Bread & Butter
Restaurant life is famously grueling, with its long hours, financial ups and downs, and rigid pecking order reminiscent of the military, not to mention the necessity of doing a lot of thinking (and standing) on one's feet. Bread & Butter (Doubleday), Michelle Wildgen's wildly entertaining third novel, offers a behind-the-scenes view of this culinary cosmos, where a misfired plate might prompt a public tongue-lashing, and competition between restaurants can all but unravel a family. In a struggling Pennsylvania town, brothers Britt and Leo have established Winesap, their just-upscale-enough eatery, as a profitable presence on the local food scene. Which makes the nearby restaurant venture undertaken by their younger brother, Harry, something of a slap in the face: "People are going to compare us, whether it makes any sense or not," sighs Thea, Winesap's executive chef, upon hearing the news. As Harry's pan-crisped socca with baccalà and arugula squares off against Britt and Leo's venison with salty pistachio brittle, comparisons do arise—and tempers flare. Against this backdrop of brothers-on-brother combat, Wildgen serves up romantic intrigue (Leo unwisely falls for Thea, and Britt for a regular named Camille, whom Harry also has his eye on), along with a generous dollop of satire as sharp as a prep knife. The result is a novel that's as much about the complex dance of family dynamics as it is about the mysterious world behind the kitchen door—and a divinely delicious read, to boot.
— Katie Arnold-Ratliff