Kirkus Reviews QR Code
BACK OF THE HOUSE by Scott Haas

BACK OF THE HOUSE

The Secret Life of a Restaurant

By Scott Haas

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25610-7
Publisher: Berkley

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.