cover image The Cook

The Cook

Maylis de Kerangal, trans. from the French by Sam Taylor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22 (112p) ISBN 978-0-374-12090-0

Fitfully delectable is the best way to describe this brief French portrait of the artist as a young self-made chef from de Kerangal (The Heart). At age 10, impressionable Mauro becomes fascinated by the family’s Paris kitchen and begins baking cakes. By 13, he is feeding his friends so they won’t have to eat McDonald’s and frozen pizza. While attending university, he gets his first part-time job in a restaurant kitchen and eventually decides to forgo a master’s in economics in favor of a career in cooking. After apprenticing in several Paris restaurants, Mauro, at age 24, is inspired to open up his own restaurant, in partnership with his jack-of-all-trades father, Jacques. La Belle Saison becomes a success, but after four years, Mauro feels burned out. He sells the restaurant and goes to Asia in search of new gastronomic worlds to conquer and “tastes that give him back his capacity for surprise.” Ranging from Paris dining temples to Berlin kebab houses to a 10-diner-only, 10-course restaurant in Bangkok, the author takes readers on a brilliantly realized culinary tour of the world. Though its emotionally distant narrative style and tendency to tell rather than show may turn off some readers, this is a rich novel, particularly for armchair travelers. (Mar.)