I welcome to the site an associate of mine, Talya Andor, who is currently touring the virtual world in celebration of a new release, A Cut Above the Rest. Talya is the author of From the Inside Out, Signal to Noise, Fireborn and Courage Wolf Never Sings the Gorram Blue, all of which can be found at Less Than Three Press.
Talya lives in the Pacific Northwest with her girlfriend and their girl-kitty who they believe to be cutest cat in the world, and is constantly balancing a busy slate of boylove stories to write with her day job, hobbies to upkeep, and nail polishes to collect. She has been writing fiction since elementary school and progressed to guy on guy erotica during college, honing her chops on fan fiction until original fiction lured her with its siren call. She loves writing and reading, routinely geeks out over gaming and movies, and watches far too many cooking shows.
Follow the guest blog through to the end to find out about a chance to win!
Rock stars of the Cooking World ~ Tayla Andor
The “Tour de Foodie” continues to welcome the release for A Cut Above the Rest, first volume of the Appetite series. Many thanks to A.F. Henley for hosting me today! So far I’ve focused on different aspects of food and cooking, and today I’m turning a spotlight on the chef.
I’ll say it simply: today’s chef is a rock star.
There’s a certain mystique to the chef, that romantic figure in the white double-breasted jacket, passionate yet mysterious, putting themselves out there on each plate but remaining withdrawn in the kitchen. Many young chefs, especially, have a great deal in common with musicians—loud, brash, daring in all that they do, tattooed, and packed with ranks of up and comers who have a lot of hard work to put in before they can make their mark. The parallels are such that many young chefs bear the “rock star” tattoo in various places, from neck to forearm, wearing it as a visible emblem to declare themselves.
Face it, chefs are badass. They work with fire and knives. They get to use blowtorches and liquid nitrogen. They do it to make food. There’s something sexy about chefs with their sleeves rolled up and that squint of concentration between their brows, and it’s not only the fact that they work with ingredients known for certain aphrodisiacal effects.
Our current culture has endowed chefs with celebrity status, and the trend begun with shows like Hell’s Kitchen and America’s Iron Chef continues with Top Chef, Chopped, Masterchef US, and The Taste. The prize is money, yes, but also fame: the siren song of the rock star.
It’s not only the title of chef that some people seek—it’s the notoriety of top names in the field like Rocco Dispirito, Curtis Stone, Jamie Oliver, or even celebrated culinary heavyweights like Gordon Ramsay, Emeril Lagasse, and Wolfgang Puck.
I still vividly recall the first time I was out having dinner with my parents at a restaurant, and the chef visited us tableside. My father chatted casually with the chef about the menu, the kind of food that he cooks, upcoming specials, and I sat there gazing at the chef in awe. It was extraordinary to me that the young handsome man in his immaculate hip apron was in charge of the entire bustling restaurant. He seemed so young, but was very self-possessed, projecting an aura of competence.
There was another moment in Portland, having afternoon aperitifs with my parents outside the Heathman, when I met Anthony Bourdain—before I knew who Anthony Bourdain was! I found a copy of Kitchen Confidential in my parents’ rental car and I leafed through that during the weekend, but I barely made the connection between that raw, vivid memoir and the man whose hand I shook outside the hotel that sunny afternoon.
Chefs are intense and focused. They’re masters of their craft, and that’s something amazing and worthy of respect in and of itself. When you meet them, what comes across is that intensity, a kind of charisma, whether it’s amiable or more reserved. In that way, the rock star parallel comes across once more—there’s personality, the impression of being larger than life, and the single-mindedness of purpose.
In writing Appetite, my goal was to bring in all of the elements that make chefs synonymous with rock stars, layering the passion and the talent, the drive to make it to the top, with a dedication to the craft that focused on the food rather than the celebrity glamor that has taken the forefront of attention in the past decade or so. More than anything else, my chefs want to cook.
Chef Alex has every intention of surging to the top of his field. He’s the kind of person who is focused in the moment, so he’s less goal-oriented for long-term considerations like owning his own restaurant. He does show up to work with the intention of being recognized, though. When our story begins, Chef Alex has some things to prove, to himself as well as others.
It’s that need to prove himself that has Alex taking bumbling mis-steps as he overreaches himself, both in the kitchen and with his former classmate turned co-worker, Chef Nik. The problem with Nik is threefold: with him, Alex doesn’t know exactly where he stands, Nik is exactly his type but frustratingly elusive, and Nik’s skill in the kitchen has kept Alex at a distance since the day they met.
They bring the heat to their conflict in the kitchen and out of it, but will their rock star personalities clash and keep them apart, or have them making harmony as beautiful as the food they turn out? Pick up A Cut Above the Rest and discover where it takes them.
The door creaked open and shut further up the alley. Alex turned, expecting to see Florian joining him for a smoke. Nik stepped out into the alleyway, unfastening his chef’s jacket all down the front, baring a red t-shirt with a scrawl of words over the upper chest. He peeled up the bottom of his red shirt, fanning it out to circulate cool air through the front.
Alex lifted a hand, but found his voice was stoppered in his throat. He reached for his cigarette instead, turning to one side to ogle Nik less obviously, unable to resist the slender nape revealed by the dark hair pulled into its severe tail, the skinny chest spanned into a stretch as Nik lifted both of his strong, slender wrists into the air, pushing them as far as they would go. His face went soft-focused, his defenses dropping in that moment while he shifted positions, extending his arms in front of him and lacing his fingers, stretching those as well. Nik bounced on his tiptoes, making soft grunts of exertion that Alex could hear even from the back of the alley.
Stretching one arm over the other, Nik swung in Alex’s direction. His eyes widened to such an extent that Alex could see white even from his distance. “What are you doing?” he exclaimed.
Alex performed a quarter turn, glancing to one side of him, then the other as though expecting to find any others that Nik might be addressing. He waved his cigarette laden hand through the alley air. “Taking that break you told me to?”
Nik stormed up the alley, aiming a finger at Alex like a cocked gun. “You’re smoking!” he uttered in tones of mingled anger and betrayal. “I can’t believe you’re smoking … it ruins your palate, and it cheapens our restaurant.” He didn’t stop walking until he was toe to toe with Alex.
Alex flicked his cigarette ashes to one side and kept the butt gripped low. That was all he needed, to burn his chef with stray ashes during an argument over the fact that he was smoking. “Yah, I know you Americans think it’s a filthy habit, but I am on my break, okay?”
Nik came right into Alex’s personal space to aim that finger near his nose, his face shuttered down in cold, hard lines once more. “Don’t ‘you Americans’ me, Alex, I have dual citizenship and I can speak German almost as well as you,” he exclaimed. “I’m surprised at you; what do you expect to accomplish, killing your taste buds like this?”
The unexpected attack on his break, Alex’s one moment outside of the kitchen that had been consuming his life, threw Alex into quiet confusion for a moment. “You can’t tell me not to smoke.” Alex kept his cigarette off to the side, but its smoke continued to waft up between them. Fuck it. He wasn’t going to try and hide something for fear of Nik’s displeasure. Alex brought his cigarette and set it between his lips.
Nik’s nostrils flared. “I can tell you not to smoke on our property,” he retorted, reaching up to snatch the cigarette from between Alex’s lips, leaving them tingling. “You’re a chef, Alex, and if you want to be a great one, you ought to think about what this does to your palate. Your sense of taste, your sense of smell.” He held the cigarette pinched by the very end, smoke curling in the air between their faces.
Alex inhaled, on the verge of saying something a man should never say to his ranking chef, on the line or off it.
“Besides,” Nik continued, bringing the cigarette to his lips and taking a thick drag, his plush mouth closing on the filter where Alex’s lips had been clamped only seconds before. He inhaled, taking the smoke directly into his lungs before leaning forward until there was only radiant heat between them. “Would you want to kiss this?”
Before Alex could move or formulate a response, Nik exhaled a stream of smoke directly into his open mouth.
It set Alex to coughing. His eyes watered and he balled his fists up as Nik pitched his cigarette to the ground, grinding it out with the ball of his non-slip shoes, eyeing Alex from across the smoldering distance between them before turning about face. Nik stalked back up the alley without another word.
Alex struggled to formulate thought in a haze of smoke and liquefied brain matter. A part of his primitive brain was still tracking the sway of Nik’s hips even as Alex grappled with the upsurge of emotion that he had to label as rage. He was trying to set Nik’s well-tended hair on fire with the power of his mind. He couldn’t even muster a ‘how dare you’ for Nik’s presumption.
He definitely couldn’t let himself think he more than wanted to kiss that mouth, ashtray taste or no. He wanted to ravish it with his own until there was more than just a kiss between them.
You can purchase A Cut Above the Rest at Less Than Three Press.
My thanks to Talya for the visit, not to mention my most sincerest congratulations and best wishes for the new novel.
AF Henley ❤