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Authors: Martin Suter

The Chef

BOOK: The Chef
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THE CHEF

First published in Germany and Switzerland in 2010 by Diogenes Verlag AG Zurich.

First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Atlantic Books, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.

Copyright © Martin Suter, 2010

Translator Copyright © Jamie Bulloch, 2013

The moral right of Martin Suter to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

The moral right of Jamie Bulloch to be identified as the translator of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of
1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination and not to be construed as real.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

Pro Helvetia supports and promotes Swiss culture in Switzerland and throughout the world.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Trade paperback ISBN: 978 0 85789 291 1

OME paperback ISBN: 978 1 78239 061 9

EBook ISBN: 978 0 85789 292 8

Printed in [insert details]

Atlantic Books
An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
Ormond House
26–27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ
www.atlantic-books.co.uk

For Toni
20 July 2006 to 25 August 2009

THE CHEF
Contents

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March 2008
1

‘Maravan! Siphon!’

Maravan promptly set down the sharp knife next to the finely cut vegetable strips, went to the warming cabinet, grabbed the stainless-steel siphon and took it over to Anton Fink.

The siphon contained the paste for the wild garlic sabayon to go with the marinated mackerel fillets.

Maravan was convinced the sabayon would collapse before it got to the table as he had watched Fink, the molecular-cooking expert, use a mixture of
xanthan
gum and locust-bean gum
– rather than
xantha
n
gum and guar gum, as was advised for hot foams.

He placed the siphon on the work surface beside the chef, who was standing there impatiently.

‘Maravan! Julienne!’ This time it was Bertrand, the
entremetier
, for whom he was meant to be preparing the julienne vegetables. Maravan hurried back to his chopping board. A
few seconds later he had finished slicing the rest of the vegetables – Maravan was a virtuoso with the knife – and brought Bertrand the vegetable matchsticks.

‘Shit!’ The scream behind him came from Anton Fink, the molecular maestro.

The Huwyler – nobody ever called it ‘Chez Huwyler’, the name written outside – was pretty full given the economic situation and the weather. Only a keen
observer would have noticed that tables four and nine were empty, and that the reserved signs on two others were still waiting for their guests to arrive.

Like most of the top restaurants from the nouvelle cuisine era, this one was somewhat over-decorated. Patterned rugs, imitation brocade curtains, gold-framed oil prints of famous still lifes on
the walls. The underplates were too large and too colourful, the cutlery too unwieldy and the glasses too original.

Fritz Huwyler was fully aware that the latest fashions had passed his restaurant by. He had detailed plans for ‘repositioning’ the place, as his interior design consultant called it.
But this was no time for major investments; he had decided to ring the changes in small steps. One of these was the colour of the chefs’ jackets, trousers and neckties: everything in
fashionable black. The entire team was dressed like this, down to the commis chef, although the kitchen helps and office staff wore white as before.

He had also made a few tentative moves to push the food in a different direction: some of the classic and semi-classic dishes were accentuated with molecular highlights. So when the position of
chef garde manger
became vacant he had employed someone with molecular experience.

Huwyler himself had no more personal ambitions in this area. These days he helped out in the kitchen only rarely, concentrating instead on the administrative and front-of-house duties of his
business. He was in his mid-fifties, a prizewinning chef many times over, and thirty years beforehand had even been one of the pioneers of nouvelle cuisine. He felt he had done his bit for his
country’s culinary development. He was too old to learn anything new now.

Since the messy separation from his wife – whom he had to thank for a large chunk of Chez Huwyler’s success, as well the unfortunate interior decoration – he had performed all
the meet-and-greet duties. Before they split up, he had found it a real burden to do the rounds of the tables, night after night; since then, however, he had warmed to the task. More and more often
he would find himself chatting away at one table or another. This late discovery of a talent for communication had also led him to get involved with the Association of Restaurateurs, to which he
devoted a lot of his time. Fritz Huwyler was a board member and the current President of
swisschefs
.

He was now standing beside table one, a table for six which had been set for only two that evening. Eric Dalmann was there with a business acquaintance from Holland. As an aperitif, Dalmann had
ordered a 2005 Thomas Studach chardonnay from Malans at 120 francs, instead of his usual bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée at 420. But that was his only concession to the economic crisis. As
always he had chosen the
Menu Surprise
.

‘What about you? Are you feeling any effects of the crisis?’ asked Dalmann.

‘None at all,’ Huwyler lied.

‘Quality is crisis-proof,’ Dalmann replied, lifting his hands to make room for the plate covered by the heavy cloche which the waitress brought to the table.

All this cloche business was something else he’d get rid of soon, Huwyler thought, before the young woman gripped a brass knob with each hand and raised the silver domes.

‘Marinated mackerel fillet on a bed of fennel hearts with wild garlic sabayon,’ she announced.

Neither of the two men looked at their plates; their eyes were fixed on her.

Only Huwyler stared at the wild garlic sabayon, a green sludge flooding the plates.

Andrea had become used to the effect she had on men. For the most part she found it tiresome; just occasionally it was quite useful and she would exploit it – especially
when looking for work. This was a frequent occurrence in her life, because her appearance did not only make it easy for her to find a job; it made it hard to keep one.

She had not been at the Huwyler for ten days, but already she could see developing those familiar and tiresome petty rivalries in the kitchen and among the waiting staff. In the past she had
tried to react in a friendly, jokey way. But on each occasion this had led to misunderstandings. These days she would keep her distance from everybody equally. It earned her the reputation of being
stuck up, which was something she could live with.

‘The food was better when his wife was still here,’ Dalmann remarked when he and his guest were alone again.

‘Did she take care of the kitchen too?’

‘No, but he did.’

Van Genderen laughed and tried the fish. He was the Number Two at an international firm based in Holland, one of the largest suppliers in the solar industry. He was meeting Dalmann because the
man could get him certain contacts. Putting people in touch with each other was one of Dalmann’s specialities.

Dalmann had turned sixty-four a few weeks previously, and he bore the traces of a life in business where cuisine had always been a key instrument of persuasion: a little excess weight to which
he tried to give some shape with a waistcoat, bags under his watery, pale-blue eyes, droopy, large-pored skin on his face, somewhat reddish over the cheekbones, narrow lips and a voice that had
boomed ever louder as the years passed. All that remained of his yellowy blond hair was a semi-circular patch reaching below the collar at the back; to the sides it turned into two dense,
medium-length cutlets, in the same greying-yellow tone as his eyebrows.

Dalmann had always been what today would be called a networker. He systematically cultivated contacts, brokered deals, gave and got tips, brought people together, gathered information and passed
it on again selectively, knew when to keep quiet and when to talk. That is how he made a living, and a pretty good one at that.

At the moment Dalmann was keeping quiet. And while van Genderen talked at him in his gurgling Dutch accent, he discreetly looked around the restaurant to see who else was in the Huwyler that
evening.

The media were represented by two board members (each with a female companion) of one of the big publishing houses that had recently been in the news on account of its drastic
cost-cutting measures. Politics was represented by a party politician who had somewhat fallen into obscurity, with his wife and two younger couples, probably fellow party members whom the
leadership had instructed to celebrate the older man’s birthday. Medicine could boast the director of a clinic, who was in serious discussion with a senior doctor. At the neighbouring table a
high-ranking official of a crisis-hit football club, currently without a sponsor, was dining with the finance director of an insurance firm, both men accompanied by their wives. In addition to
these there were a car importer, the owner of an advertising agency and the former chairman of a bank whose resignation had not been wholly voluntary. All of these were sitting with their tall,
thin, blonde second wives.

The room was filled with the comforting murmur of quiet voices, the delicate clinking and clanking of cutlery and the unobtrusive aromas of carefully composed dishes. The lighting was warm and
flattering, and the torrents of rain which towards evening had started turning the fresh fall of late snow into grey slush could be heard only by diners with window seats. Even for them it was no
more than a distant rustling through the curtains. It was as if that evening the Huwyler had cocooned itself against the world outside.

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