Chef Evan Stanford has climbed the New York City culinary ladder one proper rung at a time, earning himself the Rising Star James Beard award and an executive chef position at one of New York City’s favored restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen. But in his quest to build his reputation, he’s forgotten what got him there; the lessons on food—and life—from a loving neighbor back home in Illinois.
Patrick Sullivan lives a contented life in Brooklyn cooking at Johnny’s diner, keeping the memory of his grandmother and her Irish cooking alive even in the foods she never taught him to prepare. When Chef Stanford comes into his diner requesting and enjoying one of his grandmother’s specialties, he’s swept up by Evan’s drive, his passion, forcing himself to reconsider if a contented life is a fulfilled one.
With much in common, the two men—and Evan’s particularly spoiled pug Dini—begin a journey through their culinary histories falling into an easy friendship. Even with the joys of their newfound love, and the guidance and support of friends old and new, can they tap into that secret recipe of great love, great food and transcendent joy?
An excerpt from Chef’s Table
Without waiting another moment, Evan took the first bite and moaned as the cake melted into his mouth, the tart cherries dancing simultaneously with the sweet and sour of the cream cheese and the bittersweet chocolate. The rum hit last, and it was all Evan could do not to humiliate himself with his noises of pleasure.
An interview with Lynn Charles
How long have you been writing romance, and what inspired you to get into this genre?
I wrote my first romantic story about twelve years ago after finding and enjoying fanfic. It was sort of that “anyone can cook” moment. There were fantastic stories out there written by Joe and Jane Average. Even when stumbling upon the not-so-good work, the work that challenged the “anyone can cook” idea, it still inspired me to give it a shot.
What gave you the idea for your latest book?
I have been a fan cooking shows all of my life. And then, Anthony Bourdain showed up with his show The Cook’s Tour on The Food Network and I got a glimpse into the back-of-the-house scene that intrigued me even more. Mostly, I love his respect for all kinds of food experiences, from fine dining, to greasy diners, to basic food carts, to the backwoods of a native people, to your grandmother’s kitchen—and how they’re all important to our culinary experience. So, with my own love of cooking and the interest in the professional restaurant world, I considered the idea of planting a well-trained chef in a greasy spoon and see if not only romantic sparks could fly (because of course they could) but also if they could learn some things from each other.
Who are some of your favorite romance writers or other literary inspirations?
Jennifer Crusie is my absolute favorite romance author. Her writing is smart and witty, and her characters are multi-dimensional. She also used to place most of her stories in Ohio, which as an Ohioan, I loved. I enjoy Lani Diane Rich (now writing under Lucy March), Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series for a quick, zippy read as well. I love David Levithan’s work, Nick Hornby, and the little bit of John Green I’ve read. My to-read pile is monstrous and many of his works are in there.
Describe your typical writing routine. Where do you usually write? How many words/pages per day? Do you keep set hours? What does your workspace look like?
I typically write in what we call our guest room. I have my desktop set up there facing a very colorful and active bulletin board with pictures of my protagonists of the moments, inspiring quotes and art work people have made for me. My work schedule is a bit wonky, so I do not have a words/pages per day quota because every day settles a little differently. I feel good when I can get about 1,000 words a day out, but it varies far and wide from that.
Do you have any favorite foods or beverages that help keep your creativity flowing?
Now that it’s cold, I like to start with a good spiced hot tea. Quality dark chocolate is always in my drawer as well as Trader Joe’s peanuts stored in a Planters peanut jar. Yes, specifically Trader Joe’s. Planters knows packaging, Joe’s knows peanuts. I don’t know if they help my creativity, but they certainly are delicious.
Do you have any writing superstitions or rituals when starting (or ending) a new book?
I typically crank out my first scene pretty quickly, but I’m proving with my second book that I started a few months back, that sometimes I start the story in the wrong spot or with the wrong focus. Still, the scenery, scents, sounds, mood of that first scene are the most vivid to me, so even if I have no idea where the story is going from there, I like to get that out and go back to fine tune it as the rest of the book unfolds. But without that first scene planted, I find it difficult to move forward.
What do you think makes for a good romantic story?
Always start with good characters. Then have a good story. For me, I like a warm, snuggle into a thick blanket and lose yourself feeling for romance novels, but I don’t believe either can happen without good characters and a solid story that grabs my interest.
What’s your favorite euphemism for genitalia?
Ha! You know, for writing, I’m pretty direct. I use “cock,” “dick,” and “balls.” Now when I’m just being an idiot, nothing gets me giggling like a 9 year old quite like, “pork sword.”
What else have you written, and where can people learn more about you and your work?
This is my debut novel. I’ve written fan fiction off and on for over twelve years. Much of my earlier stuff is offline now, or buried in some archival website. But, you can follow me at lynncharles.net for more information on this book and my second novel, currently under construction.
About the Author
Lynn Charles’ love of writing dates back to her childhood, but took shape as an adult, when she found herself expressing her grief in a years’ worth of journaled letters to a lifelong friend who passed unexpectedly. She has been writing works of fiction in the online fan community since 2002, where thousands of readers have enjoyed her stories.
She lives in central Ohio with her husband, two adult children and a small menagerie of animals. When she’s not writing, she can be found working at her county library, riding bikes with her husband and strolling local farmer’s markets in search of ingredients for new recipes.
Chef’s Table is her debut novel.
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