I went in with high expectations as I love books that have even the slightest mention of food in them plus this one is set in New York, who doesn't love New York as a setting?? So with these both playing a huge feature in the book I had a feeling I'd be instantly hooked before I even started.
The book is set out in seasons and follows the 22 year old narrator from her hometown into the big city, New York. She gets a job as a server in a renowned restaurant and the story is based about her time there, the people she works with, the customers she serves, the mentor she craves and of course the mysterious talk, dark and handsome character, who she desperately wants. There is swearing, drugs, sex, food, wine, everyones dirty little secrets and more wine.
By the hype of the book, I thought that there would be more food involved but to tell you the truth it didn't make me want to cook, it made me want to open a bottle of wine every time I picked it up.
I don't think I've mentioned it on the space yet but I've worked in restaurant kitchens before so a lot of the kitchen talk in the book brought back memories of my apprenticeship with head chefs that yelled, screamed 'pick-up', screamed 'pick-up!' even louder if no one came running, threw plates of food at walls or called you a 'blow-arse'. Now, not all my head chef's were like that and the social vibe between staff was not as gritty as this book makes it out to be but it still brought back the feeling of being at the pass and waiting for my desserts to be picked up, hoping desperately someone would come quickly so the ice cream didn't end up like soup. I will also admit when I first started reading this book, it brought back the anxiety that also came hand in hand with my kitchen gig and the feeling of being the newbie in a foreign space.
I enjoyed this book but there was something that kept me a little uneasy throughout the entire thing and I think it was my own experiences working in restaurants and being on the kitchen side of it all. All I saw was the kitchens I've worked in and the chefs that yelled. I never had a mentor, it was all for one and one for all. You had two feet to stand on and if you didn't get it right the first time the second time you had no choice but to get it right or you got your head bitten off.
Although my time sounds highly unpleasant working in a kitchen, it wasn't all like that but I do think the name of the book is very fitting and describes restaurant life in one (two) words perfectly. Sweetbitter.
One thing, I wanted more food. I wanted more mouth watering family meals and cooking for one in her tiny New York apartment but I didn't get much of that. There were two memorable food moments in it which I'll mention. One consisted of oysters, beer and the tall, dark and handsome fella and the other was a simple chanterelle omelette which had me craving mushrooms. As I can't give you a recipe for a tall, dark handsome fella who hands you freshly shucked oysters and an ice cold beer, I can share with you a recipe for a chanterelle omelette I made recently. It is a given that you are required to open a bottle of wine with this.
a simple chanterelle omeletteinspired by Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
serves 1 - recipe adapted from Savour
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 small shallot, finely diced
about 1 cup chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and torn (or any mushrooms you like)
a dollop of creme fraiche
a handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
- In a frying pan heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat until melted then add the garlic and diced shallot. Cook for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the chanterelle mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes or until soft. Add the creme fraiche and parsley and cook until melted and oozy, season with generous amounts of salt and pepper.
- Remove the mushrooms and set aside. Wipe the frying pan out with paper towel then add the other tablespoon of butter on medium heat. Pour the beaten eggs into pan and cook for 30 seconds, lifting cooked edges with a spatula to allow uncooked egg to flow underneath.
- Spoon mushroom mixture into the centre of the still slightly runny eggs and fold closed, cook for 1 minute more. Serve with some toasty sourdough and salty butter.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is published by Allen and Unwin, August 2016 (RRP $27.99).