So what’s on the menu?
Simon Wroe serves up an array of characters : there’s Monocle, the English Lit graduate and now commis chef; Bob the sadistic Head Chef, who makes Gordon Ramsay look like a soufflé ; Racist Dave , a homesick northerner dispensing nuggets of twisted wisdom and Ramilov ,the under chef with a dark secret.All are working in The Black Swan ,a gastro pub in North London with a menacing regular known as The Fat Man.
Vegetarians Beware ! The book opens with a very realistic description of how to boil a pig’s head .
Unemployment drives Monocle to seek work as a commis in The Black Swan . So what is a commis ?
‘ In the kitchen the commis is everywhere. Like a fly, he sees things that no one else sees, things he is not supposed to see. It is his job to buzz this way and that, from fridge to section to dry store to wine cellar, fetching and prepping and chopping things the other chefs do not have time to fetch and prep and chop.’
Monocle, the nickname given to him in the kitchen because of his degree, has dreams of becoming a novelist and is tormented by the prodigious success of young man of letters Tod Brightman :
‘ I fumed over the ascension of this young writer whom I hated, this tawdry scribbler who spent his life at lunch with his publisher or explaining Maupassant to beautiful women, who had no scars on his hands or bags under his eyes, who woke late and counted his lie in as contemplation, had no vegetables thrust against his rectum unless requested………….I prayed he might destroy himself with a novel of staggeringly poor judgement or a tell-all memoir’
Wroe captures the atmosphere of a busy kitchen….think Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares with bells on. Chop Chop is a surreal black comedy and the kitchen of The Black Swan is the battleground in which all the characters must confront their own demons as well as the morality of cooking and serving dead animals.
Monocle is our narrator but both Racist Dave and Ramilov jostle for position and urge him to tell the story in their own particular way. We also have a side-order of Monocle’s own tragic family story which still haunts him, his mum and his dad, the winner who worked his way down.
The story is perhaps a little ‘thin’ overall but the prose is crisp and fresh. The final lines even have a hint of Fitzgerald about them:
‘So we slave the best years of our lives: a family of strangers ,a business of flies. Our works consumed and soon forgotten.’
A great debut. With thanks to Penguin Books for the review copy.