Fictional writing featuring the daily lives of bakers, cooks, and chefs
November 15, 2020 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for fictional writing about the daily lives of people who work in the food industry - bakers, cooks, chefs, etc. Maybe the main character starts work at 3am every day, or works on a production line, or is an nth generation baker in their family. Must be fiction; can be from any historical period (including the present or the future)! Any good recommendations? Thanks!
posted by Munching Langolier to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Jodi Picoult's The Storyteller has a lot of details about a baker's daily life. It's about the holocaust though, so while it is fiction, it is based on real stories from survivors and is hard to read.
posted by at 8:27 PM on November 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, about a family of immigrants working in the Chicago meat packing plants in the early 1900s. This book literally caused the laws around food safety to be changed.
posted by mannequito at 8:28 PM on November 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

These are all SFF novels, but maybe promising.

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley. The main character is a baker, and her hours and role in the family business are a big part of her character.

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher. I haven't read this yet, and I know there's some bakery magic involved, but knowing Ursula Vernon, there will be so many lovely practical details.

The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett. It's a fairly minor plot point, but Tiffany Aching makes the family's cheese, and somewhere in that series are some really nice scenes about how she does it and how much time she spends working on the cheese.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is a middle grade book about a dragon stuck transformed into a human who discovers chocolate and apprentices with a very strict chocolatier.
posted by gideonfrog at 8:32 PM on November 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

In The Corrections, one of the siblings -the sister - is a chef. It’s not quite what you’re saying but the “life in a kitchen” portion stayed with me.
posted by vunder at 8:39 PM on November 15, 2020

Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is largely autobiographical, but it reads like fiction (and some of it probably is). The entire second half fits the bill.
posted by STFUDonnie at 8:42 PM on November 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

The main character in the Below Stairs mysteries by Jennifer Ashley is a cook in various 19th century grand homes and her responsibilities, the dramas and challenges of cooking multiple meals a day for demanding aristocrats, the time it takes to bake bread, etc. etc. are an integral part of at least the first few books.
posted by MadamM at 8:48 PM on November 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed Kate Quinn's Borgia Chronicles which feature a Renaissance cook as one of the "point of view" characters. A bit of a guilty pleasure read.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:06 PM on November 15, 2020

Bakery books are basically an entire genre of romance novels at this point. Soooo many cupcake bakers need love. I generally don't love them, since they tend a little too much to manic pixie dream girl tropes for my taste, but there are lists of them all over Goodreads if that's up your alley.

Recently, Courtney Milan released The Duke Who Didn't, which is a historical about a family that is developing a sauce that they want to bottle and sell. It's a different perspective than the usual romance novel set in the food world.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:06 PM on November 15, 2020

Bernard Malamud's The Assistant is about a struggling owner of a small grocery in the '50s. (I don't know how well known it is today, but it was on Time's of the 100 Best Novels between 1923 and 2010.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:23 PM on November 15, 2020

Best answer: I’m fond of Kerry Greenwood’s (of Phrynne Fisher fame) Corinna Chapman mystery series in which Corinna is a plus-size “talented baker and reluctant investigator,” (with a hot boy friend), a mix of cozy/social justice issues in contemporary Melbourne, Australia. Corinna does indeed get up in the middle of the night (she hates that part of the job, but loves baking), and the books contain fulsome descriptions of the chemistry of baking, as well as recipes for the yummy food characters enjoy. There are seven books in the series so far. Enjoy!
posted by mollymillions at 9:39 PM on November 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

"Sous Chef: 24 hours on the line" by Michael Gibney

I just finished reading this, and his description of the kitchen at full speed left me out of breath!
posted by alchemist at 9:49 PM on November 15, 2020

also, from a much earlier job type in the food industry "The Food Taster" by Peter Elbling
posted by alchemist at 9:53 PM on November 15, 2020

Sourdough by Robin Sloan is great and full of baking.
posted by Threeve at 10:25 PM on November 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

A Taste of Honey by Rose Lerner is a Regency era romance centering around a confectioner (who also first appears in the earlier book in the series Sweet Disorder); he makes patisserie as well as sweets. They're super charming and extremely well written.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 10:48 PM on November 15, 2020

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. If you aren't familiar with the book or movie the main character is, among many other roles, a sort of personal chef for her family. It's a novel shaped by many hungers.

If you don't mind a film tossed into the list East Side Sushi is delightful and observant about the mechanics of restaurant work.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 12:31 AM on November 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad is a wonderful sci-fi short story which would seem to fit your criteria perfectly.
posted by Chairboy at 2:16 AM on November 16, 2020

The Liquor series by Billy Martin writing as Poppy Z. Brite is about life in New Orleans's restaurant world.
posted by goatdog at 5:14 AM on November 16, 2020

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is junk, but it’s pleasant junk, and it has lots about working in chocolate-making. I see the same author has others set in bakeries and cafes.
posted by daisyace at 6:04 AM on November 16, 2020

I just read A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), which was fantastic. It's darker-than-it-first-seems YA fantasy with a young teenaged baker as the protagonist. Her routine and work feature heavily. Highly recommend.
posted by some_kind_of_toaster at 8:47 AM on November 16, 2020

The main character in The Whole World Over by Julia Glass is a pastry chef; what I remember most after reading the book is the extended baking scenes.

If you're up for romance novels, Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts (part of the Bride Quartet series) features a wedding baker.
posted by kristi at 12:29 PM on November 19, 2020

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