gangsters. It’s written cleverly, as if the author had consulted with his ex-colleagues on the tale, always one step ahead of breaking the illusion of a brilliant tale. Much more fun than the standard restaurant memoir — and probably not the best choice to read before going out!
Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress is a haunting book that describes long-time, “career” waitresses, highlighting the difficulty of their jobs as they walk miles, heft heavy loads of plates, and soothe the egos of difficult customers. If you think, like me, that any job is interesting and unique, and you enjoy learning about how everything works behind-the-scenes, you will enjoy this book — and tip, generously, your next capable waitress.
Bread and Butter follows three brothers who own two restaurants in a small town, competing and yet intertwined in not so healthy ways. The story weakly mixes little spats between the brothers (including inane dialog) with lots of food porn about making and eating trendy dishes, and employee drama, including or not the brothers.
I did not like. Might be better suited for a food nerd…
Yes, Chef: A Memoir, by the Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson is a sweeping personal story of an ambitious young man who knows he must leave his adopted country of Sweden to fulfill his ambition of becoming a chef on the international stage. Along the way are some casualties, most sadly a daughter conceived when he was but a teenager and left behind, but they are told straightforwardly and serve to emphasize the tough life of a apprentices in high-end kitchens. The best part of the book for me was the author’s ever-present curiosity about food, ingredients, and techniques, wherever he finds himself in the world.
May all failed soccer stars have as much talent as resolve as Samuelsson.
Charlotte Au Chocolat: Memories of a Restaurant Girlhood has its delightful (pardon the pun) moments, when the author describes the behind-the-scenes action in her parents’ then mother’s restaurant, and in particular how the waiters and cooks dote on her, the elegant, polite child sipping her Shirley Temple at table A1. But the rest I found much less charming. The story of her hard-working, perfectionist mother could be remarkable, even heroic, but comes across as more than a bit of a snob. And the author’s detailed description of her outfits may be cute when she’s talking about her little-girl dresses, but gets tiresome as she grows up. Too bad, the title was appealing.
I enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Apprentices, which talks about a season working at elBulli, the famous Spanish (or should I say Catalan) restaurant that is (was!) the center of so-called molecular cuisine (explored in Life, On the Line, reviewed earlier in this blog). (I will go on a parentheses diet now.)
The author tells the story of the restaurant though the eyes of the stagiaires, the unpaid, overworked, exploited, in my book, apprentices who make it possible. They are a very international bunch, with some barely speaking Spanish, which turns out to be a big problem, not surprisingly, and their lives are told in what could quickly degenerate in the syrupy athlete portraits we get for the Olympic Games, but somehow the book avoids this tiresome cliche — perhaps because the author is not afraid to show character flaws and planning mishaps or complete absences of planning along with their more glorious adventures. She shows how the fifty chosen few (out of 3000 applicants, to heck with the parentheses diet) are drawn into the obsessive, oppressive machine of the restaurant, expected to function as little more than deft fingers and to not think independently for fear of messing up the system. And get this, they never get to taste the food! Still, it’s an inspiring story of driven and creative cooks, and I’m talking about the stagiaires here. A good summer read.