Test Kitchen by Neil D.A. Stewart 

Test Kitchen is a darkly funny and often macabre story about the culture of food, of dining and eating, about feeding and nourishing, about mothers, mortality and magic.

Stories are everywhere, but some places are a particular nexus for them. What appealed to me about setting my novel Test Kitchen in a high-end restaurant was that such places contain two distinct but interdependent spaces under one roof. There’s the kitchen, a highly pressurised environment where chefs are working non-stop to prep and cook and plate and serve. Then there’s the dining room, a kind of sealed space in which diners relax and eat in comfort, unaware – all being well – of the frantic activity behind the scenes. Separate but related, like the mind and the body, the brain and the gut.

As I conducted my research – swooning over meals in fancy restaurants from London to Los Angeles, New York to New South Wales, Cork to Chicago – as well as marvelling over incredible food, touring kitchens and asking sometimes very dumb questions of chefs, I also began looking around at my fellow diners and wondering: what’s their story? The couple on their first date; the lone diner strenuously engaging his waitress in conversation; the pre-teen rhapsodising over their Michelin-starred dessert. Write what you know is good advice, but I think writing what you’re nosy about is just as valid.

The structure of the novel was clear to me from the start: in alternating chapters Test Kitchen follows what’s going on behind the scenes on a single evening at East London fine dining restaurant Midgard, and spends time with the diners as, table by table, they work their way through a multi-course tasting menu. Here I was thinking a little of those old horror anthology films in which strangers gather in a spooky house and swap tales of the supernatural; and maybe something of the tone of those films crept into this novel, too. There’s a figure who straddles the divide between kitchen and front of house, someone disembodied in a robustly physical environment. And maybe the dividing lines between worlds – between past and present, between the imagined and the real, between what’s sown, grown and consumed – have started to bleed, like rare steak.

You can shop Test Kitchen on our website.

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