The Food of Love

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.


-Jane Granville

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16 Responses to “The Food of Love”

  1. Kim T. says:

    I had this same kind of reaction reading Sherry Thomas’s Delicious. The heroine’s food and others reactions to it play a significant role in the story and I thought it really worked!

  2. AAR Sandy says:

    Can’t take credit for “food porn” though I would surely like to. The first person I heard using it is the great Anthony Bourdain, the subject of many of my midnight food porn fantasies. Great blog, Jane!

  3. Leigh says:

    I also love stories about chef, and cooks and bakers. However, I do not like to get hungry while reading, so I suspect that I skim alot of the food porn.

    So, it not so much the food that I enjoy, but how these people nuture other people and take care of them.

  4. Ingrid says:

    You didn’t mention Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Have you read it? It seems to me it gives a good idea of what it’s like to be a baker, including the getting up at an ungodly hour every day.
    I remember the heroine felt driven to feed people. Does anyone know that feeling? I’m quite happy to cook for people if they’re in my house, but I’ve never felt the urge to feed the world. By which I don’t mean that I don’t care if people starve, just that I do not particularly want to make things to eat for everyone I know.

  5. LinnieGayl says:

    I’m highly susceptible to mentions of food in books. I’ve had all kinds of food cravings set off by reading about them in books. One of my favorite, easy, light dinners now is cheese and an apple; I first read about it in a romance novel. Then there’s Nora Roberts’ mention of a heroine cooking pot roast; I spent months trying to master a successful pot roast. And any time a romance novel mentions a heroine sipping a glass of wine and reading a book, I suddenly feel as if I should be sipping wine while reading.

  6. Jane Granville says:

    Ingrid– You know, Lynn recommended that same book to me when she received this entry! I’ll definitely have to pick it up. And I, in a way, do understand the need to feed people. I’d rather cook for my friends than for myself; I almost never do anything other than basics when I’m just cooking for one.

    I’m glad to see so many others like food in books too, and have the same reactions! :)

  7. RobinB says:

    I’d like to add two titles to the food discussion. The first is “Cooking Up a Storm” by Emma Holly. If you’re not familiar with this author, her books are definitely NOT for those who have delicate sensibilities, and “Cooking” is no exception–sex scenes practically nonstop, but there are some cooking descriptions too! The second is another Susan Wiggs title: “Summer by the Sea”. The heroine is chef/owner of a continental-style restaurant, and throughout the book, there are some recipes for some yummy-sounding dishes! And now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to have a snack!!

  8. You love food porn but your haven’t read Sherry Thomas’s DELICIOUS?

    I am shocked. Shocked. :-)

    P.S. Thanks Kim.

  9. Katie Mack says:

    I’m a sucker for chef/restaurant/bakery romances too. One contemporary I love is Guilty Pleasures by Cathy Yardley. Both the hero and heroine are chefs.

  10. Debbie says:

    Oh, Jane, you should read La Nora’s Summer Desserts and Lessons Learned. The heroine of the first is a pastry chef, and the hero of the second is an Italian chef. The are old (like 80s old) Silhouettes, but I’m positive that they were re-issued together.

  11. xina says:

    Two “food romance authors” I love…Lily Prior wrote La Cucina. To quote Amazon…”chock full of sex, recipes and murder”. Not a romance novel, but a romance with the h/h both chefs in Siciily…around 1950. Made me hungry when I read it. All that Italian cooking..complete with recipes.

    Also..Shirley Jump has written some wonderful contemporary romance with chefs (and recipes)…the Devile Served Tortellini, The Bachelor Preferred Pastry, The Angel Craved Lobster. (recipes included…a few I have tried.)

  12. Jane Granville says:

    Thanks for all the recommendations, everyone! I’ll have to find these books.

  13. Rebecca says:

    I think of Nora Roberts when I think of books that have me craving food. Especially “Dancing on the Air” or “Angel Falls”, where both characters are chefs/cooks who move to a smaller town and find cooking on a smaller scale brings them joy, whilst healing emotionally. I get so hungry when I read “Dancing on the Air” with all her baked goods, it makes me want to drive to a cafe, get a brownie and cup of coffee, and commence with my reading.

    And I too am susceptible to the mention of reading and drinking a glass of wine in a book. I head right for a pinot grigio when I read about my heroine doing the same.

  14. LinnieGayl says:

    Oh good grief! How could I forget about Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me? I started listening to it in my car a few days ago, and was instantly reminded of the key role food (Chicken Marsala anyone) plays in Cal and Min’s romance. Off to search for Chicken Marsala recipes.

  15. Shameless self-promotion here. My first book NEVER RESIST TEMPTATION, available February 24, features a pastry cook heroine who starts out working for early 19th century super chef Antonin Carême at the Prince Regent’s palace. There’s lots of food and authentic recipes in the book.

  16. Emma says:

    Very nice post, I share the same position about this.