Lisa Schwarzbaum
April 15, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Under the Table

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Katherine Darling
publisher
Atria
genre
Nonfiction, Memoir

We gave it a C+

Dalia Jurgensen, ”eager to ? escape the small office” after working in publishing, went ?to culinary school, got a job as a pastry chef at a fancy New York restaurant, and writes about her experiences in Spiced. Katherine Darling, ready to leave ”the safety of the office environment” after working at a literary agency, went to a fancy New York culinary school ?and writes about her experiences in Under the Table. ?Simon Majumdar, tired of ”arguments over budgets” after working in, yes, book publishing, consumed a ?lot of food around the world and writes about his ?experiences in Eat My Globe.

All three books are undercooked. All three are ?written in Cheez Whiz prose not nearly as interesting as the raw ingredients of the stories. For that I blame ?Anthony Bourdain and Top Chef. Bourdain, after all, wrote the tasty tell-all Kitchen Confidential about what goes on behind the swinging doors separating restaurant diners from their food — and made dishing about dishes look easy. Top Chef suggests that the most successful chefs are those who promote their colorful personalities along with their knife skills.

So here’s Jurgensen, who serves up tidbits about ?the celebrity diners at her restaurant and about a lesbian fling and a longer relationship with a studly chef, but who can’t find words other than ”we were all insanely ?different people” to describe her co-workers. Here’s ?Darling, who offers the glib, condescending insight that ”chicken breasts come from chickens, not from Styrofoam trays in the grocery store.” And here, ye gods of M.F.K. Fisher, is the British-born Majumdar, piling on metaphors like fake grill marks on a hunk of inferior steak. Imagining his reaction were he to meet a certain idolized chef, he warns, ”I would probably faint like a bobby-soxer at a Fabian concert.”

They don’t have to pack away their knives, but for now these three memoirists ought to sharpen their narrative skills. Spiced: B? Under the Table: C+ Eat My Globe: C?

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