'Sweetbitter' Is The Food Book Of Summer

Find out why Stephanie Danler's novel is the year's best food book

Called "the Kitchen Confidential" of our time by none other than Gabrielle Hamilton, Sweetbitter is the book to bump to the top of your summer reading list ASAP.

A coming-of-age story loosely chronicling author Stephanie Danler's own experiences, the novel tells the story of Tess, a first-time "backwaiter" in a fictional restaurant based on Union Square Cafe. The insider novel, Danler's first, released to critical acclaim at the end of May.

Though Danler says "there are really no secrets left in restaurants anymore," her book illuminates a culture that readers—and diners—everywhere are still hungry to learn more about.

What puts this particular book on the map, however, is Danler's writing. Ever since Kitchen Confidential flung open the dining room doors and let the rest of the world in on the chaotic, gritty and undeniably bewitching world of chefs, countless authors have tried to tell the same story. What sets Danler's novel apart is her elegant and gripping prose.

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Danler

In her depiction of Tess's first Thanksgiving in the city, Danler captures the isolation and destructive cycle of working insane restaurant hours.

Instead she decides to party with the cooks.

Capturing the daily tug-of-war of life in NYC, Danler writes:

Woven throughout are also descriptions of food—of discovering new tastes with each season, and awakening to a world driven by senses.

Wait until the truffles hit the dining room — absolute sex," says one of the cooks. "When the truffles arrived the painting leaned off the walls toward them. They were the grand trumpets of winter, heralding excess against the poverty of the landscape.

Of course, a love story—or triangle—as seductive as the flavor epiphanies and drug-fueled nights out, leads the narrative.

At the crux of it all is Tess, and Danler herself. Though Sweetbitter is not a memoir, the story is based on Danler's personal experiences, leaving readers to wonder the whole time, How much of this actually happened?

Danler says Tess's age, her Williamsburg apartment and the year she moved to NYC are all true, but that unlike Tess who entered the dining room as green as could be, Danler had worked in restaurants all her life. Danler also moved to the city to be a writer, while the protagonist did not.

"Even after they read it and I say that [it's not a memoir], no one cares or listens to me," Danler says. It's almost too juicy to accept as fiction. The only course of action is to read and find out for yourself. That, or wait for the (inevitable) movie.