We love a good book and love a good excerpt. Our taste in books keeps changing, however, probably because of the amount of reading that we are getting done on quarantine.
And are we here for a novel with a strong woman? Yes, we are.
French-born American chef Sophie Valroux had one dream: to be part of the 1% of female chefs running a Michelin-starred restaurant. From a young age she was taught to cook by her grandmother, a French culinary icon who helped Sophie rise to the top of the foodie scene. But when Sophie is sabotaged by a fellow chef, her dream goes up in flames: she is fired and her reputation is left in ruins. To add icing to the cake, she learns that her beloved grandmother has suffered a stroke.
Sophie books a flight back to France faster than you can say au revoir. In her grandmother’s absence, it’s up to Sophie to lead the kitchen at her family’s countryside luxury chateau. A visit to the chateau is also a trip down memory lane, complete with familiar sights and tastes—and even some characters from her past, particularly an old flame. It’s here that Sophie learns to rebuild herself and her career, and where she discovers that returning to her culinary roots may just be the recipe she needs to heal her mind and heart.
The book comes from author Samantha Vérant, and we’re pleased to share an excerpt with you today.
The brigade shouted out a whoop, followed by the beating of pots and pans. Somebody popped open a bottle of champagne. In an instant, corks flew across the kitchen. I made a mental note to call my grand-mère.
As the bottles were passed around, the phone on the wall blinked green. Our hostess Bernadette’s sultry voice interrupted our celebration. “Excuse me, Chef, but you have a call,” she said.
“Take a message,” said O’Shea. “I’m in a staff meeting.”
“I think you’ll want to take this,” said Bernadette. “It’s Gabrielle from Michelin.”
I willed my heart to stop racing and prayed again to the kitchen gods. Please, make me the youngest female chef de cuisine at a Michelin three-star restaurant in New York. Let me become a part of culinary history.
“Put the call through.” O’Shea’s eyes widened and he held up a finger. “Guys, simmer down. Not a word. I’m putting the call on speaker.” He clicked the line open. “Dan O’Shea here.”
“Good afternoon, Dan. First, as you know, this is a courtesy call before next year’s New York red guide is released, which is tomorrow—”
O’Shea’s eyes crinkled into a smile. “Yes, yes, an exciting time.” “I’m happy to inform you that two of your restaurants, Cendrillon Las Vegas and Cendrillon London, have received rising stars, and Cendrillon Los Angeles has received its second étoile.”
O’Shea nodded his big head and shot us the thumbs-up. “And Cendrillon NY?”
“Dan, I’m afraid I have some not-so-wonderful news to deliver.”
Eyes darted back and forth. O’Shea grunted. “Yes?”
“Consistency is very important to us here at Michelin, and I’m afraid Cendrillon NY did not receive its third star,” said Gabrielle. “With that said, I’m devastated to tell you that Cendrillon is not only not gaining a star, I’m afraid it’s losing one.”
Time stopped for a moment. We couldn’t contain our surprised and disappointed groans. There was nothing worse for a chef than losing a star. It burned the ego, damaged reputations, and destroyed identities.
“I’m sorry, Dan. I wish I was the bearer of better news,” said Gabrielle.
“Thank you for your candor,” said O’Shea. He cleared his throat. “I guess I have some things to sort out.”
“At the very least, congratulations on your other achievements.”
“Thank you, Gabrielle.”
O’Shea did not hang up the phone. He ripped it right out of the wall and smashed it to the ground. He sank to the floor and cradled his head in his hands, sobbing.
When you see someone strong and powerful shatter, it’s haunting; you see the ghost of a man with his dream dying. You want him to get up, to put disaster behind him, but he’s crumbling right before your eyes. A deep sadness slowed down my heart. I found myself wanting to say something. But what words would be appropriate? It’s like when you hear somebody has died and all you can come up with is “My thoughts and prayers are with you” or some other contrived shit like that. It’s not that you don’t care; you just don’t know what to say. Most of the brigade rubbed their eyes with disbelief . . . or looked down at their clogs.
Eric and Alex exchanged a glance, and then nodded. Alex walked up to O’Shea. “Chef,” he said. “We’re a team here.” He paused, wiping the sweat off his brow. “And I’ve been wondering if everyone here has been playing on it.”
“What are you talking about, Alex?” asked O’Shea, his voice weak.
“I don’t have proof, but I think Sophie has had it out for you, for all of us. She’s got a chip on her shoulder.”
My jaw unhinged. My heart raced. My words came out as a barely audible wheeze. “He’s crazy, Chef. I don’t have it out for anybody—”
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” said Eric. “I think she spices her dishes after I taste, adding in additional ingredients. Last week a guest, one of our regulars, requested to see me and told me they loved how much cinnamon was added into the potimarron velouté.” He paused. “And we—Alex and me—believe it’s happened more than once. It would explain the inconsistency.”
“Eric, you told me to spice,” I said, every muscle in my body tense. It took great effort to raise my hand to point a shaky finger with accusation. “You—”
“She’s always talking about her grand-mère Odette’s soups, how much better they are than yours. Bland. That’s what she said. Your recipes are bland,” said Eric, and then the skinny bastard shrugged. His twisted grin, the one he was trying to hold back, gave him away. His betrayal hit me. He’d set me up. My legs were about to go from under me.
“Chef,” I said, bracing myself. “Please, give me a chance to explain. Eric—”
O’Shea smashed his fist on the prep table and I nearly jumped out of my skin. “—would never stoop so low. He didn’t have people pulling strings for him after he graduated from a fancy cooking school. He knows what hard work is because he didn’t pay to play,” said O’Shea. He shook his head as if to clear it and then, with his face turning bright red, he barreled over to my stove. He picked up a spoon, tasted the base for the soup, and spit it out onto the floor. “The proof is right here. Your station. Your velouté. Not my recipe. You think you’re better than me?”
What O’Shea said didn’t make any sense. Eric was always holding the fact that he’d convinced Chef to hire me over my head. There were no strings. “But—” I began.
“Don’t say another damn word.”
I took in a sharp breath, feeling as if razors lacerated my throat.
O’Shea picked up the pot and threw it into the sink. Orange potimarron dripped off the walls and onto the floor, splattering everywhere. I was rendered immobile, staring into the face of a man who looked like he wanted to skin me alive. O’Shea’s nostrils flared like a bull about to charge at a red flag. And I was the flag. For every step O’Shea took toward me, I took one back. And then he cornered me. O’Shea’s baseball-glove-sized hands were just about to wrap around my neck when two of our roustabouts pulled Chef away and dragged him to the back of the kitchen. O’Shea stood in the doorway, panting. “Get your sabotaging ass out of here before I hang you up by your ankles and gut you open like the dirty, disgusting, and disloyal pig you are.” He turned around on one heel and entered his office, his last words: “Your career in the culinary world is dead. I’ll make sure of it.”