[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and the 2011 Western Australian Premier's Book Awards.]
From the publisher's page:
Power through service, says Head Chef. It's one of the first lessons taught at Cook School, where troubled youths learn to be master chefs by bowing to decadence and whim, by offering up a part of themselves on every plate.
It's a motto Zac takes to heart. A teenage boy with a difficult past, he throws himself into the world and work of haute cuisine. He has dreams of a future, of escaping the dead-end, no-hope lot of his fellow cooks. He wants to be the greatest chef the world has seen. He thinks he's taken his first steps when he becomes House Cook for a wealthy family. Never mind that the family may seem less than appreciative. Or refined. Or deserving. Power through service.
But as the facade crumbles and his promised future looks unlikely to eventuate, Zac the Cook is forced to reassess everything. Sweet turns sour and ends in bitter revenge.
Blackly funny and deliciously satirical, The Cook feeds our hunger to know what goes on in the kitchen, while skewering our culture of food worship.
Owen Richardson in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "In the past few years, Wayne Macauley has published some of the most memorable fiction going in this country. His books and stories are satirical fables in which the properties are recognisably contemporary and Australian - Melburnian, indeed - but his use of them is carefully distanced from realism and he has a prose style of remarkable poise and control that can allow his narratives to take off into the bizarre without ever losing their cool. Beneath that cool is a steady anger at the depredations of late capitalism, at the attempts of laissez-faire to turn us all into Homo economicus or addicted consumers...After two short novels or novellas - Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe and Caravan Story - and a book of short fiction, Other Stories, this is Macauley's longest novel so far and marks a brilliant development in his dark vision of the way we live...Although the publicity tells us this is a book that will appeal to foodies, ''appeal'' may not quite be the right word: The Cook isn't really about food at all or, rather, it is about food as an index of money and class, ambition and conspicuous consumption."
Louise Swinn in "The Age": "Anyone who has seen even so much as an ad for MasterChef will be familiar with the concept of Cook School, an hour and a half from Melbourne, for which Zac is one of the 16 wayward teenagers chosen. With little in life to fall back on, Zac is smart enough to recognise this opportunity. He is a natural but he works hard, taking to heart the advice to keep suppliers close, rearing his own stock and putting in long hours perfecting each dish...Zac is brought to life so clearly and so rapidly that it is easy to forget he was ever anything but a master chef in the making and this is one of The Cook's many achievements. Perhaps what makes Zac so attractive is his sheer dedication. He is not the kid who wants to be a movie star without going to acting school; he is prepared to work hard at it. He learns about provenance - nothing appears at the table without its particular history - and he seems to comprehend the lesson that knowing and understanding, and being the master of, that history is the key to culinary success."
Fiona Mackrell on the "artsHub" website: "Macauley has opted for a challenging, seemingly naïve and untrustworthy first person voice that doesn't always work and isn't always consistent. Despite that, we can see both through Zac's eyes and interpret characters and events through our own, which provides the most powerful aspect of the writing and is crucial to driving the novel's tension...This is bleak and uncomfortable reading that ironically would have been far better if it hadn't shied away from being even more so. There's a whiff of Camus's The Stranger to The Cook but it doesn't have the same nihilist backbone or power. Though there are images that will play in the imagination for a long time after you put it down, it's ultimately less than satisfying."
James Ley in "The Australian": "Melbourne-based Macauley has been honing his comic skills as a novelist and short-story writer for the better part of two decades, and The Cook is often very funny indeed. An early scene in which the apprentices receive a lesson in whacking a subordinate on the head with a soup ladle almost veers into Three Stooges territory...But there is a real savagery underlying the novel's vision of a society whose idea of ambition has decayed into a crude desire for social status and material advancement. It suggests that there is something morally and psychologically corrupting about a system in which it seems the only way to escape being exploited is to become an exploiter."
Trish Bolton in "Overland": "Written by the much-lauded Australian writer Wayne Macauley, The Cook's themes of capitalism-gone-mad, excessive consumption, untrammelled growth and rampant exploitation of humans, animals and natural resources is timely...Macauley explores a number of issues recently highlighted by the Occupy Movement, animal welfare groups and the GFC through his main protagonist Zac, one of a number of young offenders sent to Cook School to learn a trade and become decent, upstanding and productive citizens...The story, told from Zac's point of view, pays no heed to commas or quotation marks so that sentences tumble and flow. It is an inspired choice that takes us along for a hypnotising ride and immerses us fully in Zac's macabre world, which, we learn along the way, is our world too. "
Ben Pobjie for "Readings".
Victoria Cosford for "Echo".
The author has a webpage dedicated to the book, and the various reactions to it.