Tag Archives: Amanda Elliot

Best Served Hot by Amanda Elliot

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Best Served Hot by Amanda Elliot

Elliot, Amanda. Best Served Hot. Berkley, 2022. 386 pp. ISBN 978-0593335734 $17.00

****

Two restaurant critics go about their reviews in very different ways: Julie is a built from scratch go-getter with 50,000 followers on social media, pays for all her meals, and takes a photo of everything she eats, favoring ethnic food and hole in the wall spots. Bennett is an ivy-leaguer fan of fine dining who takes longhand notes at his expensed meals–and he’s just landed a coveted column at the New York Scroll that Julie applied for and didn’t get. When their competitive natures collide at a food festival and their argument goes viral, the newspaper’s marketing team decides a little friendly competition is in order, and in hopes of boosting both their print subscribers and followers, offers to pair them together and send them to joint review a bunch of eateries. They agree, with reservations, and develop a grudging respect for one another as they break bread at a number of establishments. A particular fine and funny moment is when they challenge one another to a cook-off, decide to make burgers, and the comedy of errors ends at ShackBurgers.

Far from a superficial book about food, Best Served Hot explores themes of class, wealth and privilege, social media and image, job satisfaction. I also felt a little thrill when Bennett references Thomas Keller’s Per Se loss of a michelin star and review downgrade from 2 to 4 stars–and I knew when it occurred, and why; and I chuckled when I realized I had read Pete Well’s scathing takedown of Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar. There is an art to timely allusions that make the reader feel smart when they get them (as opposed to alienated or worse, stupid, when they don’t), and Elliot hits the right note.

As in Sadie on a Plate, the food is front and center, and it’s the lush descriptions of what they eat that will make your heart pound and elicit your envy, admiration, and longing: “The bread was earthy and chewy, crunchy on the bottom and meltingly soft on top, and rather than rubbing the bread with tomato as in a traditional pan con tomate (yes, I’d done my research), the raw tomato had been shredded and mashed and spread on top, a cool, sweet, tangy contrast to the bread. A hint of garlic spoke up in the back of my throat; anchovies whispered somewhere underneath, the salt and the brine making everything else taste sweeter.” If that isn’t a metaphor for the individual features of their complex relationship Julie and Bennett have that creates a perfect whole, I don’t know what is.

The sex was more descriptive that in Elliot’s previous book (the single flaw I found was Julie’s boasting about her anatomy’s allowing for the capability of multiple orgasms and Bennett not pursuing that particular challenge).

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #BestServedHot from #NetGalley.

Sadie on a Plate by Amanda Elliot

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Sadie on a Plate by Amanda Elliot

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