Today I am very excited to welcome author Talya Andor to Joyfully Jay. Talya is here to talk to use more about here new release, A Cut Above the Rest. She has also brought us an excerpt and information about a giveaway. Welcome Talya!
Thank you for having me at Joyfully Jay, and welcome to the “Tour de Foodie” to celebrate the release of my new novel, A Cut Above the Rest, first of the Appetite series. Today’s entry focuses on cooking as an outlet for expression.
There are many ways to express yourself without words, artistic or not.
An oft-repeated truism is that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Not only is this statement universally applicable to women who are equally susceptible to the charms of a well-cooked meal, but what goes for the man is doubly true for the chef. Above all, a person who spends their life in the pursuit of culinary passions, elevating food to the next level, is going to be susceptible to a meal prepared to the most exquisite standards.
Food is love, across the spectrum of human experience. Spending time on complicated dishes, expending the effort to get them just right, is undeniably a means of expressing that love. There are certain people for whom expressing emotion can be difficult, either through cultural restraint, family upbringing, or personal inclination.
These types of people generally find other outlets of expression. Like my own father, who rarely says words of affection, but will go out of his way to orchestrate a four-course meal for his loved ones. It’s a way of showing off without boasting, of demonstrating care when words fail you, and nourishing more than the body when the chef, or the cook, goes out of their way to provide that certain person with their favorite dishes that make their eyes light up.
One way for the introverted chef to express their hidden emotions is by bending their exacting standards on cooking someone the meal of their lives. Of course, when the introvert meets their match in a direct, outgoing person who happens to be a bit dense as well, the subtle nuances of all that effort have every chance of going horribly wrong.
Cooking and emotion, and the way they go hand in hand, were a natural route for a romantic story to me. Chefs are passionate people—whether they can express their personal feelings or not—and they have to be dedicated to their craft to throw themselves into an occupation that takes so much time and effort on a daily and weekly basis. Different personality styles bring the spice of conflict in A Cut Above the Rest, and they set up the stage—or kitchen, if you will—for misunderstandings between Chef Alex, our protagonist, and the quick-tempered, keenly talented chefs he’ll encounter as he begins his career in fine dining and strives to do his very best.
At the same time he tries to unlock the mystery of Chef Nik, his former classmate who turned him down cold, yet draws Alex on with glimpses of an engaging, incredibly creative and frustratingly alluring personality.
The kitchen, and cooking, are key elements in the expression of emotion without words. A meal made just right can tip a person’s hand to how they care for someone … and it can even be as good as seductive overtures. Whether those overtures are understood is another matter entirely.
To see how the battle between affection and the desire to come first in the kitchen plays out, add A Cut Above the Rest to your reading list.
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.
Check out my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of the novel, and the “Tour de Foodie” continues tomorrow at the Armchair Reader!