The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux
French-born American chef Sophie Valroux had one dream: to be part of the 1% of female chefs running a Michelin-starred restaurant. From spending summers with her grandmother, who taught her the power of cooking and food, to attending the Culinary Institute of America, Sophie finds herself on the cusp of getting everything she’s dreamed of.
Until her career goes up in flames.
Sabotaged by a fellow chef, Sophie is fired, leaving her reputation ruined and confidence shaken. To add fuel to the fire, Sophie learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke and takes the red-eye to France. There, Sophie discovers the simple home she remembers from her childhood is now a luxurious château, complete with two restaurants and a vineyard. As Sophie tries to reestablish herself in the kitchen, she comes to understand the lengths people will go to for success and love, and how dreams can change.
“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” —C.S. Lewis
Take a seat at the table, get comfortable, and let’s talk about the magic of food in fiction.
No matter how our memories come to us—whether an involuntary sensorial moment (explained best in Marcel Proust’s famous tea-soaked madeleine episode from In Search of Lost Time), a voluntary search (social media), or a complete surprise that jolts us awake—food, an amazing meal that stays with you, like a good book, has the power to transport us.
Combine the two and you’re in for a magical treat.
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Food—family meals with friends, our tribes—link us all together, bringing on memories.
There is nothing like a memory of a meal and everything that follows it. We might be celebrating something or, perhaps, even grieving. One taste…and you’re reliving the past, experiencing all those emotions—some good, some bad.
When writing about food, authors hold the power to engage the senses—including smell, taste, and hearing. As the reader savors the pages in a book, they should hear the sizzle of oil as the garlic simmers in the pan, smell its earthy scent, and lick their lips as they think of dishes their mothers and grandmothers cooked. Meals bring on nostalgia, and cooking in books brings the reader closer to the characters, their dreams and goals, and possibly, even themselves.
But there’s even more magic.
Food in fiction allows one to discover other countries, other cultures, and other flavors. In one book, we can eat a hearty boeuf bourguignon with the scents of cognac and wine and herbs wafting up to our noses. In another, we may find ourselves eating oysters and suddenly imagining that time when we dove with reckless abandonment into the sea. We can taste and experience things we’ve never tried. We can pull up a stool on a sidewalk in Vietnam and savor the flavors of a traditional Pho, experience the colors and spices of India, or drool over a pasta dripping with plump tomatoes in Italy. We can thrive within exotic settings or simply sit back and get comfortable in a grandmother’s kitchen.
Food in fiction awakens us in more ways than one.
Food can reveal and explore human emotions—without telling, but showing. And it’s not just about the recipe, the meal, or the descriptions, but how a character reacts. Did they slam a knife into a potato because they’re angry? Or squeeze a tomato because they’re nervous or embarrassed? A lot of people cook with their emotions, namely love (unless it’s a murder/mystery), and the same goes for writing.
Cooking, like penning a novel, is all about creativity and it’s important for all of the ingredients to come together into a balanced dish. Depending on the story, food in fiction is about sharing the love of a certain place and inviting readers to your table for a feast of words— incorporating all of the senses, which gives the story added and relatable dimensions. With books, we can armchair travel anywhere we want to and taste everything life has to offer.
We need this escape now more than ever.
Featured Image: @ThroughJakesEye/Twenty20