EXCERPT & REVIEWS

Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen

BREAD AND BUTTER (Available now from Doubleday)

 

 

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REVIEWS

“Three words for you: Food Nerds Unite.”–The New York Times

 

“Restaurateur brothers torn between nostalgia and novelty are the focus of Tin House executive editor Michelle Wildgen’s new novel, Bread and Butter (Doubleday), filled with tasty insider details, from the tyranny of molten chocolate cake to the politics of dining at the bar.”–Vogue

 

“Gets the details of the restaurant biz and the dynamics of those who are part of it just right… As she did in You’re Not You, her compulsively readable literary debut, Wildgen couples vivid description with crisp prose, putting the reader right in the scene — and right at the table.”–Miami Herald

 

“A lively novel with an engaging narrative of the restaurant biz…. with her wonderfully descriptive style and an obvious understanding of the restaurant business, Wildgen uses these settings… to explore the intimacy and fragility of families, the complicated relationships among people who work closely together, and the difficult task of serving customers like ourselves.”–The Oregonian

 

“Wildgen glazes Bread & Butter with delicious behind-the-scenes details that foodies will appreciate… it goes down like comfort food.”–Entertainment Weekly

 

“Four stars for Bread and Butter (Doubleday), Michelle Wildgen’s saucy tale of three foodie brothers at each others’ throats.”—Vanity Fair

 

“Wildly entertaining … a novel that’s as much about the complex dance of family dynamics as it is about the mysterious world behind the kitchen door–and a divinely delicious read, to boot.”—O, the Oprah Magazine

 

Bread and Butter is a tremendous feast of a novel.”–The Millions

 

“Wildgen’s turn of phrase is as deft and precise as a skillfully wielded knife… Bread and Butter shows a writer at the top of her craft addressing a subject for which her passion and curiosity is palpable.”–Madison Capital Times

 

“[A] family drama set against the backdrop of an insider’s take on big-ticket dining . . . Wildgen plates one dazzling dish after another on nearly every page.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

“Wildgen dazzles with her prose, which is sprinkled with keen observations and supported by her food-writing knowledge. . . [A] trenchant examination of sibling rivalry and fine cuisine. Not for foodies only.”—Publishers Weekly

 

“Wildgen has the professional chops to whip up a debut delicacy that’s as complex as a rich cassoulet and as comforting as good ol’ mac-and-cheese.”—Carol Haggas, Booklist

 

Bread and Butter is a beautifully composed novel, brimming with intelligence and tenderness and charm. Michelle Wildgen writes about food with such authority that I felt I was in the hands of the rarest of master chefs, one who can cook up an astonishing meal and craft searing sentences at the same time.”—Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia

 

“Michelle Wildgen’s captivating story of sibling rivalry puts a whole new spin on family dinner. Bread and Butter has the complete meal, soup to nuts: a stirring love story, an engrossing drama. Wildgen is one of the finest prose stylists out there—a wonderfully satisfying read.”—Jennifer Gilmore, author of The Mothers

 

“Michelle Wildgen’s Bread and Butter is a marvel of culinary and literary delights. Not since the great M.F.K. Fisher has a writer taken such care to explore the intimate and sensual relationships between food, love and family. In Bread and Butter, three talented brothers vie for culinary greatness while risking their own fragile bonds. Wildgen tantalizes us with the extravagant pleasures and simple comforts of fine dining. But it’s not all sweet breads and foie gras. Wildgen takes us deep inside the outrageous challenges of running a restaurant and the dangers of doing business with family. This is a deeply satisfying story of hunger and appetite, desire and fulfillment. Bread and Butter is a novel to be savored.”—Amber Dermont, author of The Starboard Sea

EXCERPT

The woman had appeared in early September, a few days after Britt and Leo’s first and only visit to their brother’s new restaurant space. She arrived wearing a charcoal sleeveless dress that could have been dull except that it was fitted so snugly, with tall heels, and dangling, faintly Egyptian gold earrings. When she turned, the skirt flared and Britt saw a flash of a lime silk lining. At first he assumed she was a visitor from New York or Philadelphia, but bigger-city dwellers tended to radiate an air of parental delight at having uncovered a decent place. She might look like a transplant from some larger, chicer city, but she behaved like a local.

 

The woman handed a credit card to Alan and snapped her purse shut with a brisk click, shaking back a heavy, shining length of nutmeg-colored hair. Alan looked dazed. He had assumed the slightly open-mouthed smile of a Labrador retriever, and Britt stepped forward to save him.

 

“My father,” she said, when she saw Britt approach. “It’s his birthday but he’ll still try to pay.”

 

“Not mine,” said Britt. He raised an eyebrow at Alan, who murmured, “Table eight,” and Britt gestured for her to precede him to her table. As they walked, he added, “My father would drop a few hints about college tuition and order an extra dozen oysters.”

 

They paused at her table and Britt pulled out a chair for her. He was about to introduce himself when she said, “Ah, there they are,” and he turned to see a couple who were an older version of her enter the restaurant, followed by a man his own age. Maybe a brother but more likely a husband. And yet not much of one that he could see: the man was shorter than this woman, who stood eye to eye with Britt (hers were hazel), and he was balding. Disappointed, Britt returned to Alan and told him to send out glasses of champagne.

 

It was a Friday evening, and Britt was lurking about, observing Alan’s first solo night running the dining room. They had struck a bargain after several shifts of Alan’s carefully reasoned arguments for a trial as maitre d’. Britt assumed Alan was only campaigning out of spite for Helene, the maitre d’ who never let people eat at the bar, but Helene was going on vacation and needed someone to replace her, and Alan, who was ABD in philosophy, made a first-rate argument. But now Britt was having doubts. Alan was so relaxed and genuine as a bartender but as a maitre d’ the weight of responsibility seemed to get to him, and he took on a peculiar pan-European accent and kept clasping his hands before him like an undertaker. Britt was petrified Alan might bow.

 

She returned the next week, occupying a table of five with two couples, and a few weeks after that, in early October, with three heavy-shouldered young men of a sort of collegiate-warehouse hybrid. Then Britt didn’t see her for almost a month, until she was there with a blond, reedy man in his forties, and a week after that with a group of women who appeared to be very much like her: mid-thirties, chic, with smooth hair and notable eyewear. Britt greeted her the same way each time, warm but professional, never quite willing to turn her over to Alan or Helene, but too baffled by her companions to try any further innovation. The two couples had seemed nervous and sweet-tempered, all ordering chicken. They had brought a large box with them, which sat tucked beneath the table until dessert, when they’d opened it and pulled out prettily wrapped jars of jam, handing each to this woman for her examination. The young men, who gave the impression of wearing baseball caps but who in fact were suitably dressed, had listened to her speak with rapt attention, pausing only for the burliest one to order an obscure bottle of Belgian ale to accompany the mussels. And the blond man, who looked familiar to Britt though he could not quite place him, had ordered cheese as an appetizer and foie gras terrine as a main course and spent the dinner dabbing at his eyes with a transparent ivory handkerchief–too distraught and bilious to seduce anyone, Britt decided. When she turned up with the group of women, Britt circumnavigated Alan and bounded forward, delighted to see her in a recognizable configuration. They ordered champagne as an aperitif, slurped at the heads of shrimp, and leaned back languidly in their chairs, flashing the scarlet soles of their expensive shoes. They seemed to have more and whiter teeth than the rest of the diners. Entranced and perhaps faintly threatened, Alan had sent out an extra first course without even asking Britt first.

 

What did this woman do? Was she a therapist, an etiquette coach? She did not dominate the conversation at any of her dinners, but she was nevertheless clearly central in some way to all—her companions oriented their bodies in her direction subtly but unmistakably. Watching each set of shoulders angled toward her, Britt was not sure it was even conscious. She ordered last and differently from the rest of the table but always shared tastes of her rabbit ragu with pappardelle, her saddle of lamb with potatoes dauphinoise. With the two couples she seemed solicitous and gentle, almost maternal, and she let the weeping man talk at her for an hour, nodding calmly, but then just before the chocolate truffle she reached over and tapped his knuckle. Whatever she said made the man rear back and drop his handkerchief. A passing server swooped in, folded it, and placed it at the edge of the table. Britt made a note to compliment her on the grace and subtlety of the move; the man seemed unaware that he had dropped it, and therefore that anyone had noticed whatever little shock had caused it.  The woman herself just signaled for the bill.

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