While the militaristic minutiae of restaurant life and its psychological pressures might otherwise make for a gripping...

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BACK OF THE HOUSE

THE SECRET LIFE OF A RESTAURANT

A psychologist and food writer takes a close look at what motivates and defines one of today’s most celebrated chefs.

Haas (Are We There Yet?, 2004) lives close to chef-owner Tony Maws’ famous Boston restaurant, Craigie on Main. Though the author wouldn’t deign to be a “foodie” by today’s terms—most restaurant experiences are, to him, “a colossal waste of time and money”—a dinner at Craigie one night launched him into an intensive, behind-the-scenes field study of life in the Craigie kitchen. Haas is painstakingly meticulous in his report, observing every member of the kitchen in turn, working alongside many of them and even interviewing Maws’ parents for the chef’s complete family history. The author is most focused on the emotional and psychological inner workings of the kitchen dynamics. As he analyzes the inherent tensions in chef–cook relationships, he muses on the cause and effects of Maws’ hot-tempered personality with the distance and interest of a biologist observing a lion taking out a pack of hyenas. Despite his intense closeness to his subject, Haas’ writing never takes on the authority of an insider. The book’s descriptions of what is presumably some of the most inspired food in the country are tough and dry, and most of the text reads like a court reporter’s transcript of conversations between the author and Craigie employees. Now and then, the pages-long dialogue is broken up by Haas’ patronizing diagnoses of various characters’ behavioral habits; the chef, evidently, has “father issues,” but even he finds that hard to take seriously.

While the militaristic minutiae of restaurant life and its psychological pressures might otherwise make for a gripping study, its presentation here is cluttered and clinical.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-425-25610-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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