Culinary delights abound, romance lingers in the air, and plans go terribly, wonderfully astray in this cheeky and charming historical tale, perfect for fans of Bridgerton or Dickinson.
It’s 1830s England, and Culinarians—doyens who consult with society’s elite to create gorgeous food and confections—are the crème de la crème of high society.
Helena Higgins, top of her class at the Royal Academy, has a sharp demeanor and an even sharper palate—and knows stardom awaits her if she can produce greatness in her final year.
Penelope Pickering is going to prove the value of non-European cuisine to all of England. Her contemporaries may scorn her Filipina heritage and her dishes, but with her flawless social graces and culinary talents, Penelope is set to prove them wrong.
Elijah Little has nothing to his name but a truly excellent instinct for flavors. London merchants won’t allow a Jewish boy to own a shop, so he hawks his pasties for a shilling a piece to passersby—but he knows with training he can break into the highest echelon of society.
When Penelope and Helena meet Elijah, a golden opportunity arises: to pull off a project never seen before, and turn Elijah from a street vendor to a gentleman chef.
But Elijah’s transformation will have a greater impact on this trio than they originally realize—and mayhem, unseemly faux pas, and a little romance will all be a part of the delicious recipe.
I received this book for free from Netgalley. All comments and opinions are entirely my own, and I am writing a voluntary review.
This book was absolutely delightful. I love a good retelling of the classics, and the genderbend for Eliza Doolittle, Henry Higgins, and Colonel Pickering was cleverly done and added a fresh spin to the classic tale of Pygmalion. It was just similar enough that I loved the nods to the original, but also just different enough that I had no idea how it was going to end. I especially loved that the writing style was clean and I never questioned whether people living in the 1830s would actually be talking about the same subjects.
Another piece of this tale that I found intriguing was the world building. At first I was so confused because the events that were taking place didn’t track with my memory of British history, but when I got to the end Cohen explained everything and I was satisfied. The book takes place in 1833, but instead of William IV being on the throne, his niece, Princess Charlotte, was Queen. It was actually quite interesting to read about Charlotte, because if she hadn’t died in childbirth before taking the throne, Queen Victoria would likely never have been born. As a result of this female monarch, British culture was also changed to explore what it would look like if women had more autonomy. Helena and Penelope are both Culinarians, or professional chefs, and discussed in great detail what it was like to be a woman in a professional setting.
One thing that Cohen didn’t change was how British culture treated Jews. The discrimination that they faced on a daily basis was a prominent theme, and highlighted the harsh truth that even though Britain never went to the same lengths as Germany did in WWII, the overall attitude towards Jewish people was essentially the same. It was really interesting to read about this social issue and the ways that it impacted people.
On a lighter note, I mentioned earlier that the girls were Culinarians, and so as a result, a huge portion of the book was about the amazing dishes they would prepare or teach Elijah to prepare. Let me tell you that every time I picked up this book I immediately started starving. The descriptions of the food were incredible, and simultaneously made me hungry and made me want to learn more about how to prepare these amazing meals. Plus Cohen included a recipe for their empanadas, and I always adore it when authors let me experience their story by trying the food that the characters love.
Honestly, my only complaint isn’t so much a complaint as it is a comment, but I’m not entirely sure that all of the phrases/words they used were entirely historically accurate. They didn’t say anything obviously modern, but overall it was just a lot easier to read than books written during that time. Again, not a complaint, just an observation. 🙂