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.
Gabriel Lightfoot is an enterprising man from a northern England mill town, making good in London. As executive chef at the once-splendid Imperial Hotel, he is trying to run a tight kitchen. But his integrity, to say nothing of his sanity, is under constant challenge from the competing demands of an exuberant multinational staff, a gimlet-eyed hotel management, and business partners with whom he is secretly planning a move to a restaurant of his own. Despite the pressures, all his hard work looks set to pay off.
Until a worker is found dead in the kitchen's basement. It is a small death, a lonely death -- but it is enough to disturb the tenuous balance of Gabe's life.
Elsewhere, Gabriel faces other complications. His father is dying of cancer, his girlfriend wants more from their relationship, and the restaurant manager appears to be running an illegal business under Gabe's nose.
Enter Lena, an eerily attractive young woman with mysterious ties to the dead man. Under her spell, Gabe makes a decision, the consequences of which strip him naked and change the course of the life he knows -- and the future he thought he wanted.
When he looked back, he felt that the death of the Ukrainian was the point at which things began to fall apart. He could not say that it was the cause, could not say, even, that it was a cause, because the events that followed seemed to be both inevitable and entirely random, and although he could piece together a narrative sequence and take a kind of comfort in that, he had changed sufficiently by then to realize that it was only a story he could tell, and that stories were not, on the whole, to be trusted. Nevertheless, he fixed the beginning at the day of the Ukrainian's death, when it was the following day on which, if a life can be said to have a turning point, his own began to spin.
On that morning in late October, Gleeson, the restaurant manager, sat down with Gabriel for their regular meeting. He had mislaid, so it seemed, his oily professional charm.
"You do realize it's on your patch," said Gleeson. "You realize that, yes?"
It was the first time that ...
This is not the book for someone looking for a heartwarming or comforting read. It is disturbing, irritating, even maddening at times, but is it also brilliantly done. Every bit of dialogue demonstrates the missed human connections of her troubled characters, and the kitchen works as a perfect metaphor for the simmering tensions of life in twenty-first century London.
(Reviewed by Judy Krueger).
A Short Lesson in Restaurant Terminology
Chef: the cook in charge of a restaurant; from the French chef de cuisine, literally the head of the kitchen.
Executive Chef: sometimes called the head cook, he or she is the one responsible for running the food preparation in a kitchen, ordering food and supplies, making staff schedules, dealing with administrative tasks. Executive chefs are usually employed by large restaurants, hotels, country clubs and even cruise lines. Most manage a staff of at least ten employees.
Sous Chef: a chefs assistant, from the French sous meaning "under."
Chefs de Partie: each runs one section of the kitchen, oversees prep, cooking, and presentation of meals, and directs the chefs under him in ...
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