North of Happy by Adi Alsaid
Are you a foodie? Is Food Network your go-to TV station? Have you seen every episode of Chopped? If you answered yes to these questions, this book is a MUST READ. If your answer is no, do you like to eat food? Do you have an appreciation for teenage boys who lost their older brothers to drive-by shootings while in search of the perfect taco? Can you empathize with a boy who just graduated from HS but doesn't feel like going away to college is the right path for him? If your answer to those last two questions is yes, then this book is for you, too. Even though his parents (especially his father) are adamantly opposed, Carlos leaves Mexico City (in the middle of his graduation party) and heads to an island off the coast of Seattle. Why there? Felix, his beloved, departed brother once told him about a restaurant there where he dreamed of eating. Since he never got the chance, Carlos figures it's his job to do it for him. Carlos arrives in the San Juan Islands and is blown away by its beauty. He makes his way straight to Provecho (Felix’s dream restaurant) only to find out no reservation is available until Tuesday. It’s Sunday. After hanging out all day in case of a cancellation, he gets a motel room and waits it out. Of course, that day wasn’t all wasted. He gets to watch, Emma, the adorable hostess all day. A bit of a connection sparks. He comes back Tuesday, enjoys the meal of his life, and ends up hanging out with Emma and her friends afterwards. And his life is never the same. Emma ends up getting him a job as a dishwasher where he quickly learns his destiny is to spend his life in a professional kitchen - hopefully, as a chef not a dishwasher. This could be the first step. His friendship with Emma quickly turns into more and it’s more of a relationship than he’s ever had with any girl. His hard work in the restaurant leads to lessons with Chef Elise (a definite Chef Gordon Ramsay type) who soon offers him an ultimatum - continue to work and learn at Provecho or continue to see Emma. He cannot have both. What should he do? Pursue his dream of a life in the kitchen or pursue his dream of having someone to love and love him in return. Felix, who is always with Carlos, definitely has his opinion. But Carlos must decide for himself.
Author, Adi Alsaid, beautifully captures that feeling of being eighteen and every decision you make is the most important decision of your life. Of course, in Carlos’ case, that is very much the case. In my very inexpert opinion, Alsaid seems to nail the feeling of what it must be to work in a high-energy, professional restaurant. As a foodie and Food Network addict, it seems just as thrilling, difficult, exhausting, and fulfilling as I imagined. Carlos’ adventure is heartbreaking and believable. As an added bonus, each chapter begins with a recipe. Be prepared to be hungry as you read this book. Bring snacks. Really, really good snacks.