Chef is not a long novel – 246 pages of largish print – but there is a great deal of story packed into it.
Kip Singh, a Sikh who used to be an army cook, is asked to cater for General Kumar's daughter's wedding, 14 years after he leaves the forces.
On the train journey to Kashmir, he recalls the events that led to his resignation. As the son of an army major who died on a glacier in the war for the disputed province of Kashmir, he became an army cook at 20 and was apprenticed to Chef Kishen, a father figure with a bad temper, potty-mouth, ingrained prejudice against Muslims and wizard-like cooking skills.
After Kishen is sacked, following a faux pas with some Muslim officers, Singh becomes chef, winning plaudits on all sides. Then he comes across a Pakistani woman washed up on the banks of a river. She's suspected of spying, and incarcerated; Singh is drawn to her and brings lovingly prepared meals to her cell.
Singh's voice is calm, sometimes dry, as he relives his old passions, but the strength of feeling is never in doubt. This is a subtle, lyrical novel, told in fragments, and infused with a sense of the beauty of the Kashmir landscape, the pain of unrequited love, and the ugliness of the hostilities between India and Pakistan.
It's also a novel about food, and there is a fantastic recipe for Rogan Josh on page 226.