My review of Monica Ali's new novel, In The Kitchen, has gone live at the Barnes & Noble Review. It begins thus:
What hath Anthony Bourdain wrought? In the wake of all the imitators it spawned, it can be hard to remember just how bracing Kitchen Confidential was when it was published back in 2000. There had always been famous cooks -- Julia Child, Graham Kerr -- but Bourdain somehow managed to simultaneously deglamorize the kitchen and make it sexy and dangerous. From Top Chef to Hell's Kitchen to Ratatouille, the not-so-humble chef (mostly bad-tempered, mostly male) has emerged as a cultural icon. Names like Keller, Robuchon, Senderens, and Achtaz, once known only to the cognoscenti, are now common currency, and even the layman can tell a sous-chef from a saucier.
One of the kitchen's dirty secrets that Bourdain was intent on exposing was how much of the unseen labor necessary for preparing fine food was done by people of color, often underpaid, often illegal. It's a setting that would have held obvious attractions for Monica Ali. In her two prior novels, the superb Booker-nominated Brick Lane and the less sure-footed Alejento Blue, Ali has been a messenger of multiculturalism, drawing back the veil on the subtleties of life in an increasingly diverse world with elegance and empathy. And, indeed, her new novel, In the Kitchen, is at its very best in its deft handling of a large and ethnically varied cast, as she guides them through the "part prison, part lunatic asylum, part community hall" that is the kitchen of London's Imperial Hotel.
You can read the entire review here.