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Thursday, November 10, 2011

'The Secret Ingredient' by Dianne Blacklock

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Nourishment is nurture. That's what Andie learned from her grandmother and what she's always believed about cooking. But somehow, since marrying Ross, she's allowed her love of food to take a back seat and given up her dream of becoming a chef.

Lately she's been craving more. And when her marriage falls apart, she's determined to find herself again and take back control of her destiny.

The first step is taking a job in the kitchen of renowned chef Dominic Gerou. The brooding Englishman is more than Andie bargains for, but the new Andie is ready for anything, even a bad-tempered chef who makes it clear he won't tolerate mistakes.

Andie Corcoran sacrificed a lot for true love ten years ago. She crossed lines she never thought she’d cross when she met and fell in love with married man Ross Corcoran. At the time Andie was still reeling from the sudden deaths of her mother and brother, and Ross was her sanctuary from grief.

But in choosing Ross, Andie had to forgo a few of her aspirations. She had to give up her great dream to become a chef because of hectic hours that would keep her away from Ross. Instead, Andie was set up with her own gourmet deli to run. She had to accommodate to living in a trendy Sydney loft, and accept the fact that Ross’s children would never entirely warm to her as their ‘stepmother’. And she has to accept that while her biological clock ticks, Ross is settling into being a grandfather and does not want to be a father again. . .

But what never factored into Andie’s compromises was Ross’s infidelity. Even worse, that Ross would claim his infidelity was inevitable in light of Andie’s sudden baby demands that was never a part of their marriage contract.

So, while Ross tries to win her back with conciliation and negotiation, Andie intends to follow her shelved dreams. She is taking a job at the hot Sydney eatery, Viande, and working under English ex-pat stick-in-the-mud Dominic Gerou. And she doesn’t intend to compromise her life any more.

‘The Secret Ingredient’ is the new novel from Dianne Blacklock.

This was my first introduction to Blacklock’s highly popular Australian contemporary fiction, and I've got to say it was a highly enjoyable first foray.

The novel is about Andie Corcoran Lonegran, who needed to hit rock bottom in order pick herself up . . . that rock bottom is thanks to her husband, Ross, and his slippery conscience. And Andie’s fall from grace, readers discover, was more of a slippery slope than outright plummet – as we learn of the many ways she has been compromising her dreams, morals and personal happiness since falling in love with Ross.

Andie’s pick-me-up comes from re-realizing her dreams to become a chef. While Ross is busy grovelling without apologizing for his various mistakes, Andie is trying to move on with her life. She’s trying her hand at being single, and going back to the kitchens like she always planned to before marriage got in the way. But what catches Andie by surprise is her simmering romance with the head-chef at her new job, Dominic Gerou.

‘Well, Ms Lonegran, this isn’t the place to get over . . . whatever it is you’re getting over.’
‘Why not?’
‘Why not?’ she repeated. ‘It’s as good a place as any.’
He frowned. ‘What do you mean by that?’
‘You have to move on, whatever life dishes up. Seems to me you have a better chance of doing that if you’re busy and focused and passionate about something. You might as well pour all that emotional energy into something useful.’
‘I don’t need you crying over my stockpot.’
‘I’m not going to cry over your stockpot,’ she said plainly. ‘I’m not going to cry over anything, except maybe chopping onions, and I don’t think you can blame that on a broken heart.’

In the past few years, there has been a growing foodie trend in the Western world – thanks in large part to highly popular kitchen-centric reality TV shows and a growing Monsanto concern regarding fresh produce and genetically modified food. Women are particularly caught up in this recent food trend, and it’s certainly not because ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’. No, it’s thanks to hunky chefs like Jamie Oliver and Rocco Dispirito and their angrier counterpart Gordon Ramsay. Men (Ramsay aside) who are sweet and funny, and undoubtedly manly even with an apron strapped on. And Australian’s are definitely proud owners of the hunkiest male chefs like Curtis Stone, Hayden Quinn and Manu Fidel (French, but on an Aussie show . . . so he’s still ours!). Dianne Blacklock is tapping into this current obsession and tempting readers with the delicious love story of Andie and Dominic Gerou . . . who is as cranky as Ramsay, but with Jamie Oliver’s plum accent and Curtin Stone’s drool-worthy good looks.

A few of the characters grate in this book, purely for their fairly black and white portrayal. Ross remains a conceited midlife crisis who doesn’t learn a whole lot of anything throughout the book . . . and I would have liked him to be a bit more balanced with at least the chance for redemption. Likewise, Ross’s piece on the side is a young twenty-something called Tasha, who is a cringe-a-minute in all of her scenes. As a young twenty-something myself, it didn’t really sit well with me that Tasha was portrayed as such a vacuous gold-digger. I hope this isn’t how Blacklock views all us Gen-Y girls, because reading Tasha was like swallowing wasabi – it burnt the whole way down.

I also loved Blacklock’s portrayal of new family dynamics in the novel. Andie is on good terms with Ross’s first wife, Joanna, though it didn’t start out that way (what with Ross leaving her for Andie and all). Likewise, Andie has formed a solid relationship with at least two of Ross’s children . . . while being firmly cold-shouldered by his eldest daughter, Lauren. Andie has also built a wonderful extended family of friends, since losing her brother and mother at an early age. There’s Jess, her best friend from culinary school. And her brother’s childhood best friend, now her surrogate brother, Toby. I really loved reading about this unusual family dynamic which, though some connections are without blood ties, certainly does read like a tight-knit and loving family unit.

The novel also explores a subtle metaphor that is nicely glazed in the gentle ribbing of Australia’s current foodie obsession. Thanks to shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules, the average Joe now wants to make their own Hors d'oeuvre dishes and import the latest ingredient fad to impress their culinary-obsessed friends. There’s a sort of food-lover divide though, between those who like precision presentation of their exotic and expensive meal, and the people who appreciate a quality tried and true favourite without all the fuss. Blacklock translates this foodie trend to Andie’s life – she had the prettily presented marriage to Ross, complete with artfully placed garnish and perfect drizzling. . . but it left a bitter after-taste. By comparison, her tentative relationship with Dominic is complicated and messy – slopping off the plate and mired in excess dressings of ex-husband baggage, bad timing and the many complications of falling for the boss. But there’s something to be said for the perfect mix of ingredients and chemistry that shocks the tastebuds and leaves you craving more . . .


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