Soul Kitchenby Poppy Z. Brite
Liquor has become one of the hottest restaurants in town, thanks in part to chefs Rickey and G-man’s wildly creative, booze-laced food. At the tail end of a busy Mardi Gras, Milford Goodman walks into their kitchen—he’s spent the last ten years in Angola Prison for murdering his
If you can't stand the heat...Get the hell out of New Orleans!
Liquor has become one of the hottest restaurants in town, thanks in part to chefs Rickey and G-man’s wildly creative, booze-laced food. At the tail end of a busy Mardi Gras, Milford Goodman walks into their kitchen—he’s spent the last ten years in Angola Prison for murdering his boss, a wealthy New Orleans restaurateur, but has recently been exonerated on new evidence and released. Rickey remembers him as an ingenious chef and hires him on the spot.
When a pill-pushing doctor and a Carnival scion talk Rickey into consulting at the restaurant they’re opening in one of the city’s “floating casinos,” Rickey recommends Milford for the head chef position and stays on to supervise. But soon Rickey finds himself medicating a kitchen injury with the doctor’s wares, and G-man grows tired of holding down the fort at Liquor alone. As the new restaurant moves toward its opening, Rickey learns that Milford’s past is inextricably linked with one of the project’s backers, a man whose intentions begin to seem more and more sinister.
Full of the flavor of one of America’s greatest cities, Soul Kitchen is a sharp commentary on race relations in pre-Katrina New Orleans and a fast ride through the dark side of haute cuisine.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Praise for Liquor and Prime:
“Steeped in spicy dialogue and [New Orleans] flavor . . . a behind-the-swinging-door peek into the world of chefs.” —Entertainment Weekly
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Read an Excerpt
Mardi Gras morning dawned dank and cold. The four cooks had already been at the restaurant for a couple of hours, preparing a krewe breakfast for Rickey's mother's truck parade.
Truck parades are a Carnival Day phenomenon unknown outside New Orleans. Rather than the ornate and glamorous confections boasted by the bigger, richer krewes, their floats are basically giant wooden boxes pulled by tractor-trailer cabs that blast their air horns incessantly as they roll through the streets. Each float's riders select a theme--Louisiana Sports Legends, say, or Favorite Desserts--and decorate their trailer in foil and crepe paper to reflect it. If they are feeling flush, they might invest in theme sweatshirts too, but many of the beads, cups, and trinkets they throw are caught from other parades earlier in the season or even the previous Mardi Gras. Truck parades are a part of blue-collar Carnival seldom seen by the tourists who frequent Bourbon Street, but a certain segment of the citizenry cherishes them.
John Rickey and Gary "G-man" Stubbs were not a part of that segment, at least not today. Because they owned a popular restaurant, Rickey's mother had convinced them to put on a breakfast buffet for the Krewe of Chalmatians, so named because most of its members were from New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward or the neighboring suburb of Chalmette. Rickey and G-man had grown up in the Lower Ninth Ward, but moved away when they turned eighteen, a little over a decade ago. The only vestiges of downtown that remained were their gritty Brooklynesque accents and a certain reluctance to take any shit off of anyone, be it a lazy line cook, a purveyor delivering inferior produce, or a diner with an unjustified complaint about his meal.
Having cooked together for fifteen years and lived together for the better part of that time, Rickey and G-man knew each other's kitchen habits by heart and worked together as efficiently as two hands washing one another. To fill out their crew this morning they had recruited Tanker, their dessert guy who was secretly a crackerjack saute cook, and Marquis, who was young but learning fast. He'd started out as a salad bitch, but now they let him work the hot line on slow nights. Today he would be in charge of keeping bacon, sausage, and toast coming out of the oven, topping up the water in the rented steam tables, and cutting celery for the Bloody Marys.
Tanker had reheated the big pot of crawfish etouffee they'd made last night and was now working on a giant batch of grits. G-man, Rickey's co-chef and the true workhorse of the kitchen, was adding clarified butter to egg yolks in a double boiler to make hollandaise sauce for Rickey's eggs Sardou. Tall and rangy, with short dark hair tucked under a purple New Orleans Hornets baseball cap, G-man scowled at the sauce through the dark glasses he habitually wore in any bright light. He had tried to talk Rickey out of this fussy and time-consuming dish, but Rickey had insisted on it. The restaurant's name, Rickey pointed out, was Liquor. All their dishes contained some form of booze, a perfect concept for New Orleans. Of course they weren't sticking to the gimmick for this breakfast, but Rickey felt that at least one dish should pack an alcoholic punch, so eggs Sardou it was: poached eggs with artichoke hearts, hollandaise, and an Herbsaint-laced spinach cream.
"Splooge," Rickey muttered as he tasted the spinach. Not as tall as G-man and a little paunchy from a lifetime of sampling his own dishes, he was handsome enough to have been anointed a glamour boy by the national food press, but his features were sharpened by a nervous tension that seldom left him even when he was drunk or sleeping. "Baby food. All this fucking shit is baby food. It's giving me flashbacks to when I had to work hotel brunch."
"So why'd you sign up?" said Tanker. "More to the point, why'd you sign us up? Nobody said you had to make breakfast for three hundred."
"It's not three hundred. I mean, they got like three hundred people in the krewe, but not all of them are gonna show up."
"You hope," G-man said.
"My mom made a signup sheet, OK? We got one-eighty coming in. We scoop it and poop it, they eat it, everybody's happy."
"Yeah, but why'd you agree to it in the first place?" Tanker persisted. "I mean, you're a prima donna, Rickey. You hate this kinda shit."
"I know it." Rickey pushed the blue bandanna up on his forehead and thumbed a stray drop of sweat out of his left eye. "But it's my mom, dude. She never asks me for anything."
"Except a couple grandbabies," G-man said. Rickey's mother had been doing her best to ignore G-man's role in her son's life for years now.
"Yeah, well, you know she's never getting 'em, so I figured we could do this for her. Besides, these clowns are paying pretty good."
"I think my momma wishes she'd quit getting grandbabies," said Marquis. "My sister, she just done had her fifth."
"And the daddy don't help her out nohow."
"Same one for all five kids?" Tanker asked.
Marquis glanced up at him, seemed to measure whether such a fatuous white-boy question deserved any response at all, said, "Nah, dawg," and went back to laying out strips of bacon on a sheet pan.
G-man, the youngest of six children from an Irish-Italian family, silently counted himself lucky that his parents already had an even dozen grandchildren. Otherwise, his mother probably would have been pushing him and Rickey to get a kid from somewhere or other despite her strict Catholic beliefs. Of course, owning a restaurant was a lot like having a five-hundred-pound baby that never grew up. Originally financed by local celebrity chef, multimillionaire, and all-around shady businessman Lenny Duveteaux, Liquor was running under its own steam now, and they hoped to buy Lenny out with some money Rickey had inherited under strange circumstances the year before. Most of the inheritance was tied up in a piece of Texas property, however, and Lenny still owned twenty-five percent of Liquor. Fortunately, he was busy with his own two successful restaurants and mostly left Liquor alone.
Rickey put the spinach cream in the lowboy refrigerator at his station and headed back to the walk-in cooler to get a case of eggs. The other cooks had begged him to use a powdered mix for the scrambled eggs--it would have made his life far easier this morning, and if Rickey's life was easier, theirs were too--but such a shortcut simply wasn't in his nature. He might be a bit of a whore, he supposed, but he was no shoemaker. He would scramble the eggs slowly and gently in a double boiler, adding a knob of butter now and then, until they took on the perfect creaminess that was the only acceptable consistency for scrambled eggs as far as he was concerned. If the Chalmatians just shoveled the eggs into their hungry maws, too drunk to notice the difference, he would still have the satisfaction of knowing he had done them right. That satisfaction was one of the major things he lived for.
In the three years since it opened, Liquor had become not just a popular restaurant but a trendy one. Between Lenny's machinations, food-press enthusiasm, a prestigious James Beard award, and a couple of healthy doses of controversy, it was now one of the best-known new restaurants in New Orleans. (In a city where several eateries had been in business for a century or more, it would remain a "new restaurant" for at least a dozen more years.) Rickey had very mixed feelings about this trendiness. Because of it, and because of what Food & Wine had once cringe-inducingly called "his dissipated-fratboy good looks," he had been subjected to all manner of hype that had nothing to do with the backbreaking day-to-day business of running a world-class kitchen.
Agreeing to do this breakfast had been one of his little ways of reacting against the hype. Most hot chefs would probably turn up their coke-encrusted noses at the idea of cooking splooge for a hundred and eighty working-class yats. Rickey still considered himself one of those yats, and while he wasn't exactly proud of the food itself, he liked how aggressively declasse such a breakfast was.
Lost in his thoughts, he nearly tripped over some large object that had been left on the floor of the walk-in. Peering down in the dim light, he saw that it was a burlap sack of oysters. At the krewe's request, they'd set up a makeshift oyster bar in the dining room for those perverts who considered a dozen icy-cold raw mollusks dipped in ketchup, horseradish, and Tabasco part of a nutritious breakfast. (Rickey liked oysters on the half shell just fine, but not at seven o'clock in the morning.) Marquis was supposed to have lugged the oysters up front and dumped them on ice to await the shucker's arrival, but apparently he had forgotten.
Rickey started to holler for him, then decided not to. Marquis was getting to be a decent cook, but he was easily distracted. If he left his station now, he'd probably burn the bacon or worse. Instead Rickey bent to hoist the fifty-pound sack onto his shoulder. As soon as it came off the floor, he knew he'd lifted it badly, and an instant later he felt something give deep in the small of his back.
"Owwwwwwfuck!" he yelled. His hands instinctively wanted to go to the injury, but he knew if he dropped the oyster sack now, he wouldn't be able to lift it again. Instead he got it the rest of the way up and stood holding his breath, waiting to see how bad the pain was going to get. It flared, twisted through his spine like a hot wire, then settled down with the air of a visitor that had found a comfortable spot and was planning to stay a while.
While Liquor was something of a trendy restaurant, its dining-room decor had little in common with that of most hot spots: no dangerous-looking metal sculptures, lipstick-red walls, glass floors with saltwater lagoons underneath, giant paintings of fruits and vegetables, or Arabian fantasies. Rickey, who micromanaged every aspect of the restaurant, had been far more influenced by the look of New Orleans' old-line joints, and so the dining room was a dark green, softly lit, clubby space accented with rich wood trim and small mirrors.
On a typical night, the dining room was full of men in suits or sports shirts, women in cocktail dresses, the clink of cutlery on plates and ice cubes in glasses, the aromas of fine food and fresh bread. This morning, it was packed with people in pink sweatshirts bearing the legend krewe of chalmatians and the krewe's logo, a spotted cartoon dog with a bouffant hairdo. The dog was supposed to be a Dalmatian, a pun on the krewe's name, but looked rather more like a Chihuahua with chickenpox. Most of the women had hairdos that rivaled the dog's. Most of the men were balding. At 6:45 a.m., the krewe members were already well-lubricated, happy, and yakking up a storm.
"Raymond! Hey, Raymond! I hope you don't getcha hand stuck in there again--"
"Aw, Marie, hush up about dat."
"How you makin, dawl? I ain't seen you since Friday, maybe Saddy--"
"Bud-DY! Where y'at?"
"We gotta good team! Dis is gonna be da year!"
At the bar, Mo--Tanker's girlfriend and Liquor's head mixologist--dispensed mimosas and poured Bloody Marys and screwdrivers from huge pitchers she had mixed early that morning. The waiters circulated, clearing dirty plates and topping up the buffet. The shucker, who had finally received the contents of the fateful burlap sack, slid his short flat blade between shells, severed connective muscles, nestled oysters by the dozen into platters of crushed ice.
At the center of the hubbub was Rickey's mother, Brenda Crabtree (she had retaken her maiden name upon her divorce a quarter-century ago), resplendent in a fresh Copper Penny dye job and cat's-eye glasses with a dusting of tiny rhinestones at the corners. At her side was her gentleman friend, Mr. Claude, listening meekly as was his habit in life. "This is my son's place!" she told anyone who would listen. "My boy, he's a famous chef! He got him a write-up in Bone Ape Tit Magazine!"
Back in the kitchen, the famous chef winced as he bent to retrieve more eggs. A small hiss of pain escaped him. G-man, who was now cooking French toast, heard it even over the sizzle and bang of the kitchen. "Dude, what's wrong with you?" he called. "You been gimping around all morning."
"Nothing," Rickey said. "Just twisted my back a little. I'm fine."
In fact, the pain had increased so much that he felt a little nauseated. He wasn't about to say anything, though. He might tell G-man what had happened later, after the shift was over, but cooks in the kitchen didn't cry about their injuries. Burned yourself? Consider the weal a badge of honor, like the tattoos most of them had. Sliced your finger open? Slap on a bandage or some duct tape, maybe Superglue it if it's really bad, and get back to work. Most of them had cut off at least one fingertip during the course of their careers, and all had ladders of burn scars on their forearms, hot-fat spatters on the backs of their hands, and feet that looked as if somebody had worked them over with a hammer. It was a painful line of work, but in the hyper-macho pirate crew atmosphere of the typical restaurant kitchen, complainers were apt to be mocked without mercy or hounded right out of a job.
G-man looked searchingly at Rickey over the tops of his shades, but said nothing; to challenge Rickey on this point in front of their crew would seriously violate the rough etiquette of the line.
"Anyway," said Rickey, "we only got a couple more hours. The Chalmatians gotta stage way the hell down on St. Claude, so they'll all be out of here by eight-thirty. We can break it down and get gone by nine."
"Y'all gonna watch the parade?" said Tanker.
"Aw, I don't know. My mom wants us to," (G-man rolled his eyes at that us) "but there's gonna be all that Zulu traffic."
"Just go on down Broad Street," said Marquis. "You can cut over to St. Claude after Jackson. Zulu don't go no farther than that."
"I know, I know. I been getting from Uptown to the Lower Ninth Ward all these years, I guess I can do it on Fat Tuesday. But it's gonna be a huge clusterfuck, and there'll be no place to park, and--"
"And waa, waa, waa," the other three cooks and the dishwasher chorused. Rickey frowned, then grinned reluctantly.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
Poppy Z. Brite is the author of two previous books in this series, Liquor and Prime, as well as five other novels and three short story collections. She lives in New Orleans with her husband, Chris, a chef.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have been reading Ms. Brite's work for many years, and really love the way she has grown and changed. Her books featuring Rickey and G-Man are wonderful. I read through it in one day, only to read it again to see what I had missed in my speed read through it. It's a wonderful book to have in your Brite collection. I highly recommend it.
This book is, in some ways, the most subtle of the Rickey and G-Man series. The characters are aging, physically and mentally. Previous ways of doing things and thinking about major issues in the lives of these characters are questioned. This is not a book in which everything seems to be happening at a fast rate, and the title hints at this: 'Soul Kitchen' as a name is an invitation to slow down a little, to wait awhile for what comes ahead. NOT to say that this is a book that drags. Far from it. It simply catches the characters at a time in their lives when things are supposedly more stable - only to present other challenges. The distress of employees/friends. Injuries affecting the quality of life. Old grudges and old coots in new, unsettling situations. And that's just a sampling of what's in store between the covers of this one. It is all written about so well that it just can't be put down. Since I read 'Liquor', 'Prime', and 'The Value of X' before 'Soul Kitchen' came out, I can't effectively say that anyone can drop in on the series at any time with any one of these books. I have, however, lent 'Soul Kitchen' to a relative and will see what her reaction is, as it will be the first of this series she has ever read. Personally, I think the references to the recurring characters' pasts enhance the storytelling and are not at all distracting or numerous. Just sit yourself down and read the book!
I'm in the habit of reading more than one book at a time - one in the car, one in bed, one on the coffee table for when boredom hits around the house, and so on - but this book grabbed me, ripped me out of the books I was reading, and deposited me once again in New Orleans, eating up (pun most certainly intended) the latest installment of Chefs John Rickey's and Gary 'G-man' Stubbs's struggle with life, love, food, and the various facets of the New Orleans culture. I would definitely suggest reading Liquor and Prime (the previous novels in the Liquor series) before reading this one. They provide valuable information on the characters that a new reader will need before becoming fully immersed in the world that Ms. Brite creates. There are no flashbacks to previous books in Soul Kitchen, and while there are a few references to situations in previous books, they're not something that can carry the previous stories for a new reader. So if you're not familiar with the series, I would certainly take the time to catch up. I'm somewhat of a food junkie and thoroughly enjoy Ms. Brite's attention to detail in describing the meals prepared by her fictitious chefs (textures, colors, flavors, and overall presentation in particular are carefully laid out for the readers). I felt that more attention to these details went into Liquor and Prime than in Soul Kitchen, but how often can you go into detail about cuisine without boring the 'average reader'? I also felt that the end of the book came rather quickly and was a little blunt. It had the same formula as the other books (rising tension, new characters with issues that affect Rickey and G-man, Rickey and G-man's reactions, a little filler with Lenny and/or other characters, a climax, and BAM, five pages of epilogue), but if a thing works, why change it? I did not feel that Soul Kitchen was as strong of a novel as Liquor or Prime - mostly I just didn't feel as connected to the characters in this book as in previous ones (perhaps some of the essential 'filling out' of the book was cut in the editing process?) - but it was still a great read. I would definitely recommend it to Poppy Z. Brite fans, and would recommend the Liquor series to those that haven't yet had a taste of it (sorry, I couldn't resist the pun). I did, in fact, give a recommendation so strong that I felt as if I was delivering a mini-lecture on Ms. Brite's writing to the lady at the bookstore who sold Soul Kitchen to me, and her interest was so piqued that she decided to set aside a copy of Liquor to read for herself. Overall, Soul Kitchen is a well written book that entertained me from beginning to end. It may not be my favorite of the series, but it still absolutely warrants a re-read. I'm looking forward to the next Liquor series publication.
Poppy Z. Brite has outdone herself once again with this one- she has a way of making you feel like you are right there in the story when you read her work and Soul Kitchen is no exception-it makes you feel as if Rickey and G-man are people you know-and Poppy once again demonstrates her extensive knowledge of New Orleans' cuisine-very cool-will leave you thirsty for more!
Unfortunately, this is more a rebuttal than a standalone review. The above (and as I type, sole) review is highly innaccurate. Soul Kitchen is the third (actually, fourth with 'The Value of X') book to feature the main characters of Rickey and G-man. Of course, as in any series, there are refreshers on what has happened to them in the past, but of the 274 pages, perhaps 15 refer to prior books. That's a high estimate. The plot centers on a chef from their past, a new restaurant venture complete with shady characters, relationship tensions and an injury resulting in chronic pain that leads to an exploration of 'dependance' in more than just medicinal ways. As with the previous books, the relationship between Rickey and G-man is as much a plot-point as the murder or the restaurant. Each book brings new ingredients into their lives, and the chefs have to work together to keep the flavors balanced. In Soul Kitchen, Brite brings more insight into the inner workings of kitchen life in New Orleans, how outside influences creep in, and yet another glimpse into the city that could never mistaken for any other.
Not only is Soul Kitchen the strongest in the series. The funniest in the series but it would be one hell of a stand-alone novel. The few (and there are VERY few) references to events in Prime and Liquor are the sort of memories that a character would naturally think about in certain situations and. There were MANY memorable moments in Soul Kitchen but, in my humble opinion, Lenny stole the show here. Every time Lenny hit the page, I laughed aloud. Heck, I literally had a 'beverage out nose' moment (Lenny plotting to bring a wayward pastry chef home HILARIOUS and classic Lenny). There were also the touching moments, mentioning particular heart-breaking characters would be giving away too much but the unintended depressing bits tore at the heart strings even more. Never mind the fact that the characters drove past my subdivision. the one that isn't there anymore. But a fairly substantial part of the book is like a love letter to places that were completely destroyed after the (Army Corps of Engineers caused) levee failures following Hurricane Katrina. She couldn't have known what was going to happen to these beautiful places but the timing was eerie, to say the least. G-Man and Ricky, as always, have the kind of relationship that we all aspire to. Their passion for each other and their art (food) is inspirational. I can think of no one who wouldn't enjoy Soul Kitchen.
Poppy Brite's Rickey and G-man have always felt more alive to me than many actual people. They're among the most personable characters I've encountered in fiction. It's fun to spend a few hours in their fictional presence. Three books in, I'm delighted to find the Liquor series still going strong -- and most importantly, evolving. Like the two previous installments, Soul Kitchen is built around a mystery and builds to a thriller-like climax, but the real attraction of the book is the chance it offers to get behind the kitchen door of New Orleans restaurants. I got a kick out of the riffing Soul Kitchen does on the molecular gastronomy trend, and I appreciated its introduction of a character notably different than those that have previously turned up in the series. Ex-con Milford Goodman is a plainer, more natural character than the New Orleanians that typically populate fiction about the city, and his dialogue -- particularly his conversations with his sister -- has a realism that's rare in genre fiction. (And I don't mean that as a slam of genre fiction, which I quite like.) I'm also pleased that Rickey and G-man's relationship continues to mature. So far, Liquor is staying away from the the common series trap of freezing characters in static positions and refusing to let them grow. My only gripe about Soul Kitchen is that I wish it were longer. D*U*C*K now, please!
Soul Kitchen holds its own nicely with Brite's previous works Liquor and Prime, reuniting readers with familar faces Rickey, G-man, Lenny, and the staff of Liquor, along with introducing new characters who bring their own stories to this book - with interesting twists and turns along the way. There are several layers of story going on here, so don't make the error of focusing on one and think that's where the action is or you'll be cheating yourself. Readers get to see a side of Lenny that's really not been shown before, issues of race, class and the degree to which they determine one's life are interwoven throughout, along with a realistic, non-preachy but non-glamourous look at drug addiction. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant will be familiar with the issues that cause a battle of egos - but no spoilers here. You'll have to read to see how / if they resolve. As someone who doesn't reside in New Orleans, I enjoyed the local perspective on Mardi Gras and the extra tidbits and history that I'd not been aware of before. The characters in these stories feel quite real, not the least bit of stiff caricature is present. In reading this book, it felt that the Lenny/Rickey/G-man Liquor partnership had moved from being strictly professional to more in the direction of friendly colleagues, and Rickey and G-man continue to deepen the bond they have while growing in new directions. The staff are prevented from becoming just convenient props by having lives and issues of their own that spill over into the main story lines. It's a well-rounded cast, and one I'm looking forward to revisiting again soon.
Having been a fan of Poppy Brite's older 'goth' material, I was very excited to see the new direction she is going. 'Soul Kitchen,' the most recent title (DUCK is due out in Jan?) in her Ricky/G-man/Chef series is great! Good story line, good new characters, makes me hungry for more. What I really appreciate is the way Poppy writes about food. She makes me wish that Liquor were a real restaurant and that Ricky and G-man would put out a cookbook....and reading her current series make me hungry.
I picked up my copy of 'Soul Kitchen' right before embarking on a transatlantic flight and, sadly, finished it long before the landing gear dropped down. It is a wonderful book, especially if you're a fan of the other Liquor books (although this isn't a requirement -- this one stands alone pretty darn well!). I enjoyed the character development of G-man and Rickey so much that there were times I would stop reading and wait for a few minutes before I started again because I wanted to make this last. Just like a delicious meal, I wanted to quickly devour every bit and yet savor it slowly. The mystery-story-within-the-story (no spoilers here, sorry) made me deeply sad. It's one of those situations where, all too much like real life, knowing the truth still leaves behind terrible damage and sadness. Also, the problems of addiction and the havoc it can cause were thoughtfully addressed, but no moralistic preaching was forced down my throat, for which I am grateful. (Yeah, I know drugs are bad. I also know why people take them, and my feelings for addicts include pity, not just anger.) The ending scene with Rickey and the old man is truly one of the most heartwrenching realistic yet inspiring scenes I've read in a long, long time. That part alone is worth the price of the book! So do yourself and anyone you love a favor, and buy them this wonderful book.
Well, don't get me wrong : this book was OK, not great but OK. I mean it mainly consist of flash backs of Liquor and Prime (2 great books!) and the real space for the new action is about 70 pages. Not much of a plot, then. Depends on what you expect, this novel is mostly based on characters we already know well. Nothing really new under New Orleans sun. I'm waiting for the next course (DUCK), to see if i still like the dinner.
To put it simply, this is anti-Christian godless trash. The story revolves around 2 sodomites in the restauraunt business...and that's pretty much it.