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Bread and Butter Hardcover – February 11, 2014

3.5 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Brothers Leo and Britt are co-owners of Winesap, a popular restaurant in their small, economically depressed hometown on the outskirts of Philadelphia. They have always considered their younger sibling, Harry, a bit of a dilettante. While they’ve been chained to a hot stove, Harry has flitted in and out of academia and flirted with one career after another. So imagine their surprise when Harry announces that he’s opening a restaurant of his own, virtually right down the street. Is Linden big enough for two family enterprises? Can Harry stand the heat or will he have to get out of the kitchen? As the brothers test this recipe for potential disaster, they break a few industry rules (never date the help or the clients), push the culinary envelope (lambs’ necks, anyone?), and eventually learn the true meaning of family, friendship, and the secret to a killer soufflé. Food journalist Wildgen has the professional chops to whip up a debut delicacy that’s as complex as a rich cassoulet and as comforting as good ol’ mac-and-cheese. --Carol Haggas

Review

"Bread and Butter, a novel about three brothers in the restaurant business. . . reward[s] industry insiders and food obsessives. . . The restaurant industry, with its relentless push for reinvention and obsession with the new, is brutal. But so is getting old, Wildgen’s novel will remind you. . . Wildgen, whose previous books include Food and Booze: A Tin House Literary Feast, has obviously spent a lot of time in kitchens. . . The pages start flying when Stray ramps up business. Which candidate will make the most impressive egg dish during the chef auditions? (That would be Jenelle with her eggs en cocotte with Gruyère, spinach and spiced tomato.) Will the malted cone-cups slip out of their pastry cream? Is the newsworthy, but potentially off-putting lamb’s neck going to be a hit in a town where only a dozen people might be able to pronounce grüner veltliner? Three words for you: Food Nerds Unite."
The New York Times Book Review
 
“In her new novel, Michelle Wildgen . . . gets the details of the restaurant biz and the dynamtics of those who are part of it just right. . . . As she did in You’re Not You, her compulsively readable literary debut, Wildgen couples vivid description with crisp prose, putting the reader right in the scene—and right at the table. She articulates how working closely with someone professionally creates an odd and not always welcome degree of intimacy, laying bare each person’s ‘unknown and unknowable depths.’ There is romance, including sex with the staff—absolutely verboten, bad for business, but almost impossible to resist. The real romance, though, is one of family and food. . . . Purely delicious.”
The Miami Herald

"Restaurateur brothers torn between nostalgia and novelty are the focus of Tin House executive editor Michelle Wildgen’s new novel, Bread and Butter . . . filled with tasty insider details, from the tyranny of molten chocolate cake to the politics of dining at the bar."
Vogue
 
"Staff meals also provide a backdrop for Michelle Wildgen's Bread and Butter, a novel about three warring chefs who happen to be siblings."
Conde Nast Traveler

"A story of family feuds and foie gras. . . This story of sibling rivalry is peppered with lots of restaurant-insider detail. And each brother’s romantic woes spice things up."
The New York Post

"This author has a knack for solid, striking characterizations. . . The food descriptions are consistently, almost overwhelmingly, stunning."
Kansas City Star

"It’s that behind-the-scenes drama that Wildgen channels in Bread and Butter as she mixes tempers, ambition and libidos into a savory read."
Wisconsin State Journal

"Brothers Britt and Leo run a tight ship at Winesap, the highest-end eatery in their Philly-adjacent town. But then their brilliant, charming baby brother, Harry, one-ups them with a sneak attack by opening a hip, avant-garde hole-in-the-wall nearby, whipping up a family rivalry that soon boils over. Journalist Wildgen glazes Bread & Butter with delicious behind-the-scenes details that foodies will appreciate. The family drama she serves up… goes down like comfort food.”
Entertainment Weekly   

"Wildgen’s depictions of food hew closer to Proust’s than Stein’s in that they are indulgent and languorous. And she’s as skilled at the mechanics of whipping up a well-crafted story as she is describing how to make a béarnaise. . . Food is the true currency of Bread and Butter. Food is an art, a language of affection, of consolation, a way of life. . . And the food! If nothing else (and there is plenty else), the novel revels in its cuisine. Sentences are peppered with exquisite dishes throughout and take detailed note of the textures and presentation and garnishes, allowing reader gorge. . . Bread and Butter is a tremendous feast of a novel."
– The Millions 

“Wildly entertaining. . . Wildgen serves up romantic intrigue. . . along with a generous dollop of satire as sharp as a prep knife. The result is a novel that’s as much about the complex dance of family dynamics as it is about the mysterious world behind the kitchen door – and a divinely delicious read, to boot.”
O Magazine

“It’s clear that Wildgen reveled in this opportunity to immerse a story in a world that’s entirely centered around cooking and dining. Bread and Butter shows a writer at the top of her craft addressing a subject for which her passion and curiosity is palpable. And her thematic material — the strength of familial bonds in the face of stress and strain — is a perfect fit to her setting, where despite broken dishwashers, no-show staff members, and cuts and burns, something delicious almost always comes out of the kitchen.”
The Capital Times

"Wildgen is no stranger to culinary expertise: she's the editor of Food & Booze: A Tin House Literary Feast (she is also the executive editor of Portland's Tin House Magazine). In Bread and Butter she's given us a lively novel with an engaging narrative of the restaurant biz . . . High-end restaurants are complex microcosms and with her wonderfully descriptive style and an obvious understanding of the restaurant business, Wildgen uses these settings, sometimes volatile (think middle of a dinner rush when the chef is missing), sometimes relaxing (in the morning before the staff arrives for dinner prep) to explore the intimacy and fragility of families, the complicated relationships among people who work closely together, and the difficult task of serving customers like ourselves. After reading Bread and Butter it's almost certain that your next restaurant experience will likely not be perceived as it was before."
The Oregonian 

"Filled with tasty insider details, from the tyranny of molten chocolate cake to the politics of dining at the bar."
Spring's Best Books - Vogue

“Four stars for Bread and Butter, Michelle Wildgen's saucy tale of three foodie brothers at each other's throats.”
– Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

"Michelle Wildgen is a writer of impeccable tastes. . . In her third novel, Bread and Butter, Wildgen follows three brothers running two very different restaurants: Leo and Britt’s smartly-polished Winesap, and younger brother Harry’s envelope-pushing startup, Stray. It’s a novel filled not only with the intricate stuff of cooking of the highest order, but of sibling rivalry and affections, as temperamental as any soufflé." 
– Emma Komlos-Hrobsky, The Inquisitive Eater

“Brothers Leo and Britt are co-owners of Winesap, a popular restaurant in their small, economically depressed hometown on the outskirts of Philadelphia. They have always considered their younger sibling, Harry, a bit of a dilettante. While they’ve been chained to a hot stove, Harry has flitted in and out of academia and flirted with one career after another. So imagine their surprise when Harry announces that he’s opening a restaurant of his own, virtually right down the street . . . As the brothers test this recipe for potential disaster, they  . . .  learn the true meaning of family, friendship, and the secret to a killer soufflé . . . [Wildgen] whip[s] up a debut delicacy that’s as complex as a rich cassoulet and as comforting as good ol’ mac-and-cheese. “
—Carol Haggas, Booklist     
         
“In Wildgen’s latest, three foodie brothers find themselves in a stew . . . [a] family drama set against the backdrop of an insider’s take on big-ticket dining . . . Wildgen plates one dazzling dish after another on nearly every page.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Wildgen dazzles with her prose, which is sprinkled with keen observations and supported by her food-writing knowledge. . . [A] trenchant examination of sibling rivalry and fine cuisine. Not for foodies only.”
Publishers Weekly
 
Bread and Butter is a beautifully composed novel, brimming with intelligence and tenderness and charm. Michelle Wildgen writes about food with such authority that I felt I was in the hands of the rarest of master chefs, one who can cook up an astonishing meal and craft searing sentences at the same time.”
—Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia
 
“Michelle Wildgen's captivating story of sibling rivalry puts a whole new spin on family dinner. Bread and Butter has the complete meal, soup to nuts: a stirring love story, an engrossing drama. Wildgen is one of the finest prose stylists out there—a wonderfully satisfying read.”
—Jennifer Gilmore, author of The Mothers
 
“Michelle Wildgen’s Bread and Butter is a marvel of culinary and literary delights. Not since the great M.F.K. Fisher has a writer taken such care to explore the intimate and sensual relationships between food, love and family. In Bread and Butter, three talented brothers vie for culinary greatness while risking their own fragile bonds. Wildgen tantalizes us with the extravagant pleasures and simple comforts of fine dining. But it's not all sweet breads and foie gras. Wildgen takes us deep inside the outrageous challenges of running a restaurant and the dangers of doing business with family. This is a deeply satisfying story of hunger and appetite, desire and fulfillment. Bread and Butter is a novel to be savored.”
—Amber Dermont, author of The Starboard Sea
 
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (February 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385537433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385537438
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,253,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Red Rock Bookworm TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If running a restaurant is a daily balancing act of time, money and creativity, brothers Britt and Leo are performing a successful high wire act at Winesap, the most cosmopolitan and pricey dining establishment in their home-town of Linden, just outside Philadelphia. Enter their well educated, well traveled intense and charming younger brother, Harry, who decides to open a small but innovative bistro in a "bold and foolhardy" part of town and begins a case of restaurateur sibling rivalry.

While this book is filled with behind the scenes recipes and details that food enthusiasts will definitely appreciate, I personally found the narrative a bit plodding and pedestrian and a few of the various concoctions described to be a little avant-garde for my obviously unrefined palate. The romantic aspects of the story as well as the brother's pseudo problems and rivalry are yawn producing and appear to be an afterthought in what should have been a non-fiction behind the scenes look at the restaurant business.

This is a case where the writer's descriptive excursions into food preparation is the tasty "bread and butter" portion of the novel but the character development and story line are hopelessly bland and without flavor.

Reading BREAD AND BUTTER is akin to eating a full meal at one of those restaurants where the main course is little more than a taste and you come away feeling hungry. Personally, I'd prefer more emotionally satisfying reading material, sort of like a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Bread and Butter is sheer delight to read from beginning to end. It makes you forget about the 12 inches of snow outside, as you follow a truly delightful cast of characters as they navigate the ins and outs of the restaurant business, family dynamics and love.

Leo and his brother Britt have worked together for years and their restaurant Winesap located approximately 1 ½ hours out of Philadelphia is running smoothly. Stoic Leo runs the back and Britt, with his flawless eye for detail and swagger, the front of the restaurant. When their younger brother Harry moves back home and decides to open his own restaurant, a few blocks away in the seedier part of town, he looks to his older brothers for help and guidance. Harry's restaurant will come to mean different things to the three brothers. For Harry, the culmination of years of starts and stops in many other endeavors. For Leo, an eye-opener to the fact that maybe he has become complacent and needs to jump start both Winesap's menu and his own life. For Britt, a chance to prove he is not "just the face of the restaurant" but can also be the brains. Family being family, it does not take long for cracks in their relationships to emerge and what moves the story engagingly along is the why and how they crumble. The author is able to bring the sibling rivalry, jealousy, and resentments that turn little molehills into giant mountains to life. That being said, these character do grow and change.

Bread and Butter perfectly captures the atmosphere and minutiae of restaurant life. The reader is also privy to scrumptious insider details of what really goes on in your favorite restaurant. While you need not be a connoisseur, the food descriptions were mouth watering.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One of my favorite web-celebrities maintains that bad is the absence of good, but I disagree. However, I can see where he's coming from. I have read much worse books than "Bread and Butter," books I hated, books that infuriated me, books that made me want to throw them across the room. But in even the worst books, I usually find something of interest-- a memorable scene or character, or even just prose that's so bad it's good.

But "Bread and Butter" elicited little response from me at all. There just wasn't much to pull me in or spark my imagination. I think the main problem here is that, instead of being a book about characters who work in the restaurant industry, it's a fictionalized account of working in the restaurant industry with characters who are little more than props. They're just so typical and undetailed-- Britt is the one with an eye for style and a gift for faking intimacy with customers, Leo is the introverted one who runs things but keeps to himself, Harry is the young, creative one with a sort of bohemian lifestyle. Plots with boring characters can work, but the plot here doesn't really get started until about 100 pages in. The set-up takes way too long and just isn't interesting at all. The characters sit around and talk about interior design, menus, whether their restaurants are too conservative or too bold; we hear them mull over their conflicts with each other, over and over. There is some stuff on the politics of the restaurants, but most of it isn't particularly funny. Nothing really happens with the romantic interests, either (neither of which are very interesting).

I will say that Wildgen writes about food very well. Reading this book made me hungry (for food I can't afford, but that's beside the point). She also gets the industry right.
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