Oliver, Jeff. “The Two-Plate Solution: A Novel of Culinary Mayhem in the Middle East”, Bancroft Press, 2018.
Great Title, Fun Read
The Two-Plate Solution begins with a James Beard award-winning chef standing on top of a diving platform after just winning a competition and when he looks down, he faints (he is afraid of heights) and as he falls into the water, he knocks his winning plate over. What follows is a high stakes cooking competition with a diverse cast of young talented chefs in Israel. They have culinary foes: fake “terrorists” that were brought in by the producers. But then some actual terrorists show up on set, and the producers must scramble to either integrate them into the show, or risk being killed.
As the chefs cook for their lives, we have romances and mysteries, humor and wit. This is an outrageous look at the inner workings of reality TV set against unlikely backdrop. Writer Jeff Oliver has given us a guide to terrorism, gastronomy and keeps us laughing. The comedy is both
light-hearted and very dark satire as it relates to reality TV and the state of the Middle East conflict as well as the power of cooking, food, and togetherness. The colorful cast of characters features opportunistic food critics and cowboys, an IDF-fighter-turned-TV producer and fake, suspected, and possibly real terrorists. Then there is the Halva Queen of Eilad and a victim of Israeli occupation who turns cooking into an art of healing.
The satirical approach to the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict and network television is great fun. The story begins with Sara Sinek, a show runner at an American cooking competition program called National Dish-aster. They’re filming in Israel, and someone at the network thinks it would be a great plot-twist to bring in fake terrorists to up the stakes. The only problem is, a group of Palestinians who have been accused by Israeli authorities of a deadly terrorist attack crash the set, and hold everyone hostage for real.
The book moves forward rapidly with twists and turns and many characters and nobody is who they seem. The novel gives us the Palestinian/Israeli conflict as a violent mess but it also stresses things that bring us together. The final twist at the end of the book is difficult to follow. It’s not clear who double-crossed whom and when.