Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

SWEET: granular, powdered, brown, slow like honey or molasses.  The mouth-coating sugars in milk.  Once, when we were wild, sugar intoxticated us, the first narcotic we craved and languished in.  We’ve tamed it, refined it, but the juice from a peach still runs like a flash flood.                                                                  -Excerpt from Sweetbitter, pg. 8

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I bought this book because a reader that I follow on Instagram listed it as one of her top reads for the year last year.  I added it to my reading stack because I kept reading other reviews about how enticing and phenomenal it was.  And when I started seeing trailers for a show based off the book, I decided to skip a couple of other books in my pile and begin this one.

This is the story of Tess, a young girl who ran away from her mundane life to start over in New York City.  She finds herself in an interview at a well-known NYC restaurant and gets the job.  She learns quickly how much she needs to learn to be successful.  She finds herself deep in the trenches of how tolling and exhausting the industry can be.  But she also finds herself forming a palate, and learning about wine and food.  And heartbreak.

TASTE, Chef said, is all about balance.  The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter.  Now your tongue is coded.  A certain connoisseurship of taste, a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet.                                                                                                                                 -Excerpt from Sweetbitter, pg. 17

This book is the unabashed, painfully truthful life of a young person finding themselves in the hospitality industry.  The only other book that I’ve ever read that accurately portrays what happens behind service is Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.  While I work in this industry, my own personal experience has been very different than Tess’.  But the restaurant life in New York is also a lot different from Grand Rapids.  The content and language can be a bit raunchy at times, but so can life behind the bar.  It just goes to show you that when you go out for a meal, often, it’s never ever just dinner.

The prose and descriptions so accurate I could taste the peaches and fresh figs intrigued me in the beginning.  But the story line keep me immersed in the novel.  I read this book in huge gulps, chugging, binging, finding myself finishing it within 4 days.  I highly recommend this book to anyone that’s ever worked in the industry, to anyone thats struggling to find purpose in their life, and to anyone that loves oysters on the half shell with champagne.

Some tomatoes tasted like water, and some like summer lightning.                                                                                                                                              -Excerpt from Sweetbitter, pg. 40

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