This review contains spoilers. These will be marked if you wish to avoid them.
You wouldn’t think that a book that has a woman who is leaving her lying, cheating, steeling asshole of a husband, a dead, womanizing ghost from the 80’s and the run down, abandon restaurant which belonged to said ghost, would make an interesting book, but it does.
“I’m not sure if there’s an exact meal I could pinpoint when I knew that Leith and I were done. Actually, yes I do, it was the roasted snapper stuffed with kaffir lime, ginger, and lemongrass I baked in foil when we were on holiday up at Seal Rocks … the one where we were meant to try to make up, to reconnect. He used a bone from the fish as a tooth pick. Leith pretty much use any device, accoutrement, item of clothing, menu, or other inanimate object as a toothpick … and as a result he has brilliantly healthy teeth. Was it the fish or was it the creeping realisation that everything about his eating annoyed me: the clicking of his jaw, the loud swallowing, the way he shovelled peas on his fork? It on that day I realised I was fantasising about raising the fork, dropping the peas over his head and slamming the prongs into the back of his hand. I knew this wasn’t yogic, wasn’t kind, wasn’t real, but the rush of it was what told me that there would be no reunion. That and the fact he had slept with three other women, two whom were our staff. Worse than any of theses crimes is the simple, truth that he doesn’t believe in meal sharing. How did I marry someone – a fellow chef, of all people – who refuses to share food? To Leith it is always the competition of who ordered the better meal, salad combination, or smoothie. With him, there is no harmony in a bowl of pasta, or anything else. I don’t want to take myself to the ‘what was I thinking?’ place – my best friend and my mother are filling that space already – because I did love him, and we were good together for a time. We created Circa together, a restaurant that has become the go-to destination for middle-aged yuppies in search of marital distraction via the bells and whistles of the expensively printed menus and pandering service. I wonder how many of the meals we served actually saved people’s lives with their sheer ability to distract – Stop looking at your heartbreak; the chicken is on fire on a tray, and it’s being carried to the table. A fair few, I expect. Circa has also become the place cashed-up international hipsters visit for a memorable proposal; ‘He proposed to her at Circa, Sydney’s celebrated three-hatted restaurant’ is a common sentence in the New York Times marriage announcements. I would say there’s a sweet irony in the number of hours I have spent over the past three years baking cakes, Soufflés, preparing soups and salads in which the engagement rings are elegantly and expertly concealed (no swallowers yet – the dish concealing the ring is rarely eaten, everybody is too busy photographing it) while my own marriage was terminally ill.”
The story is about Lucy Muir who is trying to put her life back together after leaving (what I would consider) the biggest asshole the ever lived. Not only does he repeatedly cheat on her with any attractive woman he comes across, he continually tries to destroy her attempts at opening a new restaurant, gets one of her good friends pregnant, and even had the nerve to try and destroy her online.
She comes across the abandon Fortune one of the hottest restaurant back in the 80’s. It’s when Lucy goes inside and finds a little red recipe book that belonged to the previous owner Frankie Summers, that her life starts to change for the better. Unknown to Lucy, Frankie Summers is still there cooking for all his customers from the past each living their own afterlife with their own regrets and woes.
(*this next part contains a spoiler, please feel free to skip this part if you wish to be surprised.)
One night after a long day and unable to sleep, Lucy heads to Fortune red book in hand and starts to make Twice-baked Gruyère Soufflé, suddenly Frankie is in the kitchen as well. They have a conversation in which Frankie tells Lucy that he was murdered and didn’t kill himself and he wants Lucy to help him find out who is reasonable, Lucy believing she is making the whole thing up agrees to help.
The book is fill with unexpected and interesting developments and characters, you just can’t put the book down. What was surprising was the recipes scattered here and there though out the book, there is 16 in total*. Each one can be found in Frankie’s little red book, and was used be ether Lucy or Frankie in the story, ether before or after the recipe in the book. The way the recipes have been written is informative and precise, as an apprentice chef myself I was surprised by the level of professionalism shown in the recipes. J.D. Barrett ether did her homework or knows how recipes should be written out so they can be easily read and understood in the kitchen.
(*I went through the book a few times just to be sure but there may be one or two I missed. If you would like page number locations, leave me a comment.)
The way J.D. spoke about the industry makes me think that she ether has personal experience or knows someone that works in the hospitality industry. It is a tough industry the hours are long and you have to deal with assholes no matter where you go, from chefs to manages.
After reading The Secret Recipe for Second Chances I am intrigued about J.D. Barrett’s other books. If her other two are any thing like her first they should be well worth reading, I am looking forward to reading more of her work.
Have you read The Secret Recipe for Second Chances? Let me know what you thought by leaving a comment. Thanks for reading and I hope you are looking forward to more from J.D. Barrett just as much as I am.
You can find The Secret Recipe for Second Chances in all good book shops and online at https://www.amazon.com
And that is another one to add to the collection, and I already have someone else telling me I have Too Many Books