Stacey Ballis: Off the Menu

Stacey Ballis

Are there Super Chef novels?

Off the Menu, by Stacey BallisStacey BallisOff the Menu (Berkley 2012) is loaded with fictionalized and real celebrity chefs. It’s just the book you’d expect Michelle Obama to read – after all it’s got many of her favorite topics, plus it takes place in Chicago. She even makes an appearance in the book, albeit to help decide on paint color:

We went back and forth, and finally I grabbed an old still from his office where he was posed in the kitchen with Michelle Obama, who had come on the show with a box of produce from the White House garden to promote her healthy eating campaign. (p. 146)

Off the Menu follows a chef’s assistant as she works hard, devotes herself to her family, finds love through online dating, and volunteers to teach underprivileged teens all about healthy eating and cooking.

There are green markets, ethnic feasts, a very ugly dog named Dumpling, and all the sex is demurely behind closed doors.

The conflict comes towards the end and involves choosing between a career move that means more money versus a career move that means more satisfaction.

Not to give it all away but in the words of Utopia, love is the answer.

This is a fun, quick summer read. Alana Ostermann is a plucky, talented cook in her own right, and her chef, Patrick Conlon is spot on as a vain, womanizing celebrity chef. She has strong opinions about celebrity chefs like Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, and Tom Colicchio:

I’ve always been enormously grateful to a certain Italian mama’s-boy chef whose on-camera cringe-worthy devotion and subsequent need to completely resurrect his career and re-form his face have meant that Patrick has both turned down all offers of reality shows and stayed far away from the Bronx. (p. 29)

Could that be Rocco DiSpirito?

She pleases people with her recipes (at the back of the book), and worries about her weight – but not too much.

Pick up Off the Menu for holiday reading at the beach or by the pool.

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