Into the Fire

I’ve spent the last several months working on promotion for my first novel, which debuted September 1st.  It is entitled Aftertaste:  A Novel in Five Courses. It has been an incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking time for me, a whirlwind, a dream come true.  Somebody pinch me.

The protagonist of Aftertaste is a high-powered and ambitious New York City chef. I had to do a fair amount of research to write about a professional chef and the world of high-end restaurants, but the food descriptions came easily to me.  I love to cook.  And eat.  In fact, I spend an obscene amount of time thinking about food.  If I told you exactly how much time, you’d be shocked.

A few weeks ago I got an email from the dining critic at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  She wanted to interview me about Aftertaste and my interest in food.  I’ve long been an admirer of hers, and in truth had often fantasized about having dinner with her, so of course, I jumped right on it.   Not to mention what wonderful publicity it would be!  “Absolutely, I’d love it,” I wrote back. She responded that she hoped I might be persuaded to invite her to dinner. Oh, and would I mind if she brought a photographer along to snap a few photos of me in my kitchen as I prepared the food?

Now, my unusually competent protagonist may be a professional chef, amazingly successful and lauded in food magazines from Gourmet to Bon Appetit, but the real-life me is just an incredibly enthusiastic eater and home cook

What had I done?  I’d just invited the notoriously tough dining critic into my home, and I’d agreed to cook her dinner?  What was I thinking?

I marshaled all the resources I had, armed myself with a stack of cookbooks, and made copious notes as I set out to construct the perfect meal.  It had to be five courses.  Why?  Because I’d just written a novel called Aftertaste:  A Novel in Five Courses.  How could I serve her anything less??  Why couldn’t I have written a novel entitled Aftertaste: Local Take-out Favorites?  Not to mention that at least a couple of the dishes had to be from the book. (I’d included one recipe from each course.) And I couldn’t even cheat and prepare everything in advance because she wanted to watch me do it, so I had the added pressure of needing to cook while being interviewed and photographed! Oy vey.

For the record.  I am not a multi-tasker.  In fact, I am a consummate uni-tasker.  Also, as a former Girl Scout, I believe in being prepared, so I made the entire menu the day before –the culinary equivalent of a dress rehearsal.  The day arrived.  All systems were go.  The table was set, the loaf of homemade bread cooling on the rack.

The critic arrived with the photographer.  I smiled and cooked and came up with what I hoped were reasonably coherent responses to her questions whilst managing not to overcook either the pasta or the swordfish.  I was in the home stretch.  Everything had gone perfectly and according to plan. The photographer had packed up her camera and we were sitting around my dining room table, enjoying the last of the desert (a warm polenta cake with homemade lemon mascarpone gelato and fresh blackberry sauce) and chatting about my journey as a writer and a cook while waiting for the espresso to brew.

Suddenly, right in the middle of my recounting what I hoped was an amusing anecdote about my foray into recipe testing for the book, I sensed that I’d lost their attention. I saw them exchange a stricken look. Was it something I said?  Confirmation that perhaps I really am as uninteresting as I suspect?

“Ah,” the critic said, gesturing behind me into the kitchen.  “Are those flames coming from the coffee pot?”

Yes, in fact they were. Flames shot up from the handle, blackening the hood.

We rushed in.  The kitchen quickly filled with smoke and the noxious fumes from the melting plastic of the handle.  I shut off the gas and was attempting to remove the still blazing pot when my husband doused the entire mess with the pot of pasta water I’d left cooling on the stove.

There was no espresso.  In fact, there will be no espresso in my house until I replace the coffeemaker AND have the stove repaired.

Both the critic and the photographer were extremely good-natured and charming about the whole mess.  Still, it didn’t keep me from several sleepless nights as I waited for the article to be published.   To my immense relief, the article omitted all mention of my espresso flambé. Now, no one need ever know.

Peach, pecorino and prosciutto