Book Reviews

The Sushi Chef by David De Bacco at Kokoro Press

Genre Gay / Historical / Recent (1990s) / Fiction
Reviewed by Alex on 31-December-2012

Book Blurb

“In order to receive love, we must first love ourselves.” Every self-help book on love and relationship tells us this basic principle. Intellectually we know it’s true, but what happens when one man embraces it with his heart and soul, attempting to make it a real, living force in his life?

Meet John Clute, an aspiring writer who supports his craft by working as a waiter in 1992, New York City when the gay revolution struggled with the AIDS epidemic, when advances in research meant that men stopped dying suddenly from the gay cancer and started to stay alive. Madonna had just released Erotica and Sex, her takes on sexuality through music, word and photography. To many, it was the relighting of this sexual culture that had been so damaged by the onset of the epidemic.

Clute works from paycheck to paycheck but in spite of all his efforts, an eviction notice is slapped on his apartment door. If only Clute wasn’t too proud to ask for help. The one person who could possibly help him is the man he fell in love with years ago, the sensual and handsome Toshio, a sushi chef, who has perfected the arts of both geisha-like sensuality and virtuosic Japanese cooking. However, Clute and Toshio’s on again-off again odd romance is plagued with secrets, stultifying cultural differences, and underlying fears fueled by years of not speaking the truth. Tired of this dead cycle, Clute seeks to make a change no matter what the risk, uncertain of Toshio’s ability to change and grow with him.

Told through the mind and heart of John Clute, The Sushi Chef by popular food columnist and restaurant connoisseur David De Bacco, intertwines the hero’s struggle of life and love with enchanting—and ironically quite symbolic—explanations of the art of sushi. The result is a novel with a message that has the power to touch lives. Many souls come to New York with a dream. Some find what they seek while others do not. But John Clute shows us with tender-hearted humor, openness, and a bit of RuPaul flair, that often it’s how one lives and not necessarily achieving the “dream” that makes a life worth living.

David De Bacco has worked in New York, London, Tokyo, Paris and Milan for some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs including Nora Pouillon, Chef “Nobu” Matsuhisa, Drew Nieporent, Iron Chef Masaharu “Morimoto” and actor, Robert De Niro. He also created MEGU, a modern Japanese restaurant in Manhattan for Japanese restaurateur, Koji Imai and Hollywood’s celebrity haunt, Geisha House for actor, Ashton Kutcher’s Dolce Group. David currently lives and celebrates life in Los Angles where he is a freelance writer for Edge Publications, AOL’s and is the creator of Cookin’ with Mama, a foodie blog. The Sushi Chef is his first novel.

Book Review

Astonishingly poetic and seductive, this captivating novel tackles a subject as delicate as the food of its title and as sharp as the blade of the sushi knife in a lyrical, yet precise manner that reads like a beautiful memoir. What do you do when your needs are not being fulfilled in your long-time relationship and yet the comforts of that relationship may be the high point of your life?

The lead of this novel, John Clute, is a thirty-year-old struggling writer, who works at a bankrupt three star restaurant in New York, is broke, and is in crisis about the state of his life. Initially I thought John a poser or a user, so cool he appeared in the early chapters, as he reviewed his life with an almost impassive indifference peppered with materialism. Shortly, I realized he is not so much cool, as lost, adrift on a sea of indecision; confused about his life, his career, and his beautiful Japanese lover of five years, Toshio, a sushi chef.

John is nearing completion of a novel that he hopes will make his life thus far worth the sacrificial drifting that it has been for the last ten years. During these years, he has accumulated numerous acquaintances, allowing their generosity and the wind to dictate his choices, but now their patience, and his time, money and will are running out. His growing frustration at finding himself in the same situations, surrounded by wealth, potential and power, yet living on its fringes, compels him to act. He makes the decision to change his life and begins by stealing the cash from his last customers at his place of employment… it is less than the restaurant owes him, and after all... he has bills to pay.

The story that follows is beautiful portrayal of one man's struggles to grow up. The relationship between Toshio and John is refreshing with ghosts of familiarity, and yet it is only a portion of the bounty this stunning novel offers.

Highly entertaining, filled with lovely vignettes, clever humor, and subtlety, this novel is lush in the depth of its prose. Breathtaking in emotional realism and at times bittersweet, it showcases the berth of self-awareness that one experiences when adulthood can no longer be forestalled.

Told from John's point of view, this stimulating and provocative novel also contains a wealth of information on the Japanese art of sushi, lovingly delivered in intermission-like passages that are as lyrical as haiku, but educational as well. As a lover of sushi, I thank David De Bacco for enhancing my knowledge of the fine art, it was an exciting bonus to an already generous novel. Brutally honest, with a haunting air of melancholy that remained with me long after I completed its last page, I feel  the novel is an important read, poignantly human in its outcome, enchanting in its voice and style. Bravo, David De Bacco at your courage for penning this story, and thank you for the gift that is your novel.




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Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 299 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 04-September-2012
Price $5.79 Kindle, $12.99 paperback
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