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In the Kitchen

Murder and mayhem haunt an executive chef in the restaurant of a London hotel that has seen better days.

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Restaurants are one of my favorite indulgences. (Cooking is fun. Dishes, less so. And my son is not quite tall enough to inflict with that chore.) As a result, I have stayed far, far away from Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” and any reality series starring Gordon Ramsay.

But so pervasive has become the cult of the celebrity chef that even a punter can easily identify the various jobs in that scorching, knife-filled danger zone that is the commercial kitchen. Thanks to “Ratatouille” (and seriously, thank you, Pixar), so can your average 6-year-old. Monica Ali’s new novel, In the Kitchen, focuses on the midlife crisis of an executive chef named Gabe Lightfoot. Unfortunately, Gabe turns out to be a whole lot less appealing hero than a rat.

Ali, whose wonderfully memorable debut novel “Brick Lane” was a finalist for the Booker Prize, is an expert at detailing the immigrant experience in London. Gabe’s kitchen at the Imperial (a hotel whose glory days are well behind it, as the plastic flowers on the tables attest) is filled with a “United Nations task force” of Russians, North Africans, and Indians – any one of whose story turns out to be more interesting than that of their boss. And therein lies both the appeal and the problem inherent in “In the Kitchen.”


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