Simon Wroe - Chop Chop (4 stars)

Simon Wroe - Chop Chop

An authentic and gradually sinister look at life in a busy kitchen

Told from the perspective of a novice commis chef, known only to us as Monocle, Chop Chop exposes the closed world of the restaurant kitchen. An English lit graduate with literary aspirations, Monocle is an outsider in the hard-working, masculine environment of the kitchen. Through his keen observation the complex dynamics of a busy kitchen are vividly and comically relayed: the craftsmanship of the cooking, the homoerotic banter, the drudgery of repetitive tasks. Wroe’s first-hand experience as a former chef shines through, with rising stress levels palpable as the cheques pile on. The kitchen staff make for a hilarious bunch: filthy talking Ramilov who enjoys pretending to bugger chefs with large vegetables; Racist Dave, the musical loving Northerner, and the foreign kitchen porters with limited English. Although Wroe teeters on the edge of stereotypes, he never allows his characters to become two dimensional.

The novel within a novel structure is cleverly played, as Racist Dave and Ramilov's amusing editorials move the plot along whenever Monocle strays into obscure literary references or ‘too much love bollocks’. Initially the story is light-hearted and anecdotal: Monocle's biggest preoccupation is his sadistic boss, head chef Bob, who locks staff in the dry store with the lobsters. However behind Bob lurks a true nemesis and a darker story line subtly unfolds. The characters' dark appetites and moral shortcomings are laid bare. How they should be judged for their crimes is uncertain – our perspective skewed, like the characters', by friendships forged over hot stoves.

Out now from Viking.

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