This book mixes up a lot of things I love: (Renaissance) history, cooking, and suspense, all wrapped up in a fantastic cover.
The story is The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King, a Historical Fiction out today.
A captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.
When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.
As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.
With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion.
Chatting with the Author
Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast, and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.
A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow.
Hy Crystal, and thank you for being here!
Can you tell us how did you do research for your book?
I spend a lot of time reading different books of historical importance to the subject matter that I’m exploring. I usually spend a few months just reading about the time frame, the people, the customs of the era, and the food, so I can wrap my head around the characters and the story. I also do research the entire time that I’m writing. There’s often a need for me to look up little details.
Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?
I think in The Chef’s Secret I might have had more trouble with some of the antagonists because they’re entirely fictional and I had to devise the manner in which these individuals might have wanted something from my protagonists, Giovanni or from Bartolomeo Scappi. In the case of Domenico Romoli, he was a real person who lived in Florence as a steward to the Medici. Nothing in the book that I described is anything like his real life, so I had an interesting time trying to figure out how would I use what I know of Domenico to make him a believable antagonist. The easiest character to write was probably Bartolomeo because I loved him from the very beginning that I first read about him. I have read his cookbook so many times and feel like I know a little bit about his character and what was important to him in a way that I don’t for any of the other characters.
In your book you make a reference to a comet how did you come up with this idea?
In 1577 a great comet appeared in the sky. Stars are also a personal symbol for me, so I was delighted to discover that this happened at the same time that my book took place. Over many months the comet appeared very faintly in the sky, before becoming bright enough to see during the day all over Europe. I thought this was a perfect frame for my story–the comet appeared right after Bartolomeo died, and it ended as the events in my book wrapped up. I play a little with the time frame but only by a couple of months.
Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
For most of my ideas, I run across little bits of information about someone that is interesting and when I discover that there isn’t much known about that person other than a couple key things, it’s like a puzzle I get to figure out. I think of it as connecting the dots between different points in history.
Do you ever cook any of the recipes described in your book?
Yes! That’s one of the most exciting things to me about exploring the lives of Italian culinary heroes. I think to really know my characters I have to cook the foods that they would have cooked or at least make a grand attempt to. The recipes aren’t always easy to decipher, and many of the ingredients are not as familiar today to a modern palate. Or they are things we just don’t eat any more. For example, peacock, crane, calves eyeballs, hedgehog, or porcupine. But there are many things.There are many things in the 1570 cookbook that Bartolomeo Scappi wrote that we would find delicious, including apple crostata, braised beef, mushroom soup, fritters, and so much more. I include many of these recipes in The Chef’s Secret Companion cookbook, which can be found here. And if you are interested in ancient Roman food, check out my page all about the cuisine of that time, and you can also download the Feast of Sorrow companion cookbook too.
Connect with the author:
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Giveawayopen to USA and Canada
- Win a grand prize package of 2 paperback books by Crystal King (Feast of Sorrow and The Chef’s Secret)
- $25 Amazon GC (1 winner) or you could win a paperback copy of The Chef’s Secret (5 winners)