Summary and book reviews of In the Kitchen by Monica Ali

In the Kitchen

A Novel

by Monica Ali

In the Kitchen
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Chapter 1
One

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal

“In the Kitchen” is ambitious, but with its one-dimensional characterizations and laggardly pace - it’s too long at 436 pages - this novel is, ultimately, hard to digest.

The Washington Post

If you're curious about contemporary literature, you'll read this overcooked novel. You'll skip through the sludge of the early chapters.

The Christian Science Monitor

“In the Kitchen” has its flaws, but those are intertwined with Ali’s terrific writing. It’s like an overly ambitious special whose flavors don’t quite jell. You’d come back to the restaurant, but next time, you’d order something else. And it still beats fast food any day

Library Journal

With sometimes sly humor, Ali deftly sheds light on the irony of struggling in a land with abundant opportunities

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Flawed but still impressive, the work of a fearless writer determined to challenge herself.

Booklist

Starred Review. Ali deftly interweaves a collection of compelling plots in this powerful portrayal of a man whose life is slowly spiraling out of control.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Ali is a middlebrow writer, and an essentially frothy one at that, whose “gritty” choices of subject matter have convinced people she’s writing literary fiction.

The Independent (UK)

[Ali] takes risks that don't always succeed. In the Kitchen is too long... the writing is inconsistent, with a surfeit of cliché, but it's a serious and intelligent, if ultimately unsuccessful attempt at tackling the state of the nation.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

A Short Lesson in Restaurant Terminology

PERSONNEL
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 chef’s 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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