In 1982, Charlotte's parents and a partner, Mary Catherine Deibel, opened their restaurant above the Hasty Pudding Club in Harvard Square. And, that restaurant became home for Charlotte for almost twenty years. Her father was the head chef and her mother made the desserts, until their divorce when Charlotte was six. Her father left, tired of working in restaurants, and her mother stepped up, taking over the kitchen and the business. And, Charlotte spent days and nights, weekends, waiting while first her parents, and then her mother, worked.
Silver's account is a story of contrast. Everyone thought they were rich, and she dressed in party dresses to be seen by the customers. And, the food was rich and plentiful. The restaurant and the club were well-known. At the same time, the family spent all the time at the restaurant. They lost their house, rented places to live. And, behind the facade of the Hasty Pudding Club, the building was old, abused by college students, and there were rats and mice in the building and in the alleys.
Charlotte Silver said her memories of childhood were of always waiting. She was a child, mature beyond her years, associating with restaurant staff, not other children. She was a child of divorce, and a child of a mother who spent more time with her restaurant than she did with her daughter. Although she looks back with nostalgia at those twenty years before the restaurant closed, it struck me as a sad life. She cried when the restaurant died, a last remnant of the 20th century. I saw it as closure to a childhood lost and lonely.
Charlotte au Chocolat is a true insider's look into the restaurant business, as seen by a child who grew up in it. She may not have known the restaurant numbers, but she knew the waiters, the cooks, the places to hide, the difference between the kitchen and the front room. It's an interesting book, but, in the end, I found it to be a sad book, a story of a young girl, whose father walked out, whose mother was too busy, and whose only true home, a restaurant, wasn't even a place that welcomed her. Charlotte Silver would be willing to go back and appreciate it now. Charlotte au Chocolat struck me as too sad to ever want to go back.
Charlotte au Chocolat by Charlotte Silver. Riverhead Books. ©2012. ISBN 9781594488153 (hardcover), 272p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me this to review, at my request.