Elliot, Amanda. Sadie on a Plate. Berkley, 2022. ISBN 978-0593335710 352 pp. $15.99
A romance set during a cooking show competition!? And the protagonist is Jewish??? Shut up and take my money.
Sadie is still recovering from her simultaneous job loss and breakup with her chef boss/boyfriend when she gets a screening call for the televised cooking competition Chef Supreme. Even if she doesn’t take first place, the coverage and exposure to potential investors could set her up for her own contemporary, Jewish-themed restaurant. She says sure, and her awkward, angsty self makes the final cut and she gets flown, business-class, to NYC, and connects with her cute seatmate, whose hands reveal him to be a chef as well.
Luke and Sadie hit it off through the flight and beyond, and before she needs to check into her housing and give up her wallet and phone, Luke takes her on a date to an underground Korean restaurant. They share a sweet kiss, and she explains as she dashes away she might be tied up for the next six weeks or so but will be in a touch… and is stunned to learn the hottie chef she snogged is going to be a stand-in judge for a regular on the series who suffered a medical emergency.
The stress of competing, alongside the secret that she was intimate (just a kiss, but you know, soul bearing) with a judge propel the drama, which is neatly plotted along a season of episodes featuring a dozen contestants. Having a unique and strong culinary point of view, and the ability to showcase your culture, heritage, cooking and personality by “putting yourself on a plate” with each dish comes easily to Sadie most of the time … and she encourages it in her fellow contestants, and especially in Luke, who owns a high end, 3-star restaurant, but is cooking to please his celebrity chef father and their empire, instead of cooking from his heart and soul.
There is SO much to love about this novel. The food descriptions are amazing. Seriously, inventive and amazing: babka beignets? a potato chip knish? And the color commentaries are wholly believable – sometimes pretentious, sometimes amusing, wonderfully critical, and always with the “What I have made for you today…” Coupled with the behind the scenes waiting, hold your breath moments of who will win, and the “no really, you have the whole day to plan and prep, we’re stopping the cameras” gives a fun behind the scenes tone to the novel.
Amanda Elliot writes as if SHE was a contender on one of these shows (or just watches WAY too much Food Network). Her caricatures of the frenemy playing the game, the smug misogynist, the calculating nerd whose brain is a volume of information on the past seasons of the show and the statistics to help her win, but whose cooking is a little soul-less…somehow they are all also real people. The inclusion of a non-binary character is real and contemporary. The over-the-top smarmy host and cool and collected judge paired with Luke are priceless. There is a ton of humor, such as four of the participants named Joe getting nicknames to tell them apart.
The subplot of why Sadie’s last relationship fell apart adds to the drama, and is wonderfully and satisfyingly resolved.
Highly recommended for foodies, fans of Top Chef, Christina Lauren fans, and romance readers who like the journey more than the destination (the kisses are few but steamy; sex is implied, but left off the page–the seduction and gory details are all in the food, and that’s just fine).
I received a free advance reader’s review copy for #SadieOnAPlate review from #NetGalley