The other side of a chef’s life
Ronald Giphart has been one of the most successful Dutch authors from the start. His debut Ik ook van jou (‘I Do Too’, 1992) was a bestseller as were the later novels Giph (1993), Phileine zegt sorry (‘Phileine Says Sorry’ 1996), and Ik omhels je met duizend armen (‘I Embrace You With A Thousand Arms’, 2000).
The ups and downs of modern love written with a combination of humour and melancholy, and the quest for literature are Giphart’s trademark, and these ingredients are present in force in Consolation, except that here the autobiographical nature of his earlier books has been exchanged for a fictional perspective. The novel, which had glowing reviews, has been nominated for the NS Publieksprijs.
The main character Art Troost – his name more or less means ‘art consoles’ – is a famous chef with two Michelin stars. He hosts a television programme in summer when his restaurant is closed. He cooks experimental dishes for his famous guests and they eat them together while he provokes revelations from them. The story takes place during the fifth season of the series, which is turning out to be a disaster. His guests, a writer and a philosopher, place a time-bomb under the programme with their impromptu disclosures to the press. This is exacerbated by the ups and downs of Art’s relationship with his girlfriend, and an ominous letter he receives from Michelin. Gradually the novel develops into a sublime parody on the world of television which turns chefs into stars and where food is no more than a byproduct for tasteless entertainment.
But Consolation is also a sensually stimulating story because of its reflections on cooking and the many rather special recipes, which are to be read as a metaphor for literature. Just as food consoles, so does the act of reading, and, as in literature, the art of cooking demands sacrifice. The parallel between cooking and writing emerges in countless ways: in the envy among chefs, which holds its own with literary controversy, and in Art’s intention to write a book about the other side of his life as chef – it resembles the technique of Troost. However extensive the comparisons between literature and cooking may be, Giphart is never pretentious and manages to retain his characteristic loose narrative style, full of dynamic and humour. Consolation is a book for the literary connoisseur, a perfectly seasoned novel.