Ten cheftestants will enter, but only one will win Get Baked and the quarter of a million dollars in prize money. For Henry, this will be the chance to prove to everyone — especially himself — that he’s good enough. No, not good enough. That he’s great enough, that it doesn’t matter that he’s gay, that it’s ok his boyfriend walked out on him, that it’s all right his business isn’t the number one name in town (instead, it’s one of two; sometimes first, but sometimes second). He’ll be able to showcase his skill and win more customers for his shop. And, of course, the prize money. There’s only one contestant standing in his way: Tristan Delgado.
Tristan almost didn’t come. His sister, Lucia, has recently left her abusive husband and he doesn’t want to leave her alone; his bills are piled higher than any wedding cake and he needs his job to pay them. However, with both Lucia all but pushing him out the door and his boss promising him bonuses for every episode he’s on — getting free advertising for her catering business — it’s hard to say no. Especially when all that money can do a lot. Like pay off his student loans. Get him a new car. Give him some breathing room with savings. All he has to worry about is his anxiety and Henry.
Ready … set … Get Baked!
I would highly suggest reading this book either on a full stomach or with a snack, because the author spends enough time on building up each cake, cookie, puff pastry, and loaf of bread that it will leave you hungry. The attention to detail in the small details — the mentions of cameras and lights, of people having to be fitted out with microphones, living in less than stellar hotel rooms — make the world feel immersive and very real. It adds depth to the story and adds that fourth wall, voyeuristic edge to the story as the reader, like the camera, zooms in on the slowly growing relationship between Henry and Tristan.
Henry’s mother unloaded a great deal on her son when he came out as gay, and when he wanted to be a baker instead of something safe. She was afraid for him, of what the world would think of him, of how he’d be treated, and she pushed it on him so hard that even now that Henry is successful, with his own thriving business and one of ten bakers hand picked to participate on a reality baking show, it’s all he hears. But, as he reminds another contestant: gay people fight back. He won’t let anyone make him feel shame for who he is, and he won’t let anyone make him feel less than. And when he realizes, when having a talk with Tristan, that he made the other man feel less than, dismissed, and unwanted, Henry is quick to apologize. He’s proud, vain, arrogant, and cocky, but he’s also loving and kind and a good person.
Tristan grew up in an abusive home. He, his sister, and his mother often bore the brunt of their father’s temper, and he’s prone to panic attacks and anxiety — especially when in new, high-stress, and highly public situations. So, with cameras watching his every move and judges constantly nitpicking at him, Tristan has to find something to distract him. When he’s not cooking, working with flavors, baking, or focused on his work, his eyes tend to move over in Henry’s direction. His arms, his smile, his ass … and when the two of them (after Henry has apologized) decide to be friends, and then something else, Tristan throws everything into it. He bares his soul to Henry, and his scars, expecting to be judged. But that’s now who Henry is. Henry is happy to be invited into Tristan’s bed and his heart. Anything else, and everything else, is Tristan’s. To give or to not give, but certainly none of his business.
The relationship feels slightly off-kilter, not due to poor characterization, but because it feels like I spent more time in Tristan’s head as he thought about Henry than I did in Henry’s. Henry’s POVs are more often focused on the competition, while Tristan’s are focused on the relationship, which somewhat lent a one-sided attraction aftertaste. And, along with the decided emphasis on baking, baking, and baking, the pace felt a bit rushed, though I did appreciate the lack of a third-act breakup and reunion. Instead, the author simply let Henry and Tristan have their happiness and it was a sweet and pleasant read.
There is a moment in the book where Tristan’s sister, Lucia, is dealing with her soon-to-be ex-husband, a man as abusive as her father, and I honestly appreciated the delicate handling of Lucia’s relationship with Robert. There is no lecture, no dramatic moment for Tristan to sweep in and save the day. Instead, Lucia makes her own choices and Tristan supports his sister without judging her, with never a moment of “if she’d left sooner,” or “if she’d listened to me.” Much as with his mother, who also endured an abusive marriage. As Tristan tells Lucia, neither of them are to blame simply because someone else was an asshole. His sister’s story is there to show the strength of Tristan’s bond with his sister, as well as his own caring and loving nature.
The writing is good, the characterization is good, but the plot is a little heavily focused on the cooking of food rather than the heating up of the relationship. I enjoyed the book and the way the author subverted certain trope expectations. I am very much looking forward to seeing more from this author.