Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nuthin' Says Lovin' Like Sumpthin' from the Oven

I admit it. I'm not the world's best or most organized cook. While I'm rushing pasta from stove to sink I bump into my kids as they're setting the table. When a dinner guest cuts my chocolate cake I spill coffee beans all over the kitchen floor. I'm as apt to chop my finger as the scallion I'm holding.

This might explain why I'm more fond of reading cookbooks than I am of cooking from them even though I love good food and enjoy messing around in the kitchen. I'm fascinated by glimpses into the mysterious lairs of professional chefs where culinary miracles are produced and served. As a fan of crime fiction, however, I most enjoy witnessing something lethal in those kitchens and I'm not talking about the artistic arrangement of dead carrots on a plate.

After all, a well-equipped professional kitchen is a natural place for violence and death. Glittering knives, sharp tools whose use I can only guess, heavy pans and flaming dishes. A walk-in refrigerator. Large plastic bags. Drāno for the sink. A butcher's block. What better place for hot tempers to boil over into homicidal rage? A good place for a waiter to debone another with a fish knife or a wine steward to clobber the pastry chef with the Châteauneuf du Pape.

I'm not a fan of TV chef Anthony Bourdain, but his book Bone in the Throat: A Novel is a very grisly yet merry caper set in the Dreadnaught Grill of Manhattan's Little Italy. Everyone in the Dreadnaught kitchen is caught in the cross-currents of food, entrepreneurship and crime, including the dentist in legal trouble who is forced by loony feds into becoming a restaurateur as part of a farcical sting operation to ensnare loan shark Salvatore "Sally Wig" Pitera, who bankrolls the eatery; the dope-using chef; and sous-chef Tommy Pagano, Pitera's nephew. Tommy isn't fond of the Mob, but Uncle Sal raised him, so Tommy allows him and some other mobsters to use the kitchen for after-hours "business" and is caught in a squeeze by the FBI as a result. Oh, boy.

If you think that a grease fire or getting cut while chopping onions is the worst that can happen in a kitchen you're in for an eye-popping, stomach-churning experience when you read Bone in the Throat. This is a delectable satirical novel; maybe not for reading while eating, although the knowledgeable talk about ingredients and savory recipes stoked my appetite and kept me munching as I peeled the pages of this book. Bourdain graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, but he deserves an honorary degree from the Homicidal Institute of America as well. Clever gangsterese, hearty servings of SoHo culture, entertaining characters and over-the-top kitchen mayhem. Black humor en croute. Bon appétit!

P.S. If this book promises to be too violent for your taste but you're looking for a food-infused mystery, former Washington Post restaurant critic Phyllis Richman's first Chas Wheatley book, The Butter Did It, is a fun traditional mystery and may satiate your appetite.


  1. Della, my jaw dropped when I noticed a 'Literature Summary and Study Guide' to Bone in the Throat over on Amazon. Is this a mystery that needs a study guide?

  2. Della, if what you are saying is that if you can't take the heat stay out of the kitchen it may apply to me when you include stomach churning as an adjective. But in this case the story itself does sound like fun. I think it is wonderful to find a well-written book from someone who has an inside view of a section of life and tells a good story.

  3. I remember reading the Bourdain novel when it first came out. It was pretty good, not great. I have mixed feelings about his show. The places he visits are always fascinating, but he can be such a jerk sometimes.

  4. Sister Mary, I was in the mood for Bourdain's BONE IN THE THROAT and enjoyed it. Bourdain himself is more than I can take.

    Peri, my jaw dropped when I read your statement that a "Literature Summary and Study Guide" to BONE IN THE THROAT is available! I can't imagine anybody needing a guide for this book. Street talk, drug use, sex, punk rock and cartoon violence is pretty self-explanatory.

    MC, I also love it when authors share their expertise in their mysteries. There's that old saying "Write what you know" and Bourdain knows food and SoHo. Tommy the sous-chef is a sympathetic character. He is determined to become a great chef despite his background and all the crazy action at the Dreadnaught. Harvey, the ex-dentist/restaurant owner, is determined to make a go of his restaurant even though in the eyes of the feds it is just a vehicle to get Sally Wig. I had fun reading this.

  5. Let's not forget Someone Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe by Nan and Ivan Lyons for a combination plate of mystery and haute cuisine. I'm still mourning the demise of Gourmet Magazine. ;-( Nikki

  6. Nikki, it's nice to meet a fellow mourner of Gourmet Magazine.

    I read SOMEONE IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE by Nan and Ivan Lyons when it first came out. I hate thinking about how many years ago that was. I know I read the sequel, too, but I remember next to nothing about it.