R Christopher Christie’s first piece of culinary fiction,The Broken Path, follows a Michelin-starred chef named Richard Stratton on his journey back to Canada to start life anew. While writing the book, Christie, 40, still managed to juggle his time as a father and continue working as the chef responsible for overseeing over 40 kitchens at many of our city’s top restaurants – an impressive feat given the mystery thriller’s 100,000-plus word count.
Let’s get right into it: is any of this autobiographical?
I’d love to say that I was married to a beautiful French actress but no, definitely not in any obvious way. I did not draw any parallels between the chef’s character and my life; however there are some lines you can draw to what it’s like starting out in a kitchen environment. For example, I know first hand what it’s like when things don’t go well.
What was the inspiration behind the characters?
I had been in Asia for years, and was wondering what it would be like coming back home and opening a restaurant in familiar territory. It’s Stratton’s letting go of the formalities of being a restaurateur and getting back to his own free hands.
Are you paying homage to any chef in particular?
No. I think we all admire almost everyone who’s good, like any of the restaurants here at the Marina Bay Sands – especially what these high-calibre chefs are doing at these restaurants.
Your writing style reminds me of Michael Ruhlman’s encounter with Anthony Bourdain in the latter’s TV series Kitchen Confidential. Was this your intention?
Cooking is about creation, and I wish to achieve the same thing with this culinary fiction piece. It’s interesting – the world of a restaurant and kitchen life. My aim was to expand on what the audience sees on television, because that is not the full picture of our lives. We chefs have lives and families too. I’m raising a daughter here in Singapore.
How did you start writing The Broken Path?
It was a Sunday, and I was in Hong Kong and had these characters floating around in my head. I told myself I was going to put this together into some sensible story. So every day off I had, I would give it a good four to six hours from the morning.
Where did you conceive most of your ideas for this novel?
I developed more of a storyline while I was exercising. I daydream, but I also piece together things that may have happened during the day or that week. Then you’re in front of that computer and things start to materialise.
If you had to choose one word to describe The Broken Path, what would it be?
Someone actually just wrote to me and said, ‘very sexy, scandalous’. That’s great. The other major part of the story is truth – part of the reason why The Broken Path is what it is, is because it’s a metaphor for where these two characters meet and how their lives progress as adults.
Does the harsh food-critic character Miriam Collingsworth in any way stem from your personal life?
When I was writing this story I didn’t know I would be taking apart Collingsworth. I wrote her, saw her and filled her in because I needed a food critic at some point in the story to do a critique on the restaurant. I surprised myself at what a big part she plays in their lives in the restaurant. Most food critics are pretty decent people; like everyone, they are subjective, they have opinions and they can say whatever they want through constructive criticism or wonderful praise.
So would you rather be given $50,000 or a Michelin star?
I think notoriety is more valuable. To be recognised in your profession as being of world-class calibre – you can’t put a price to that, so I’ll definitely take the Michelin star. I’d shoot for two, though.
Do you have a favourite scene in The Broken Path?
The description of Stratton’s restaurant itself: how the chefs move, how the people are dressed. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the book. I’m especially proud of my description of the croissant.
Any plans for a sequel?
Novel number two is 39,000 words in. I’ve just introduced Stratton, although I’m not sure how big a role he’s going to play – but there’s going to be another chef as well. This one’s about a celebrity TV ‘It boy’ in New York.
The Broken Path is on sale at Kinokuniya, Popular and Times Bookstores for $19.90. For more details go to www.thebrokenpathbook.com.