Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux

 Food. France. Chateau. Yes please. You know I love my foodie novels, and practically every page of this novel screams food. The kind of novel I absolutely love, and race through as quickly as possible. It wasn't hard to do just that with Samantha Verant's delicious novel. I feel very lucky to have hit two novels in a row that I couldn't put down--this one and my previous read, The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline. Two completely different novels, but loved them both. 

Sophie Valroux is a rising chef in New York City. She's working for a restaurant that has two Michelin stars and they are eagerly awaiting the announcement that they have been awarded a third star. It's her dream to be part of the team at such a prestigious restaurant. She's worked hard to get where she's at; in a field dominated by men, she's put up with a lot to stay and fight for her place. Her ex-lover Eric is a total asshat, and working together is rough. He is going to open his own restaurant and wants Sophie to work for him. She isn't interested, so Eric conspires with another coworker to sabotage Sophie's career so she'll have no choice but to accept a job at his restaurant. Her dreams come crashing down; she's a disgrace in the New York food world, and her name is trash. 

After wallowing in depression for some time, wondering if she's lost her cooking mojo, Sophie decides to reach out to her Grandmere, who lives in France. Sophie used to visit her Grandmere every summer and learned to cook from her-also an amazing chef. But Sophie's mother kept them apart, and it's been years since Sophie has visited her Grandmere. 

Grandmere's health is precarious, and Sophie flies to France to visit her Grandmere and try to make amends. What she finds is shocking: not only has her Grandmere created an outstanding business at the family chateau, but her Grandmere is a top French chef with a sterling reputation. Sophie, still reeling from her character assassination in New York City, is afraid she'll never be able to cook again. Her Grandmere, however, knows better and gets Sophie cooking and planning menus for the chateau's restaurant. The descriptions of the food are so delicious I was licking my lips. Verant does an amazing job of building a picture of the chateau, the grounds, the food--so much so that it's easy to imagine yourself there, ready to enjoy a meal. Sophie's childhood friend Remi is still here-handsome as all get out, and hostile to Sophie. There are other characters that surround Sophie, and you get to know them and their quirks along with Sophie. 

The big question is: will Sophie remain at the family chateau, or will she return to New York City to redeem her reputation? Will she keep pursuing her dream of Michelin stars, or realize family, home, and the opportunities at the chateau are the key to happiness? 

There is a lot of back story involving Sophie's mother, who died by suicide when Sophie was eighteen. The relationship between Sophie and her grandmother suffered because of her mother, and a lot of work goes into repairing that relationship before it's too late. There's a lot of emphasis on family recipes, handing down traditions, honoring the past, and seeing community as family that requires nurturing and care. Looking at dreams and examining if they are still what you want, or is it time to create a new dream?

Loved this book. Sometimes I wanted to shake Sophie out of her doldrums, and her relationship with Remi is a slow burner. But otherwise, I so enjoyed this foodie novel. I haven't read one in awhile, and whenever I do return to this genre, I realize how much of an armchair chef I am and I don't mind a bit. There are discussion questions and recipes in the back of the book, if you're brave enough to try out some of Sophie's delicious recipes. 

Rating: 4/6 for a novel that truly took me away to France. The food, the setting, the characters are all charming and definitely made this one I had trouble putting down. Pour a glass of wine, make up a bread and cheese plate, and let it take you away, too. 

Available in paperback, audio and ebook. 

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