Publisher: Riverhead (Penguin)
Published: February 16th, 2012
Like Eloise growing up in the Plaza Hotel, Charlotte Silver grew up in her mother's restaurant. Located in Harvard Square, Upstairs at the Pudding was a confection of pink linen tablecloths and twinkling chandeliers, a decadent drop for childhood. Over dinners of foie gras and Dover sole, always served with a Shirley Temple, Charlotte kept company with a rotating cast of eccentric staff members. After dinner, in her frilly party dress, and stilettos who shouldered the burden of raising a family and running a
kitchen. Charlotte's unconventional upbringing takes its toll, and as she grows up wishing her increasingly busy mother were more of a presence in her life. But when the restaurant-forever teetering on the brink of financial collapse-looks as if it may finally be closing, Charlotte comes to realize the sacrifices her mother has made to keep the family and restaurant afloat and gains a new appreciation of the world her mother has built.
Infectious, charming, and at times wistful, Charlotte au Chocolat is a celebration of the magic of a beautiful presentation and the virtues of good manners, as well as a loving tribute to the author's mother - a woman who always showed her best face to the world.
"I grew up rich. The setting—or stage set—of my childhood was the velvety pink-and-green dining room of my mother's restaurant, Upstairs at the Pudding, located above the Hasty Pudding Club in a red-brick Victorian building at 10 Holyoke Street in Harvard Square. My life was not a child's life of jungle gyms and Velcro sneakers, but of soft lighting, stiff petticoats, rolling pins smothered in flour, and candied violets in wax paper. It was a life of manners, of air kisses, of "How do you dos," and a life for which I needed six party dresses a year, three every spring and three every winter. We were rich. Everybody knew it.
Yet we were not; we were not rich at all. For as long as I could remember, the restaurant had tottered on the brink of collapse. I always knew we would lose it one day. And we did lose it; we did."
|Charlotte Au Chocolat (Source)|
Charlotte grew up in a world filled with all manners of fancy things. In a little girl's eyes growing up in a restaurant like Upstairs at the Pudding was simply a wonderful dream that you didn't want to wake up from. Who wouldn't want to grow up at Upstairs at the Pudding when you are able to eat dessert whenever you want, stay up late with the grownups, be coddled by the staff, and best of all you get to wear the prettiest (preferably pink) dresses. But not everything's right in Charlotte's world. As she grows up things start to change. Her parents' divorce, the staff who were once her friends start to leave, and even her namesake, Charlotte au Chocolat, is
disappearing from the menu. Everything is changing and only after the fact does she realize what the restaurant, her mother, and her childhood really meant to her life.
I really enjoyed reading about Charlotte's childhood. It wasn't just her childhood... but for the most of the book it was. At first it was all glitz and glam but like you know from the quote above on the very first page Charlotte told you how it was. I actually forgot about how the restaurant would inevitably close down because I had immersed myself so much in the here and now of the story. And what a story it was. Charlotte described her childhood in a way where it was like she was someone else. All wise but not out of touch with what was going on with her life. It's like she was reflecting on her life while she was telling her story. Her "voice" was one of the most recognizable things that I remember about this book.
In Charlotte's world people could be put into two groups. You are either a front room person which means you are like the glitz and the glamour of the restaurant or you are a kitchen person which means you are the backbone and rough, raw passion of the restaurant. We are all labeled as something or put into categories by someone else one way or another. I see people in different ways just like other people do and like Charlotte does which she got from her mother. It was interesting to read about her view on different people. I could never quite get who front people were. I understand kitchen people. They are easy to understand. They are the strugglers, the hard workers. I liked her description of her view on different types of people because well... I liked how she described everything! I love the way she wrote and this is a perfect example of how she writes. In that wise, and awareness type of tone. I feel like she's in her head a lot and is an observer of the world which I've always felt I am like.
"When I was a small child, I associated my parents with individual flavors. It was the same way you might filter someone through a filter of color - thinking of some people in blues, other people in reds - but instead of color, the sensation I latched on to was flavor. My mother's flavors were always those of the desserts she made - suave caramels and milk chocolates and the delicate, utterly feminine accents of crystallized violets or buttery almonds. But my father's flavors - my father's flavors were something else altogether. They were subtle and elusive and melted on the tongue only to vanish before you could place them. Dark, adult flavors, and slightly bitter: veal carpaccio, silvery artichokes. And, most of all, mushrooms: chanterelles, chicken of the woods, and - my father's favorite mushroom of all - trumpets of death."
Charlotte even categorized her parents which is funny because I think about my parents and who they are. I see obvious differences but I also see obvious similarities. It's like when you see a couple together for a long time. They just fit together. Charlotte's parents did not. Her mother was this very stylish woman who was very... strict in a way. She was just tough about emotions. She's the type of person who probably expresses her love not by words, hugs, or kisses, but by food and advice. I never really liked her but I couldn't say I full out hated her or anything like that. I think it was the resolution in the end. This scene she and Charlotte had together. Charlotte felt resolved after it but I really didn't like what her mother had to say. Her tough attitude wasn't needed then.
Her father is a rough type of person. I don't really think he's the loud type of person which I first envisioned in my head for him. He's more reserved and secretive which you and Charlotte come to know. After the divorce you figure out who he really is. He photographed brooms and other weird still life. I was as confused by him as Charlotte was. He's completely different than what you expect. Around the time you are discovering what he really is like you get to know the downsides of owning a restaurant. There's this sad undertone to the book but it's not like you feel overly sad or anything. It's just there. I'm guessing I didn't feel it as much because again how Charlotte wrote her story. It was a closed off view of her life which means you didn't feel overly emotional about those parts in her life. I did feel connected to the story though and couldn't help relaxing into and discovering what's going to happen next.
The whole story reminded me of the 1950's. You've got what seems like a great life that you wish you had because this book seriously makes you hungry whenever you just look at the cover and you want to stuff a whole cake into your mouth... Anyways there is this credit building up and you act like it's not there but for Charlotte she didn't even know. She didn't know there was a price to her life. It's not like her mother was intentionally wasting money she just wanted the best for her restaurant and life and just like any restaurant it can close down. It's like how when you realize the concept of money and then you fully realize what it takes to feed a family and live in a home. It's her growing up and realizing these things like we all do. It captured those moments in our life where we grow up and your view of everything is different from what you felt the world was like as a child. This book reminded me of all those things but mainly it reminded me of why I love memoirs. I want to read more memoirs again because of this book more importantly more food memoirs.
Fantastic writing, great story and characters. Loved that I could get a sample of the restaurant world through this book especially when I think of all that food. The transition of childhood to adult and figuring out how the real world is was wonderful because we can all relate to those changes. Only thing is that scene with her mother in the end. I didn't feel like her story should have been resolved with that scene like I felt it was made out to be.
For more info about Charlotte Silver and her books go to:
Since it's almost Mother's Day (May 12) here's a book that connects mother's and daughter's that Charlotte Silver contributed to:
What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-One Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most
In What My Mother Gave Me, women look at the relationships between mothers and daughters through a new lens: a daughter’s story of a gift from her mother that has touched her to the bone and served as a model, a metaphor, or a touchstone in her own life. The contributors of these thirty-one original pieces include Pulitzer Prize winners, perennial bestselling novelists, and celebrated broadcast journalists.
Collectively, the pieces have a force that feels as elemental as the tides: outpourings of lightness and darkness; joy and grief; mother love and daughter love; mother love and daughter rage. In these stirring words we find that every gift, no matter how modest, tells the story of a powerful bond. As Elizabeth Benedict points out in her introduction, whether we are mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, or cherished friends, we may not know for quite some time which presents will matter the most.
What did Charlotte Silver's mom give here?
Why her leopard ankle boots of course!
“These, these were my mother’s trademarks, her badges of feminine armor against the world.”
It makes sense her mother would give her something stylish to wear when she was always making sure she showed her best face to the world.