Sun, 22 Oct 2000

Book Review

Chef's Tales By Michael Saxon Hibiscus Books, 2000 288 pp US$9.99

JAKARTA (JP): Saxon has cooked up a storm at restaurants around the world and lived to tell the tales. He has diced with death on the mean streets of Houston in the United States, been caught in the middle of a passionate love triangle in the Bahamas and battled acute boredom in a secluded resort on an unnamed Indonesian island "45 minutes from Singapore".

The Englishman tells of these and many unusual experiences in a humorous, self-effacing and entertaining style. It's his very ability to laugh at himself -- poking fun at his own insecurities and failings -- which is most appealing. Although there is the usual round of stranger-in-a-foreign-land first experiences (squat toilets, etc.), Saxon is a skilled and perceptive observer of others, composing beautiful characterizations of people he has met through his travels.

The chapter on Indonesia is brief, telling of how everything was not as it was promised by the resort administrators. But Saxon's recounting of the elaborate preparations for the impending visit of the exalted president Soeharto -- including the arrival of a poker-faced presidential food taster -- will be hilarious to anyone who has dealt with local officialdom at its most baffling. (brc)