Cooking up a literary storm
Former Hong Kong chef Chris Christie gets a good grilling from Matt Fleming on his debut novel
Every time you see a new book penned by a top chef, you know you’ve seen it all before. There’s the same old rehashed dishes you’ve flicked through in countless recipe books over the years with, of course, that particular culinary expert’s personal twist sprinkled in. But that’s not true with the former executive chef at Hong Kong’s Langham Hotel, Chris Christie. Now a top chef in Singapore, he’s forked out into the world of fiction and had his first novel published, with no glossy photographs or lists of ingredients in sight. And he tells Time Out it’s bubbling up nicely with food fans.
The Broken Path. What’s it about?
It’s a journey that offers a personal look at the heart of a restaurant’s opening and the people who bring it to life and give it breath. It’s the story of a two-Michelin-starred chef’s rise through the ranks to the ultimate pinnacle of success – and the price paid for reaching the top, including being confronted with his complicated past. An old flame who also has a high profile life throws him off balance. The reunion is intense and changes the dimensions of many lives.
An interesting title…
Yeah. It refers to the location where the two main characters crystallised their early relationship years before. It becomes a metaphor for the story.
Why would a successful chef go and write a novel?
The idea of an accomplished chef starting anew in his hometown floated in and out of my thoughts for a few years. When I thought about a female character, Nikki took shape and their story provoked me into taking the idea deeper. The dynamics of this couple reconnecting while an avant-garde restaurant is on the verge of opening really appealed to me. And the writing became cathartic. It pulled me away from the stress and full-on energy-driven days of running a hotel kitchen.
Is there a part of you embedded in the main character?
In some ways there must be, after all he is a chef and so am I. I know exactly what he went through getting the restaurant open and the pressures it brings. I understand the long hours and painfully short sleeps that come along with it, the copious amount of coffee he drank until his stomach burned. And I understand his tenacity and determination. There may be some of that in me too – or so I’ve been told…
Does Hong Kong feature prominently in the text?
Although I wrote the entire manuscript in Hong Kong, the city doesn’t appear in the book. I was storytelling as I wrote and I felt I needed to be somewhere else to be able to do that. However, I’m about half way into writing my second novel and I have a feeling Hong Kong will be a setting for a part of it.
Which is a bigger challenge – cooking or writing?
From an executive chef’s perspective, I’d have to say cooking. It takes a lot more physical energy day after day. Writing is mentally stimulating and challenging. Though, at the heart of writing or cooking, it’s about creation. You see something in your mind’s eye and you act on it, start building it piece by piece until it feels right – in your heart and on your palate. One thing I learned about writing the novel is that it takes commitment and discipline, as it does to become a good chef.
Any other books in the frying pan?
Absolutely. My second novel is well underway and I’m fairly certain I know what the idea is for the one after that. I truly love writing and I’m having fun.
The Broken Path is published by OFS, priced $145.