I love food. I always have. Though my friends expect me to be more exacting in my tastes, I’m not exactly a food snob; I’ll gladly eat both store-brand macaroni and cheese, and seared tuna atop an eggplant tapenade (though maybe not at the same time). I love to cook for my friends, experiment with recipes, and create pretty desserts. And along with all of that, I love when food is incorporated into romance novels.
Just having a hero or heroine who is a chef or baker will pretty much guarantee that I’ll read it; when perusing the books to review, I almost always pick the books that involve characters who cook. I especially love it when the heroine is a baker, as it’s always been my secret dream to quit school and run away to open my own bakery (seriously; I pretty much have my business plan ready). I live vicariously through heroines like Laura Lee Guhrke’s Maria from Secret Desires of a Gentleman, Hayley from Barbra Bretton’s Just Desserts, Jenny from Susan Wiggs’ The Winter Lodge, or Nicole from Sweet Spot by Susan Mallery—bakery owners, all. Some of my favorite parts of these books come from the details surrounding life in a bakery, the creation of confections, the science of making the perfect cake. I just eat it all up—if you excuse the pun.
Chef heroes are also quite magnificent. There’s something very attractive about men who know their way around the kitchen, as Sandy expressed so well in an ATBF column. Not to mention what she refers to as “food porn,” which is almost always wonderful. I particularly enjoyed scenes in Amy Garvey’s Room Service and Susan Johnson’s Wine, Tarts, and Sex (though things in this book are definitely more ‘sex’ than ‘wine and tarts’). I think the ultimate in this, though, would be Anthony Capella’s The Wedding Officer. Though the chef in this book is a woman, hot damn, does she make food sexy!
However, food in books also causes another reaction in me: hunger. Some authors have a gift, a skill in describing food that can hit my gut as if they had set down a full plate in front of me. The other day I was reading a book and the author mentioned spaghetti and meatballs. That night, I made my friend go with me to an Italian restaurant so I could have my spaghetti and meatballs, the craving that came from that brief passage was so great. Lisa Kleypas is especially skilled at this. For some reason, whenever she mentions food in her books, even in passing, it just makes me hungry. I was re-reading Seduce Me at Sunrise the other day, and she just had one line that referred to toast with melted cheese on it. I immediately had images of warm, toasted bread with soft, melted baked brie spread across it, dripping off the sides, in my head. My reaction was visceral.
I think the reason Lisa Kleypas is so good at this is that she includes menus in her stories. She won’t just talk about a “sumptuous dinner”; she’ll talk about the roasted quail with figs, the baked fish in cream sauce, the herb-crusted chicken, the poached pears in wine sauce (or, as seen in It Happened One Autumn, roasted calf head, tongue and eyeballs included). I don’t know if she’s a cook herself, or just really likes reading cookbooks, but she never fails to make my mouth water, just by listing the food her characters are eating.
Details in stories are always great. I’d rather have too much imagery than not enough, especially when it comes to food. Eating is such an elemental part of life, one that can be for the sole purpose of surviving, or it can be an incredibly pleasure-based experience. And I think all romance readers enjoy reading about the pleasures of life.