I have a confession to make; until about three years ago, I knew next to nothing about food. I had worked in restaurants before as a waitress or hostess or taking reservations, but it wasn’t until I began working for Melbourne chef Andrew McConnell (Cutler & Co.) that I truly began to understand what good food was all about. Now I feel positively spoilt!
Fortunately for me, chef McConnell is nothing like the egomaniac chef Damien Malone from Yes, Chef! My boss always says thank you and treats me as part of his team not his lackey. It got me thinking; what if he wasn’t this way? What if I had this interesting and varied job but had to do it for someone who thought he was a demi-god just because he had his own cooking show? The type of exploding-pressure-cooker chef we’ve all heard stories about. And so my main antagonist was born.
My heroine, Becca Stone, was inspired by how I felt during a time in my life when I had a particularly thankless job. She also stemmed from conversations I'd had with friends about the struggle to discover their passion. These days we’re all told we should follow our bliss and pursue our dream. But what if you don’t know what your dream is? I wanted to write my account of ‘new millennium angst’ through the eyes of a group of women all of a similar age and struggling with the meaning of it all but without sentimentality. I wanted the reader to make up their own mind about Becca and her friends (a group of smart, sassy women who tell it like it is) as they go on their own journeys to becoming more positive, happy and compassionate people.
Most of all I knew I wanted to write about food; the sensual pleasure that food can bring when done well. As I said, this appreciation for fine food is a relatively new thing for me. My fiancé is an incredible cook and I’ve leant as much from him as I have from typing up my boss’s recipes and watching our chefs cook. It wasn’t until I experienced truly great food that I realised what I’d been missing! I used to be a skinny milk, no cheese and low fat yoghurt kind of gal. Now it’s full fat all the way (combined with a few more visits to the gym!). I have a lot of respect for the chefs I work with. Their hours are long, they’re on their feet the whole time, they manage to organise their team so that your table gets its meals all at the same time and they do this all with a passion for great, seasonal produce and creativity. But their world is an insular one. In Yes, Chef! there's a funny anecdote where Becca is trying to read a recipe but doesn’t understand half of it because it’s written in ‘chef speak.’ This really happens. Chefs spend so much of their time together and so little of it in the company of non-chefs that they have been known to create their own language. It makes for a lot of confusion and ultimately a lot of laughs if you’re an outsider.
Another great inspiration for me is travel. I’m a big fan of food-tourist TV shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and I wanted to portray this love of food discovery in the scenes set in Italy and Istanbul. One of the best ways to experience a new culture is through their food and I always do my research now before travelling so I don’t get caught out in the tourist traps. I especially love Italian food and culture and I think this comes across in the scenes set in Florence. Italy has a certain romance for me and has done so since my very first visit over a decade ago. I’m very keen to continue my exploration of Italian culture, especially its food, in my next romantic-adventure novel and I've recently spent three weeks there immersing myself in the scenery and way of life. But more about that next time.
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