In Wildgen’s (But Not For Long, 2009, etc.) latest, three foodie brothers find themselves in a stew.
Britt worked in advertising until brother Leo persuaded him to join in operating Winesap, an upscale restaurant in Linden near Philadelphia. Amid oyster fritters and pork rillettes, Britt runs the front of the house, and Leo manages money and vendors. Single mother Thea has become an outstanding executive chef, although pastry genius Hector has turned fickle, like others of his ilk. Then Harry, the not-prodigal but still unsettled son, comes home. Harry’s younger, has advanced degrees and blue-collar chops, and now, he’s opening a restaurant in a not-yet-gentrified neighborhood. What results isn’t sibling rivalry but rather a friendly competition that shifts and expands sibling loyalties. Call it family drama set against the backdrop of an insider’s take on big-ticket dining. Britt’s stylish, poised and vaguely discontented. Leo’s head-down, plow-ahead and stoically unhappy. Harry’s left his dissertation in limbo, worked fishing trawlers and canneries, cooked at an isolated resort, and he harbors a secret threatening his restaurant’s success and the siblings’ bonds. Wildgen’s kitchen characters are Food Network archetypical, right down to the cutthroat competition and post-shift dive-bar drinking. Thea reflects a new chance for Leo, one that tempts him to violate the cardinal rule of a happy professional kitchen: An owner doesn’t dip into the chef’s soup. Britt, conversely, may find happiness with Harry’s friend, enigmatic restaurant consultant Camille. Wildgen plates one dazzling dish after another on nearly every page and turns many a tasty phrase, as when a rival restaurateur is seen as "menacing them with a glass of grappa."
Not a literary banquet but far better than fast-food fiction.