Reading guide for In the Kitchen by Monica Ali

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

In the Kitchen

A Novel

by Monica Ali

In the Kitchen
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2009, 448 pages
    May 2010, 448 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!


Amid the fading glory of the Imperial Hotel, embattled Executive Chef Gabriel Lightfoot tries to maintain his culinary integrity in the hotel's restaurant, while managing an unruly but talented group of immigrant cooks. He must please the management of the hotel, recently purchased by an international conglomerate.

When the dead body of a Ukrainian porter is discovered in the restaurant cellar, the tenuous balance in Gabe's life begins to slip. Adding to his stress, Gabe's plan to open his own restaurant with two wealthy investors is hitting a critical stage, his father is diagnosed with cancer, and his girlfriend starts talking about a new level in their relationship. Meanwhile, Gabe convinces himself that Gleeson, the restaurant's shifty floor manager, is using hotel property to conduct some sort of nefarious business.

With all this on his mind, Gabe encounters a young immigrant named Lena, a girl mysteriously tied to the death of the porter, and he makes a decision, the consequences of which irrevocably change the course of the life he knows—and the future he thought he wanted.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Consider the title of this novel. Is the kitchen the most significant setting in this novel? Why do you think the author chose “In the Kitchen”? With the group, brainstorm other title possibilities.
  2. Gabe believes that his girlfriend Charlie is his perfect mate and envisions a happy, married life with her. What, then, accounts for his relationship with Lena? What attracts Gabe to Lena? Does he ever truly love her? On some subconscious level, do you think his actions were an attempt to sabotage his future with Charlie?
  3. Gabe is haunted by a reoccurring nightmare of discovering Yuri's body in the catacombs and he is plagued by his inability to interpret the meaning. Is he ever able to decipher these visions? How would you explain the various settings and symbols that haunt him?
  4. Gabe and Nikolai debate the existence of free will. Gabe argues that “How we behave is up to us,” but Nikolai believes that everything is predetermined by one's particular circumstances (galley page 293). With whom do you agree?
  5. Gabe can't seem to remember or define what changed his relationship with his father when he was a boy. By the end of the book, does Gabe know? Does their relationship transform over the course of the novel? In what way?
  6. Discuss Gabe's relationship with his sister Jenny. In what ways does she act a foil to his character? What qualities do the two characters share?
  7. What does Fairweather reveal to Gabe about the state of the economy, politics, and social class and race in England? How do their views differ? How have Gabe's experiences in various kitchens, working with people representing a vast array of different cultural backgrounds, shaped his opinions and values?
  8. Both Jenny and Charlie tell Gabe that he is selfish. Do you agree? Why is it so important to Gabe to discover how other people view him? What motivates Gabe to give Lena his money?
  9. What are the major turning points in Gabe's ultimate downfall? Why was Yuri's death the catalyst for Gabe's personal unraveling? Considering his mother's bipolar disorder, do you think his breakdown is at all symptomatic of a neurological issue? Is Gabe's collapse a result of his upbringing, his personality, or events beyond his control?
  10. By the novel's conclusion, do you think that Gabe has recovered from his anxieties and self-destructive tendencies? What impact did his father's death make? What role did Jenny play in Gabe's recovery? If the story were to continue, what do you think would happen between Gabe and Charlie?

Enhance Your Book Club

Gabe wants his own restaurant to feature classic yet simple French fare. Choose one or a few of the recipes that he mentions and prepare the food for your meeting. For help with the recipes, visit:

If you were to open your own restaurant, what type of cuisine would you serve? Share your fantasy plans – including the menu, the name of the restaurant, the location, the décor, and the type of clientele you would hope to have – with the group.

Read Monica Ali's previous works, Brick Lane and Alentejo Blue. How are they different from In the Kitchen? In what ways are they similar?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Scribner. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Mothers
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett
    Every now and then the publishing industry gushes about a young author destined to become the next ...
  • Book Jacket
    by Tom Jackson
    Growing up in Mumbai in the '70s, I still remember herbs kept fresh in small glasses of water, ...
  • Book Jacket: Mercury
    by Margot Livesey
    Margot Livesey explores the moneyed suburbs of Boston and creates a modern morality tale chronicling...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    News of the World
    by Paulette Jiles

    Exquisitely rendered and morally complex--a brilliant work of historical fiction.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Comet Seekers
    by Helen Sedgwick

    A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.