This book is weird. Downright weird. Firstly, let’s talk about the author’s writing style. The Cook is written using a first person narrative but the style used by the author, Wayne Macauley, resulted in a severe lack of punctuation and grammar. You really don’t realise how much you rely on punctuation and grammar until it’s taken away or completely shaken up. After the first few chapters, the lack of commas isn’t completely distracting as it is initially, but instead, adds to the charm of the story and puts the reader into the mindset and flow of the offbeat main character, Zac.
The Cook follows Zac’s journey as he joins a rehabilitation scheme instead of a young offenders program. In the rehab scheme, Zac and various other Juveniles are all offered the same opportunity: to learn how to cook. Zac treats this as a huge opportunity and he attacks the program with an ardent, almost psychotic, desire to learn the most fanciful dishes and to impress Head Chef. Zac knuckles down in the rehab, studies recipes, learns French, works his way through bettering each dish he prepares, and he learns how to systematically feed and slaughter animals to provide the freshest and most flavoursome meals.
“Terry laid the bird on the bench the dead neck hanging down and let the blood drip into it drip drip drip“
“After a while I was walking back to the kitchen carrying two lambs heads by the ears in the shed behind me hanging side by side on a rope tied to the rafters the carcasses for another day“
After a year of preparing haute cuisine such as carre d’agneau a la bonne femme (tasty rack of Lamb) and cervelle au buerre noisette (delightful brains in butter), the rehab programme falls apart around Zac. But he proved himself a very capable chef make high-quality meals, and he finds himself with a well-to-do, yet dysfunctional family as their personal chef. Deidre/Mistress, the matriarch of the household, wants to bring in a chef to provide dishes for which the rest of the family will make the effort to sit down for a meal together. This particular endeavour falls to wayside almost immediately, but Zac settles in and looks to learn more, develop his skills and move further along his path to one day owning his own restaurant.
“Not everyone took Head Chef’s words seriously I know but I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said especially how this was our only chance to save ourselves. People are always telling me not to get ahead of myself but now I thought why not? Isn’t it only the dreamers who have ever done anything in this world? We are grubs we are nothing but from there we raise ourselves up that’s what Head Chef was saying anyway. If we’re going to raise ourselves up that’s what Head Chef was saying anyway. If we’re going to have to polish the boots of the master why not learn to polish them really well?”
Reading the book you are giving a glimpse into the thought patterns, perspectives, and practices of Zac, and you notice there is something fairly odd about him. To be honest, I never saw the final chapter coming until it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I’m not going to give away the end of the book – but shit, it’s definitely worth reading to the climatic final dish with the key ingredient – ‘venison’…
“Roast haunch of venison stuffed with truffle wrapped in caul fat served with truffled mash roasted baby carrots and steamed baby greens“
Overall though the book gets dark and graphic in places, it was a really enjoyable, fast-paced read. Most importantly, it provided some fantastic descriptions of cooking mouthwatering meals.
“When I got back to the Kitchen the Creuset grill was smoking. My two lamb backstraps I had already massaged with a little oil and rested at room temperature now in a small saucepan I sautéed off my garlic and shallots added the red wine chopped rosemary and a ladle and got my jus reducing. I put the backstraps on the grill and cooked them fast smoking and flaring until the surface was sealed and intersected by eight to ten uniform diagonal black charcoal lines the whole thing a minute each side then onto a warm dish covered and rested on the bottom rack of the open oven.”