Born into poverty in southwestern France, as a teenager the Cheffe takes a job working for a wealthy couple in a neighboring town. It does not take long before it becomes clear that she has an unusual, remarkable talent for cooking. She dreams in recipes; she’s always imagining food combinations; she hunts down elusive flavors…and soon her sheer talent and ambition put her in charge of their kitchen.
Though she revels in the culinary spotlight, the Cheffe remains very secretive about the rest of her life. She shares nothing of her feelings or emotions. She becomes pregnant but will not reveal her daughter’s father. And when the demands of her work become too great, she leaves her baby in the care of her family and sets out to open her own restaurant, which will soon win rave reviews.
As time goes on, the Cheffe’s relationship with her daughter remains fraught, and eventually it threatens to destroy everything the Cheffe has spent her life perfecting. Told from the perspective of the Cheffe’s former assistant (and unrequited lover), this stunning new novel by Marie NDiaye is a gustatory tour de force.