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"Marie NDiaye is so intelligent, so composed, so good, that any description of her work feels like an understatement" - Madeleine Schwartz, New York Review of Books
"Rich, meandering . . . NDiaye excels at luscious, forensic descriptions of the ritualistic preparation of food" - Catherine Taylor, Mail on Sunday
The Cheffe is born into a very poor family in Sainte-Bazeille in south-western France, but when she takes a job working in the kitchen of a couple in the Landes region, it does not take long before it becomes clear that the Cheffe has an unusual, remarkable talent for cooking. She dreams in recipes, she's always imagining food combinations and cooking times, she hunts down elusive flavours and aromas, and she soon usurps the couple's cook.
But for all her genius, the Cheffe remains very secretive about the rest of her life. She becomes pregnant, but will not reveal her daughter's father. She shares nothing of her feelings or emotions. And when the demands of her work and caring for her child become too much, she leaves her baby in the care of her family, and sets out to open her own restaurant, which will soon win rave reviews and be lauded by all.
But her relationship with her daughter will never be easy, and before long, it will threaten to destroy everything the Cheffe has spent her life perfecting.