Author(s): Michael Wildgen
Published by Anchor on 02/11/2014
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Britt and Leo have spent ten years running Winesap, the best restaurant in their small Pennsylvania town. They cater to their loyal customers; they don't sleep with the staff; and business is good, even if their temperamental pastry chef is bored with making the same chocolate cake night after night. But when their younger brother, Harry, opens his own restaurant—a hip little joint serving an aggressive lamb neck dish—Britt and Leo find their own restaurant thrown off-kilter.
Britt becomes fascinated by a customer who arrives night after night, each time with a different dinner companion. Their pastry chef, Hector, quits, only to reappear at Harry's restaurant. And Leo finds himself falling for his executive chef-tempted to break the cardinal rule of restaurant ownership. Filled with hilarious insider detail—the one-upmanship of staff meals before the shift begins, the rivalry between bartender and hostess, the seedy bar where waitstaff and chefs go to drink off their workday—Bread and Butter is both an incisive novel of family and a gleeful romp through the inner workings of restaurant kitchens.
I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Bread & Butter meshes a restaurant/chef story in the vein of Kitchen Confidential with a more traditional family drama to create a new take on the culinary drama. While not everything in this book really works I can see what the author was going for and commend her for it.
Two things are clear from reading this book. One is that Michelle Wildgen is a foodie and has a real passion for the subject. Her descriptions of the food and the cooking of it are the literary version of food porn. You can almost taste the meals from her descriptions. Her ability to describe food is what I enjoyed most about the book. After reading a chapter of Bread & Butter what I really wanted to do is get into the kitchen and cooks something.
The other thing that is obvious from reading this book, at least to someone who has spent some time in a professional kitchen, is that Wildgen has never actually worked as a cook for any length of time. Everything the characters talked about was high end. Chefs more than often tend to personally veer towards simpler foods and the dishes so lovingly described here are nearly universally high end and complex. The foods she has her characters serve are more at place for the foodie who loves reading Bon Apatite and Food & Wine Magazine. She writes about chefs in a way a foodie would want a chef to be, not in a way that chefs really are. You don’t see the characters sitting down and eating a really well prepared chicken or simple pasta dish. It may sound harsh but the one word that comes to mind when reading this books is, Poser. And that is what makes the comparison of this book to Kitchen Confidential not work is it is clear the Kitchen Confidential was written by someone who actually worked in a professional kitchen. If Kitchen Confidential is the professional’s culinary drama, then Bread & Butter would be the amateur.
Beyond the fact that it doesn’t stay true to what working in a kitchen is like the rest of the book is fine. None of it really comes off as an amazing drama, but it also isn’t bad. The characters are generally likeable and, while pretty pretentions, don’t come off as snobbish or overbearing. The drama between the family members feels a bit forced at times but generally still works.
This isn’t a bad book. If you are a foodie but not a professional it will work as a nice piece of food porn with a little story thrown in. If you are a professional cook you might find yourself annoyed by the choices the author makes and the portrayal of chefs.
Review by Travis Starnes