Averill’s debut provides a harmless enough occasion for the author to meditate philosophically on the sensual analogies between cooking, food, life and love.
At least Averill has interesting things to say about food and cooking. Among the main attractions here are the delicious-sounding recipes, complete with essays on the ingredients, for the “New World” cuisine (prepared exclusively from foods found in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus) of Robert Hingler’s Tsil Café in Kansas City, Missouri. Upstairs from the restaurant, Hingler’s wife Maria operates a catering business focused on “Old World,” primarily Mediterranean cuisine. Into this mix is born their son Wes, the narrator, who chronicles the usual restaurateurs’ frustrations, from ignorant suppliers and unreliable employees to hostile reviewers, as well his own tendency to burn his hands on scalding-hot pans. Meanwhile, there are also adulterous affairs for husband and wife. Forced to endure the hardship of seeing his parents fight, Wes arrives at the deep conclusion that both of them are imperfect and carry childhood traumas. His parents make up—their love is stronger, fresher, better, but scarred—and Wes realizes he’s got to make his own meal in life, with his own ingredients and his own dishes and . . . you get the picture. He has sex, goes to college, and works in another restaurant, all crucible experiences related in no particular order of significance. An unintentionally amusing moment occurs during Robert’s blowout 50th-birthday meal, a grand affair including roast guinea pig, dog tamales, and llama’s blood, when Maria’s visiting grandmother dies in the restaurant’s basement as the meal is about to begin. Dinner is served anyway, and Maria pops downstairs to be with the body “for a brief vigil between courses.” Occasionally Wes strikes a more-native-than-thou attitude, as when he describes Thanksgiving as “the Anglo ritual that consists of gorging the gut instead of communication with ancestors and gods.”
A pretty good cookbook struggling to get out of a bland novel.