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In the Kitchen, Monica Ali (Scribner)

A delicious read, but lacking in substance


Gabriel Lightfoot is the executive chef of the once-thriving Imperial Hotel in London. Pumped by his backers as a future star-chef, Gabe has a secret partnership to open his own restaurant, and plans to marry his gorgeous lounge-singing girlfriend. But then Yuri, a porter, is found dead in the hotel basement, and things start to unravel for poor Gabe after he meets Lena, a young prostitute from Belarus who is somehow connected to Yuri. The novel lacks the gritty violence of Rawi Hage's Cockroach or Stephen Frears' film Dirty Pretty Things (or the comedy of Ali's Booker-winning debut novel Brick Lane), which expose the secret, ignored lives of immigrant service workers in large, anonymous cities, and Gabe lacks the raw passion associated with celebrity chefs like blowhard Gordon Ramsey or saintly Jamie Oliver. As commentary there's little here, but the book is entertaining, thanks to Ali's sharp, observational writing.

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