Chef’s Kiss by Stephanie Shea

Chef's Kiss
Published: 7/2/21

There are times when I question what I was thinking. Why did I wear blue eyeshadow well into the 90’s? Why did I think I was straight when my basketball apparel was way too extensive for a straight girl?  Why has it taken me so long to read a Stephanie Shea book? I have now read Chef’s Kiss and will be reading everything else she writes as soon as possible. I absolutely love this book!

Valentina Rosa De Leon (Val) has just earned a stage job at San Francisco’s trendy restaurant, Gia, after graduating from the culinary institute.  It’s Val’s dream job and the reason she moved from New York to San Fran, for the opportunity to learn from famed chef Jenn Coleman. Val lives with her roommate and best friend Zoe. She is determined to use this opportunity as a springboard to a head chef position in a few years. But she is unprepared for how her heart skips a beat at the sight of her enigmatic new boss.

Jenn Coleman owns two Michelin starred restaurants. She’s a workaholic and a control freak. She has a thirteen year old son, Tommy, with her ex Rachel, who she is still friendly with. Jenn was always a workaholic. Being a woman of color in an industry dominated by white men precipitated some of her workaholic tendencies. After her mother’s death from breast cancer, she further threw herself into her work to keep from dealing with the pain of the loss. Those who work for her call her Chef OCD behind her back and don’t feel like they have a clue who she is because she keeps everyone at arms length. Only her right hand woman, Avery, and head chef Mel are somewhat privy to what lies behind the mask.

Val begins settling into her new position but wants to improve further. She asks Jenn if she can come in early to train even more. Jenn agrees to meet her a few hours early to help her. These meetings allows them a chance to get to know each other better to Jenn’s dismay. She doesn’t want to like the younger woman and she certainly doesn’t want to be attracted to her. Val begins seeing a different side to her boss. Her sharp sense of humor and charming personality while chatting with Val’s parents on the phone and most surprising of all, her vulnerability, when Val happens upon her having a near panic attack in her car after a concerning doctor appointment. Both know that it’s a bad idea but attraction isn’t so easily ignored.

Where to start with my feelings on this book!  It’s safe to say, I’m a bit in love with Jenn. I love a woman who overcomes personal tragedy to not only success in a male dominated industry, but maintains her morals. While many around her see Jenn as an ice queen she’s really put herself in a position where her career defines who she is. She is a control freak, absolutely, but not to the point that she disregards others feelings. Jenn is just a strong woman who runs a tight ship. If she were a man she would be applauded for her strength and leadership. But so many women who demonstrate the same strength are looked down upon. Like pretty much any woman in American politics who runs for any elected position. We can’t appear weak but can’t appear too strong either.

Jenn is wonderful and it takes someone with Val’s sweetness and persistence to break down some of her well cultivated walls. Val has a lot of hero worship in the beginning. Like if I suddenly started working with Cate Blanchett. I would be lead by the pedestal I have her on as a brilliant actress until I kissed her and we moved things into a more equal setting!  😉  It doesn’t take long for Val to see the woman that Jenn really is and have her admiration turn into attraction and then more.

The supporting characters are all fantastic. Avery, who sees what’s happening before anyone else at the restaurant and gives Jenn some unwanted, yet necessary advice. Tommy, Rachel and Zoe and even Val’s parents on video call add so much to the story with their love and insight into these characters.

I love it when I discover an author whose writing seems like she’s written twenty books instead of a few novels and novellas. Stephanie Shea writes like someone who is simply made to write.  Her writing flows beautifully and she paints a picture that I can visualize perfectly in my mind. My only complaint is that I wish Chef’s Kiss for longer because I wanted to spend more time with my girls Jenn and Val. I adore this book and I adore Stephanie Shea as an author. She is one to watch!

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