I won Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen as a goodreads first read. This book is simply delicious. I have read many memoirs about cooks and cooking, and plenty of mysteries that involve chefs or cooks (with the food primarily as an amuse bouche), but this is a complex novel, rich with beautiful, often lyrical language, and a good story, not only about three brothers, Leo, Britt, and Harry) and their passion for food, but about the raveling, unraveling, and knitting back together of relationships.
Leo and Britt are less than two years apart in age, while Harry, the youngest of the three brothers, is a good ten or more years younger. While Leo and Britt follow generally linear career paths which eventually lead to them opening a very popular restaurant, Winesap, in their home town of Linden, PA, Harry's path is anything but linear. He was close to finishing a Ph.D.in literature at the University of Michigan when he suddenly starts following a "food chain" that eventually leads to his return to Linden and his opening his own restaurant there. He is broadly traveled, having worked, for example, on an Alaskan fishing boat and as a chef on an island in Lake Michigan, and when he returns to Linden and announces he is opening a restaurant, the entire family is taken by surprise. Harry manages to convince Britt to join him in his business venture, and Britt splits his time between Winesap, and Harry's new place, eventually named Stray.
Harry is a mysterious and flamboyant person, a brilliant chef - wildly experimental and risky - and Stray reflects his personality. As the story unfolds, we begin to see the cracks beneath the surface in all of the brothers, cracks that are revealed first in more than the usual ebbs and flows of the restaurant business - cracks, that if left ignored, could result in a disastrous end for both; and then even deeper cracks in the soul and spirit of each brother - again, cracks that if left ignored could result in devastating psychological damage for each brother as an individual and in their relationship as colleagues and brothers.
The naming of restaurants is an important theme in this novel. The name Winesap comes from the variety of apples the brothers' parents grow. Stray is almost an afterthought, at least in the planning stages, reflecting Harry's eclectic approach to food and the casual yet elegant style of his restaurant - it's a place on the outskirts of the "better" part of Linden, and it is almost like a stray animal finding its way by scrambling and begging for food and affection. As the story unfolds, however, I realized that "Stray" is, at heart, the inner nature of Harry's personality.
The characters develop like the layers of a fine wine; just when I thought I understood a character, subtleties that I hadn't noticed became critical character traits. It would be easy enough to review this book without comparing it to a fine meal, one that builds slowly and simply to a magnificent, very satisfying finish, but to NOT do that does this book a disservice. This was a wonderful read. I look forward to reading more books by Michelle Widgen.