I’ve read three food-related books in the past few months. I just finished reading Sweetbitter a few days ago, and out of the three it’s my 2nd favorite. Overall, loved all three books – but it’s really hard to top Kitchens of the Great Midwest. In that book, Eva was a chef and an innovative restaranteur. In Sweetbitter, the main character is Tess, a young woman who has just arrived in NYC. She has come from somewhere that seems not just anonymous, but unimportant. From this place, probably in the Midwest, she arrives in the city – and it’s a welcome shock. Back home she had worked at a small coffee shop. She thinks her first job in the city should be restaurant work. She feels somewhat experienced – though her hometown coffee shop is like nothing in the city. She couldn’t have possibly known what she was getting herself into.
The restaurant is very high end, luxury and unlike she could never have imagined. There’s a quick crash course on the mechanics of the job – she is introduced to a number of different people, “characters”, staff and patrons seem equally interesting. The work, the people, the food, the wine, the hours, are like nothing else. Having read the book I realize I could not do that job – I could not handle the hours or the demands of the restaurant’s customers. She’s on her feet for hours on end, and it seems that no one really goes home after their shifts.
She first learns what a “shift drink” is, the free drink each restaurant employee is entitled to at the end of their shift. This seems fun and exciting – and a welcome treat after a long, fast-paced shift. It’s also a chance to socialize and network with her fellow employees. She gets to know some of them – and two in particular are of special interest to her. Simone is the cool girl, and Jake who is a long-time friend of Simone. From the shift drink comes the regular appearance at Park Bar at the end of most of her shifts. There she is introduced to other local restaurant workers who turn up there after the city’s restaurants close. She is also introduced to coke there, along with a host of other “treats”.
Getting caught up in the restaurant drama and nightlife of the city is crazy – and she embraces it. Coming from a small town this is a welcome change. I was kind of surprised by this book. I had heard good things about it – and I really enjoyed it. It made me grateful I’ve never worked in a restaurant – yet made me question every real restaurant I’ve been in. The story makes the restaurant seem incestuous, and she herself is involved with a few of her co-workers. Overall, it was a great read, and even though I’ve never the type of work she does, I could identify with her struggle just to fit in.