Saturday, December 15, 2012

Weekend Cooking: The Cook by Wayne Macauley

The Cook by Wayne Macauley was released here in Australia last year by Text Publishing. I had certainly heard of it, and I had meant to read it before now but I just hadn't quite managed to do so yet. I borrowed it from the library a few weeks ago. When it was named as the most under-rated book of 2012 I knew I had to make an effort to actually read it. The award "aims to shine a light on some of the fantastic titles that are released by independent publishers and members of the Small Press Network (SPUNC) that, for whatever reason, did not receive their fair dues." (source)

The book tells the story of Zac, a young boy from the rough end of town who has been given one last chance to straighten himself out by being sent to Cook School. This is no ordinary cooking school though. A group of boys, all with troubled backgrounds of some type or another, are sent to a farm in the country. Here they will not only learn about cooking but also where food comes from. The school is ostensibly run by a celebrity TV chef but he is only occasionally present, and all is not necessarily well in the school itself.

Zac is one of the few boys in the group who shows any real passion for food, and any ambition to use cooking as a way to get out of the bad place that he started in. He becomes almost obsessed with the process of learning to cook starting with the very raw ingredients. He quickly forms a friendship with the local farmer, and soon he is handraising the livestock that one day will be the ingredients for his increasing complex meals. Zac is soon dreaming of a future where he will be the head chef in a famous restaurant and he is prepared to put in the hard yards to attain that dream.

Eventually, Zac is given the opportunity to put his skills to the test when he is taken to a big mansion in one of the best areas of Melbourne and becomes the cook to the family. There are Master and Mistress and their two daughters, Melody and Jade. Here he gets the opportunity to learn about suppliers, from the fancy butcher and local specialty store where he can basically buy any ingredient and use it to make some amazing sounding food - not food that I would eat for dinner every day of the week but for the rich and fabulous maybe it is normal! There are several parts of this book where I wished that I was able to be able to smell and taste the food that Zac was cooking. In my imagination, it was divine!

There are a few more things that I can tell you about The Cook, but there are also at least a couple of things that I am choosing to not tell you, because this is one book where you want the surprises to be a surprise, and I am not sure that everyone will see them coming. I certainly didn't! The clever thing about the big revelation is that the clues are there, but it is much easier to see them in retrospect than it is while you are reading the book.

The first thing to mention about this book is the way it is written. It is written in Zac's voice, and there is an alarming lack of punctuation in the narrative which is jarring at first. Whilst this maybe something that might turn readers off, I would argue that it is best to keep reading because you do get used to it, and it does fit the character of Zac. It's hard to imagine that the book would be as powerful if it was written in any other way.

It is also worth mentioning that this book is a satire. While I don't think I get satire as much as some other people might, it was darkly funny and also provided very effective commentary on the fact that most of us don't really care to think about where the ingredients we eat have come from. The fact that there are lamb chops on the supermarket shelves is somewhat removed from the fact that it was once a lamb running around in a paddock after it's mother.  Macauley is very in your face about this in the book - there are several quite gruesome scenes so it might be fair to warn that this is a book that may affect you particularly if you are squeamish or vegetarian. Other topics that fall into the path of Macauley's satirical eye is the current obsession that we have with celebrity chefs, the idea of class within Australian society and the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of food trends. All of this is set against the global financial crisis which also provides some of the dramatic impetus within the story.

This is an intensely readable book, confronting and shocking at times, but also entertaining and I am glad that I gave this underrated book a go!

Rating 4/5


You have been chosen, said Head Chef. Of all the young people wasting their lives you and you only have been chosen.

At Cook School, Zac dreams about becoming the greatest chef the world has seen.

He thinks he's on his way when gets a job as house cook for a wealthy family - the Mistress and Master and their daughter's Melody and Jade.

But when things start to fall apart, Zac knows he must take control.

The Cook is funny and sad, strange and satirical, and weirdly moving. Wayne Macauley is a bewitching writer.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. For more information, see the welcome post. 


  1. Not heard of this, but I think we are conditioned or certainly encouraged not to think where things come from. Sounds interesting.

  2. Replies
    1. Yes the cover looks like it gained inspiration from a Mrs Beeton!

  3. Sounds like an intriguing book! And I like that cover too :).

  4. This is a wonderful review, and the book sounds so unique. You have piqued my interest.

  5. Fabulous book, I loved every word of it and the surprise ending is breath-taking. Your review made me want to read it all over again:)

  6. Sounds like a great book for those of us who love to cook.

  7. I agree this sounds intriguing.

  8. Like the look of this! Hopefully with purchase it with some Christmas vouchers.

  9. Wow. This sounds really good: food, a good story, some social commentary all wrapped up together.

  10. Sounds like a really interesting read - I do like food stories wrapped into other sorts of stories. Thanks for sharing!