I love memoirs. I enjoy reading a first-person narration of someone else’s life – it’s like having an extended conversation. Of course, it’s technically a monologue – I don’t actually get to talk, or at least, when I do (which more than occasionally happens, especially with a book I either like or dislike a great deal), no one talks back. But it feels like a conversation. Like the best kind of conversation, actually – like when you meet someone you click with and sit for hours learning all about them.
Charlotte Au Chocolat was such a memoir for me.
It is the story of Charlotte Silver, born and raised by restaurateur parents (together and, ultimately, separately) at Upstairs at the Pudding, the restaurant above the Hasty Pudding Club in Harvard Square. The book chronicles young Charlotte’s life in the elite culinary world of a high-end Boston restaurant. From her earliest days, she dressed for dinner, dined on wild European boar, and was served the dessert she was named for – Charlotte au Chocolat (a confection of chocolate, ladyfingers, and liqueur that sounds to die for). Her days and nights were split between the Front of the House (i.e., the customers, the opulent dining room, and the dressed-to-the-nines service personnel) and the Back of the House (i.e., the chefs, kitchen, and cleaning staff). From a young age, she learned that never the twain shall meet – except in the person of her oh-so-glamorous mother, the chef and manager of the establishment.
A most elegant childhood, indeed. Also, sadly, often a fairly lonely one. The busy restaurant life is not an easy one. Tales of financial woes, legal battles over the building lease, and many long nights spent sitting at a table for one abound. Still, Charlotte and her mother managed to hold on to the restaurant – and their relationship – with a rather indomitable spirit and sense of self that I believe made for a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The book jacket self-describes young Charlotte as living the life of Eloise at The Plaza. There are parallels, to be sure, but there are also healthy smatterings of the less glamorous side of living the high-life – or at least of providing the high-life for others. These elements render the story accessible and sympathetic, and keep it from slipping into a “my childhood was fancier than yours” ego battle.
The story is as decadent as one of Charlotte’s mother’s desserts – and just as enjoyable. If you have any interest in the restaurant business – or unusual childhood stories – give this one a go!
A former corporate attorney and government relations/health policy executive, Jill-Elizabeth walked away from that world (well, skipped actually) and toward a more literary life (equally challenging, but infinitely more enjoyable). If you enjoyed this review, please visit her at Jill-Elizabeth.com, the official home of All Things Jill-Elizabeth – that is, all of the teehees, musings, rants, book reviews, writing exercises, and witticisms of her burgeoning writing career.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Riverhead. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.