Rating: 2.75 stars
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Chef on Top is the third book in the Sizzling in the Kitchen series. When it was offered to us for review, we were told it can be read as a standalone, however I feel that it is likely better enjoyed when read in sequence.
Chef Jake Casey, for reasons that might have made sense had I read the first two books, recently uprooted his life from an award-winning restaurant in Manhattan to purchase an inn and restaurant in some sleepy Vermont town. There he has a rivalry with celebrity chef, Baldwin Powell, but somehow Powell talks him into relocating a second time to Las Vegas to open a new branch of Powell’s trademark restaurant. I’m not sure why Jake does this, and he’s not sure either, which was problematic. Jake is a loner of the first order and seems to have vied with Gordan Ramsay for biggest jerk in a kitchen. Growing up the son of a drunk and shunned in his small town, Jake developed an obsession for perfection and being the best. How this plays into becoming head chef of another chef’s restaurant was a stretch for me.
Motivation of relocation aside, Jake has decided that he also needs people in his life. His recent interactions with Powell and other staff have shown Jake that he can be kind in the kitchen, and maybe build some lasting friendships, if nothing else. Jake makes a concerted effort to be courteous to all his new work colleagues, among them Ty Caldecott. Ty works with Powell on his TV cooking show, but again inexplicably, Ty takes a four-month leave from the TV network to help open Powell’s restaurant in Vegas. He’s the interim manager, in charge of the day-to-day operations and hiring the staff. Ty met Jake a few years ago and knows Jake’s a tough chef to work with, yet Jake’s new demeanor is disarming. Two lonely men working for a common cause, they develop a tight friendship. Jake would like it to be more, but he knows Ty’s only in Vegas for a short while and he’s too eager to have a real friend for the first time in his life to mess that up.
Well, until the enormous coincidence of Ty’s former fiancé showing up to work for the hotel in which the restaurant is located. Ty’s tender over it, and Jake offers to be his fake boyfriend to smooth things over. Ty declines initially, but then moves into Jake’s spare bedroom, knowing this will make it seem as if they are a couple. This, because his creepy, currently-engaged-to-another man, ex is trying to rekindle their love affair. The more Jake and Ty pretend, though, the deeper their feelings grow, even with Ty’s looming departure. It’s a hard situation to be in, figuring out you’re in love when you’re halfway out the door.
For me, this story was a miss and messy. Jake seems like a great guy in this story—his previous history is entirely omitted and we only have his reflection on how he did live to make us think he could have been a Class A jerk. It’s clear that his interpersonal skills are stunted, but that could have mostly been due to shyness, from what I read. Ty’s relationship failed around three years ago, and he behaves like a kid with the whole fake boyfriend thing. I read a lot of fake boyfriend romance, and this was such a thin veneer, and positioned so late in the story, that it felt tacked on. The story seems really light on context for the romance. I liked the scene building and all, with the locale and personnel, but I would have rather had the romance on the page, instead of all the angst.
All in all, this story felt juvenile and incomplete, which stinks because I really wanted Jake to have an adult love; he needed it. Ty was far less developed as a character than Jake, despite having several chapters in his own POV. The story was short on sufficient plot development, romance, and intrigue to get me to think these guys would be able to make it as a couple for the long term. As such, the ending felt HFN, and that was also a disappointment.