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Chop Chop



An outrageously funny and original debut set in the fast-paced and treacherous world of a restaurant kitchen.

Fresh out of the university with big dreams, our narrator is determined to escape his past and lead the literary life in London. But soon he is two months behind on rent for his depressing Camden Town bed-sit and forced to take a job doing grunt work in the kitchen of The Swan, a formerly grand restaurant that has lost its luster.

Mockingly called “Monocle” by his boisterous co-workers for a useless English lit degree, he is suddenly thrust into the unbelievably brutal, chaotic world of professional cooking and surrounded by a motley cast of co-workers for which no fancy education could have prepared him. There’s the lovably dim pastry chef Dibden, who takes all kinds of grief for his “girly” specialty; combative Ramilov, who spends a fair bit of time locked in the walk-in freezer for pissing people off; Racist Dave, about whom the less said the better; Camp Charles, the officious head waiter; and Harmony, the only woman in a world of raunchy, immature, drug- and rage-fueled men. But worst of all, there’s Bob, the sadistic head chef, who runs the kitchen with an iron fist and a taste for cruelty that surprises and terrifies even these most
hardened of characters.

Once initiated and begrudgingly accepted, Monocle enters into a strange camaraderie with his fellow chefs, one based largely on the speed and ingenuity of their insults. In an atmosphere that is more akin to a zoo—or a maximum security prison—than a kitchen he feels oddly at home. But soon an altogether darker tale unfolds as Monocle and his co-workers devise a plot to overthrow Bob and Monocle’s dead-beat father (who has been kicked out of the family home) shows up at his door. Not only does his dad insist on sleeping on the floor of Monocle’s apartment; he starts hanging out at The Swan’s dissolute bar in the evenings. As the plan to oust Bob clicks into motion and the presence of his father causes Monocle to revisit lingering questions from his unhappy childhood, Chop Chop accelerates toward its blackly hilarious, thrilling, and ruthless conclusion.

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Praise

“Many of the book’s funniest moments—and they are plentiful—are also its most unprintable. That’s as it should be. Wroe depicts the literal underworld of a restaurant kitchen with wit, vigor, and gleeful, necessary profanity… Wroe adroitly contrasts the refinement of food with the coarseness of the cook, the cruelty of a leader with the miserable acceptance from his underlings, and Monocle’s highbrow diction with some truly undignified subject matter. His voice provides the second-greatest pleasure of the book after the sheer crackling energy of the setting. Monocle doesn’t revel in the mayhem but he delivers his account of it, often hilariously, with warped dignity of a man who resolutely remains his insecure, grandiloquent self, though being himself has never done him much good.” The New York Times Book Review

Kitchen Nightmares has nothing on the horrors of the Swan, the fancy London restaurant in Wroe’s darkly comic novel. In the eyes of our unnamed narrator, a student-turned-novice chef, the Swan’s kitchen is a torture chamber—but also a sanctuary for its staff of oddballs, who thrive on filthy potshots. (‘You’ve got the fattest arse I’ve ever seen. We should get your arse in a pan and render it.’)… Brightly drawn characters and delectable writing make this debut a first course worth savoring. B+” —Entertainment Weekly

“A great kitchen novel. From describing the battle-scarred hands of a chef to the overall rhythm that goes into making every plate of food, Wroe (who has worked as a chef in London) makes this ugly world delicious.” —Flavorwire

“Perfectly constructed, both beautiful and brutal… Wroe’s kitchen scenes and their chefs jump off the page, crackling, alive.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Darkly comical and full of surprising moments of fierce emotion. Wroe is an uninhibited writer who doesn’t shy away from the grotesque or the rainbow of vocabulary used in the heat of a dinner service.” —The Rumpus

“Addictively entertaining…Everything is amplified in this cramped, sweaty little space, but Wroe still leaves plenty of room for the unexpected, the uncomfortable and the uncommonly funny…A compelling debut from a mischievous new voice.” —Bookpage

“Wroe’s imaginative metaphors and gritty kitchen colloquialisms are the key ingredients in a story that will appeal to anyone with a taste for the morbid and the whimsical.” Publishers Weekly

“Arch comedy…Dave Eggers channels Anthony Bourdain.” Kirkus Reviews

“A kitchen confessional that makes Anthony Bourdain’s and Bill Buford’s memoirs pale in comparison. Foodies will like this insider account of the London gastro scene, while others will appreciate a ripping good yarn.” —Library Journal

In Chop Chop, a foodie’s nightmare and a biting parody of a restaurant kitchen commanded by a sadist, Simon Wroe exposes the underbelly of a kitchen beast… The author, a former chef, certainly has (forgive me) the chops to tell this story. Wroe knows his way around the batterie de cuisine as well as the literary canon, and shows off both bodies of knowledge here… Readers with a taste for kitchen confidential tales served up raw will enjoy this novel with its side order of domestic drama and literary allusions ranging from Mary Poppins to Macbeth… Compliments to Chef Wroe, but dear reader, beware. Bring your iron-clad stomach and prepare for a meal bloody as steak tartare. This smart, snide take down of culinary and literary pretension may be hazardous to your appetite for dining out. Consume at your own risk.” Fiction Writers Review

“Savagery and violence are at the heart of Chop Chop; in the kitchen, in Monocle’s past, and in the relationships between the characters, but, as in a perfectly baked molten chocolate cake, there’s also a rich, gooey pool of dark comedy hiding beneath the surface. Despite straying into the realm of sabotage, blackmail, and secret dinner parties serving stomach-churning illegal fare, Wroe’s novel makes for fresh, appetizing reading.” The Independent (UK)

“Brace yourself for this lively, amusing and alarmingly informative novel… the horribly plausible cast and foul-mouthed mania of the kitchendescribed by a former chef who knows what he’s writing aboutgive this book its energy and best laughs.” Daily Mail (UK)

“A brutally funny look at the world of professional cooking. Sometimes the truth is so strange it needs to be sautéed in a pan of fiction.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story

“Furiously funny, fast, surreal, brutal—Chop Chop puts a Dickensian supercharge into the behind-the-scenes goings on of a restaurant kitchen. The heat and the profanity feel painfully real; the prose, masterfully stylized, definitely the stuff of fiction. The vividly drawn characters stay with you for a long time. If Chop Chop were a dish, I’d keep craving more.” —Anya von Bremzen, author of Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing

“If like me, you’ve ever made your living from restaurant work, you’ll recognize The Swan with a comical shiver. Chop Chop captures the combustible mix of sadism, gallows humor, machismo, and surprising perfectionism that powers many a professional kitchen. And it’s all served up to us in great fun.” Scott Hutchins, author of A Working Theory of Love

Author Q&A

Excerpt

This was the power hour. The last chance to make everything right. Had you done enough to keep your head above it? At every section chefs were topping up their service fridges, filling the squeeze bottles with olive oil and wine vinegar, dicing butter, refreshing the water in their spoon washes, sprinkling salt on the ice cubes in the deep steel trays to slow their melting, laying damp paper towels on top of the herbs to stop their wilting. This was the hour to eat, if you had time, or it was the hour to blitz through any mise outstanding. This was the hour when the slow chefs worked fastest and the fast chefs smoked. This was the hour when every chef took a gamble. Would they have enough of this or that to last them the night? Would the great collective unconscious that governed all their fates be in the mood for the steak or the fish pie?

On other nights of the week this in-between hour might pass unnoticed, with service dawning slowly while life continued around it. Saturday night was different. There were no quiet sections, no empty tables. At six-thirty the squabbling, shit-talking kitchen fell quiet in anticipation. The radio was switched off. This was the moment when those head chefs with a taste for the grandiose might choose to give a short rallying speech to the brigade. One for all, all for one, that sort of thing. Bob rarely did, though occasionally he would remind the chefs that if he said anything personal about them during service it was not a heat of the moment thing, he really did mean it.

And then . . . silence. The kitchen stood to attention like an army in the moment before battle, listening for the first signs of attack. As the silence grew, so too did the anxiety. A deluge was coming. It was an awkward, sleazy wink sort of silence; not, in fact, a silence at all, but the sound of absence: the absence of pans clunking on the blazing burners, of chefs’ cries bouncing off the tiled walls. Such stillness hung about the place, one struggled to imagine that bodies had ever whirled about it. The sheer and total industry of the kitchen was at a standstill.

Croak!

Then, suddenly, there it was. The sound everyone was waiting for. A croak croak cutting through the empty noise. The ticket machine hacking up the first check of a long night and Bob tearing the paper off to cry . . . Ça marche! Check on!

This is how it always began.

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