Review: Chef Cutegirl by Nicolette Dane

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Published: 24 April 2016

Publisher: Self-published

Category: Romance/Lesbian Romance

I wanted to make my move but there was just that hint of nervousness bubbling in the pit of my stomach, causing me a subtle ache, as I anticipated what might happen between us. But I was a leader, a risk taker, a girl who knew what she wanted and I most certainly wanted Raina.

Emily Gold, head chef for one of Chicago’s most acclaimed French restaurants, is about to have her life turned upside down. She’s been picked to compete on the hit reality TV show Hot Chef! Everything has been falling into place for Emily in regards to her career as a budding culinary mastermind. But when you dedicate as much of your life to your work as Emily has, some things are bound to slip away from you… like your love life.

All of that is about to change for Emily, however, when she’s introduced to one of her fellow competitors. Raina appears to be introverted and sweet on the outside, but inside of her burns a flame of culinary talent that instantly draws Emily in. The two become fast friends and as the heat in the kitchen grows, so does the heat in their relationship. But reality TV is never drama free, as both Emily and Raina soon discover.

Will the desire Emily feels for her beautiful competitor overcome her desire to win Hot Chef? Or will this behind the scenes romance come out of the oven undercooked? Emily is determined to have it all, a great career and a partner to share it with, but the realities of unscripted television might just be writing a different script for this driven young chef.

Rating: 2 Stars

I haven’t read many books revolving around the food industry, especially not chefs competing on reality t.v. shows. I can’t remember where I heard about this title, but I thought it looked interesting because I do like cooking competitions and thought it sounded like a fun read.

In the end, this book was very much on the “just okay” line for me. There were some good things, but the problems I had with the book far outweighed them and resulted in a 2 star rating.

The first problem that popped up was that Emily, the voice we were hearing the entire novel through, continued to infantilize/objectify Raina through her descriptions of her physical appearance. This tapered off after a bit, but its occurrence left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

She had the cutest little excited face, such clear and fair skin. She was a doll.

She was a short girl, small and diminutive, like a cute little speck.

A relationship does develop, as expected, but even after it starts to heat up Emily still makes remarks that irked me:

Talented and cute, childlike, Raina definitely checked a lot of the boxes of the girls I often found myself into.

Sitting perched up on the counter top, swinging her legs, she was so adorably cute. Like a lost little orphan who might blow away in the wind if you didn’t nail her feet down.

The way her attraction to Raina is spelled out made me feel weird. Saying you’re attracted to childlike people, comparing them (again) later to a lost little orphan, kind of feels borderline inappropriate. She even makes an observation at bedtime one night and comments (internally) about how she’s not a creep. If you have to make that statement, you probably are.

She had her hair done in two tight braids against her head, wearing just a t- shirt and her panties. I could feel that familiar, sensual arousal building up inside of me as I watched her slip her bare feet across the carpet and toward her bed. Her panties were lime green with dark grey trim. I committed them to memory. C’mon, I’m not a creep… I was just crushing.

Shortly after their introduction on the set of Hot Chef, Emily also made some judgments about Raina, such as:

It’s just how her words would come out sometimes when she was a little nervous.

Such a short acquaintance of two hours max is not sufficient to make notes on someone’s behavior, particularly since Emily has only seen Raina under one circumstance and has nothing else to go by in her above statement. She also makes some bizarre assumptions about Raina’s personality and her hometown not reflecting in it. The following statement made no sense in context and irritated me a bit:

“New York City,” she said. “Like, originally?” “Yeah,” she said. That struck me as odd. She seemed so quiet and docile to have come from such a frenetic place as New York.

Raina herself was a bit flat. Her personality only seemed to come out when she was sabotaged about midway through the book, which felt unfair to her. The single most annoying thing, however, was how she kept “mewling” or “she mewed”. That is not how people talk in general conversation and it sounded like the author was starting to infantilize her much like Emily was. Her actions and her words didn’t hold up as cohesive, from the same person, and one particular moment is when she tells Emily about her famous chef father and how she didn’t want to tell anyone, but then almost immediately she does on camera. I threw up my hands at this point.

As this is heavily based on the show Top Chef, with a possible theme or two thrown in from other popular cooking competitions, I had to wonder at some of the things that happened in the book, such as the huge freedom the contestants had in leaving the loft where they were staying. Emily even makes a comment about this:

Lucky for me I didn’t have to bring as much as the other chefs, seeing as I could just take the Blue Line to my apartment if I happened to forget something.

I’ve never heard of a show like this allowing the people competing on it to wander around the host city during filming, much less with no cameras or chaperones. Putting aside the fact that they’re technically employed by the network and not being supervised could get the network in trouble if there’s an accident off set, Emily and Raina could easily have spilled secrets about the production before the show even began to air.

Timing was an issue too, not least in regards to the show. The whole book takes place over six weeks, but the show doesn’t air live and yet, two episodes or so before the finale, there’s a mention about the episodes starting to premiere. There’s no way that a weekly show would’ve been able to squash itself into less than a month. It was a bit jarring, trying to figure that whole mess out.

Hot Chef itself started out alright, but quickly devolved into Top Chef fanfiction. Not only is the setup nearly identical, as far as I can tell, there are several characters that are clones of the real people and not disguised very well (their initials are literally the same as their fictional counterparts, in addition to physical descriptions that match). I think that the creativity of the book suffered because it relied to heavily on established persons and scenarios.

There was an unresolved story line regarding a predatory producer on the show that bugged me. Everything else, if not to my satisfaction, was at least ended. Happily ever after romance, someone wins, etc. Dale, however, was never censured for his behavior, nor was one of his minions that also participated in sabotaging the contest. It just kind of disappeared, though Raina makes a vague comment about it near the end. Other than that, nothing. The show taped everything else, but no one catches this slimy bastard or tapes it or sees it? Raina was hooked up to a mic the whole time and that’s not nothing.

It feels like this book tried really hard to be an expose of reality cooking shows. While it might well have done that in some respects, that’s not what this novel was billed as. For a book that takes place almost wholly within a cooking competition, there was a surprising lack of actual cooking scenes in the book.

Instead of slapping a flimsy mask over real personalities and real places and shows, I wish the author was being more creative, a better story teller overall. The sex scenes were a bit over the top sentimentality wise, but decently written. If the book as a whole were fleshed out more, some editorial mistakes corrected, and Emily’s creepy remarks about Raina fixed, then I think this book could’ve been really good.

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