by Lisa Joy
As an avid reader and foodie (read: book nerd and unhealthily constant eater), I was pretty excited to have received an email from Penguin Books last week with a very generous offer to send me a copy of Yes, Chef!, a new book by one of their authors, Lisa Joy. Even more excited to find out the book was set in the world of food and travel. A little less excited when I read it was a romantic comedy; I’m not really a rom-com kind of girl. But, never the less, it sounded like a fun read and I was very interested.
When I received a gorgeous package from Penguin and Lisa with not only the book, but a gorgeous jar of Italian antipasto, I was even more excited to sit down and read; a book written by a woman with a passion for all things Italian, who also sent along something to nibble on with wine?! Ohh I so wanted to like this book, but that whole “romantic comedy” thing kept running through my mind! I sat down later on that night to start reading, and believe it or not, I was done three days later. I loved it. I couldn’t believe it – me, a hardcore action/history/crime/people-killing-each-other-and-things-blowing-up fan loved a “romantic comedy book! Look out the window – can you see any bacon with wings?
Ok, so the book. It’s loosely based on Lisa’s life (which you can read a little about here) and experiences working in the hospitality industry with chefs like Andrew McConnell (who she has nothing but praise for, and insists is nothing like the character in the book!). The imaginary world of the book centres around Becca Stone, some what unlucky in love Londoner, and her work for hot celebrity chef & multi-restauranteur, Damien Malone.
After unexpectedly falling into the position of his PA, among other events, she flies to Istanbul with him and the crew looking after the fourth season of his reality TV show, where chefs cook off against each other, the weakest being culled week by week, to leave a winner with the “prize:” a job in one of his kitchens. After reading a few pages, you come to realise that it’s not such a prize, as he’s not much of a nice guy. And the “glamorous” job of celebrity chef PA really isn’t so glamorous. And poor Becca struggles with not only her love life, but other big things like the whole “what am I doing with my life?” stuff the whole way through.
Now that you know where we’re at plot wise, let me tell you why I loved this book so much. I could relate. My God, how I could relate! Glaring differences aside (I do not, nor have I ever worked in hospitality. I’ve never been sexually harassed by my boss. And I’ve been oddly and extraordinarily lucky in love, goodness knows how!), I couldn’t help but notice the most incredible similarities between Becca and myself. It was even written in much the same way as I actually talk: “Yes, I’d googled it… Don’t judge me.” I reckon I utter one or both of those phrases at lease six times a day.
I, like Becca, am also approaching the dreaded *cringe* thirtieth birthday. Like Becca, I too have recently been having a crisis of conscience, waging that horrible internal battle of “what am I doing with my life?” and “what will really, truly make me happy?” and trying to make some positive changes to help answer those questions; I loved reading this in the book:
“Sure, I wouldn’t turn 30 for two months and I hadn’t exactly decided what to do with my life, but a change was definitely on the horizon.”
My friends, like Becca’s, run the full gamut from happily single and sleeping around to happily married and having babies. I, like Becca, am feeling really insecure about my decisions and losing confidence because of the way other people question them. Again, had a sympathetic laugh and roll of the eyes reading this bit of advice from Becca’s mother:
” ‘Now that you’re thirty you need to start thinking about the prospect of settling down and having children. Everyone does it.’ “
I enjoyed living vicariously through Becca’s romantic trysts, and was so relieved reading them to find that they were a lot more realistic than romantic, for the most part. Until the end. Then it wasn’t so realistic, but a fantasy that just about every one of us ladies has. If only…
Even though Becca hailed from London, Lisa herself is an Aussie, and I enjoyed the little references in there, like an outfit from Alannah Hill worn by one of her colleagues. Becca also studied Italian and had been looking for an opportunity to throw in the towel, pack up and move to Italy. She even scored a trip to Tuscany as part of her PA job, and I melted a little when I read the words “San Gimignano,” one of the towns I loved most when I visited Italy for the first time. Even though the economy is shit over there and it’s next to impossible to get a job, much less one that pays decently enough, and even harder still to fight through the visa crap, it’s always been a dream of mine to move to Italy and live and work there for a year or so. This fictional woman was so like me, it started to really creep me out! The clincher was her love for her city, London, no matter where the world took her, much like my love for Melbourne. She nailed it:
“I loved this city and always would. On nights like this I knew that I was a better person for having lived here.”
I so wanted to love this book, but I had serious reservations at the thought of it being a romance novel. It wasn’t. I’m not sure how to categorise it; maybe “real life”? Because the struggles she dealt with for the most part of the book were the same struggles that my friends and I are dealing with. Sure, it was a more glamorous world than ours, but the base was still the same. It was so easy to relate to, so easy to read, and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it! If you’re a woman of a similar age, have any interest in food or travel, need a bit of a giggle, need to feel like you’re not alone, need to kill a few hours reading a good book, grab a copy of your own right here!
Oh, and the antipasto mix? AMAZING! And it went perfectly mixed into my roast cherry tomato and zucchini pasta!