Too Hot to Touch
St. Martin’s, August 2, 2011, $7.99
He’s Got The Sizzle
She’s Got the Fire
When it comes to competitive cooking, Max Lunden is no stranger to winning…though he’s never been great at working with a team. A master chef—and major hunk—he’s traveled the world, picking up new cooking techniques as well as beautiful women. But when the prodigal chef returns home to his family’s Greenwich Village restaurant, he discovers one too many cooks in the kitchen—and she’s every bit as passionate as he is…
Juliet Cavanaugh used to have a crush on Max when she was just a teenager, hanging out at Lunden & Sons Tavern, hoping to catch a glimpse of the owner’s oldest, and hottest, son. Now a chef herself—competing in the biggest culinary contest in the country—Juliet will be cooking side by side with the one man she’s always admired…and desired. But despite their simmering attraction, Juliet is determined to keep her cool—no matter how hot it gets…
Too Hot to Touch is the first book in Louisa Edwards’s new Recipe for Love trilogy. Louisa Edwards’s trademark culinary romances make food just as important to the story as romance is. She blends the excitement, creativity and competitiveness of the culinary world with the dynamics, passion and emotions of families and relationships.
I love an Opposites Attract scenario, but I especially love it when the hero is the “Dorothy” character. You know: Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz?: ‘’There’s no place like home?’ Dorothy?“
That’s our hero Max Lunden. He’s traveled the world in search of the intangible, looking for something he’s yet to find, and all along it was right there in his own backyard. I love when that happens—when all your journeys and the culminations of your experiences wind their way back to your own front door.
Louisa Edwards is great at setting up the tension between her protagonists, and in Too Hot to Touch, it’s not the age-old trope of butting heads, but more like “I see you, but I don’t quite understand your choices.” The hero and heroine are two sides of the same coin, and the opposites attract thing is very cleverly played.
Six years ago, Max walked out of his family’s restaurant, Lunden’s Tavern, to travel the world and study. He went from Tokyo to Marrakesh to learn techniques and cuisines from the masters. Max is all about adventure and the Zen of life—living in the moment.
The whole Zen thing is usually a turn off for me. I pretty much want to say to those people, “Hey what happens if you don’t worry about paying the electric bill next month? Will you be Zen when you’re sitting in the dark?” But Max is so much more than a carefree live-in-the-moment kind of guy. His thirst for knowledge is infectious, and his charm is part and parcel of his inner character.
Six years ago, Jules walked into Lunden’s Tavern broken and defeated, looking for stability and a place to call home. Jules is all about loyalty, constancy, reliability, and hard work. She found a place to grow, work, and feel at Lunden’s. I admired Jules at the outset of the book, but as it progressed, I found her to be even more admirable, because she takes risks and is both flexible and creative.
Our protagonists are two seemingly different people who share the same goal: they both want to be great chefs. But just like a five-course meal, there are hundreds of ways to go about preparing and cooking one. Jules has her way and Max has his.
When Lunden’s Tavern falls on hard times, they resort to entering a cooking competition with the hope that winning will put them back on top. And their only chance to win (they believe) is with Max in the kitchen. And so the prodigal son returns. His return is less like ’hail the conquering hero’ and more like ‘we’re only putting up with you because we need you to win.’ Not many people are happy to see him home. His brother is pissed at him because he left and never looked back. His father needs him but has mixed emotions. And Jules?
Well, Jules has been in love with him since she was seventeen, but now she’s the sous chef at Lunden’s and has virtually replaced Max both in the kitchen and with his family. All the tension is akin to being in a room full of turkeys on the day before Thanksgiving. When Jules sees Max standing in the Lunden kitchen after his six year absence, she thinks:
It figured. Less than two months after swearing off men for good—and dating coworkers in particular—the hottest chef Jules had ever seen stood in her own damn kitchen. Max Lunden. In the unbearably delicious, sinfully tempting flesh, and wasn’t it a cleaver to the back of the neck that she even noticed how hot he was?... Standing motionless and indoors. Max Lunden managed to look as if he had wind in his hair. Because that’s who he is, she reminded herself. A guy in perpetual motion. Sure he’s back—but not for good.
What Edwards does so artfully is to create a tension between the protagonists that isn’t about misunderstandings or the usual past hurts, but about differing philosophies on life. What’s even more exciting is that both Jules and Max are open to learning and accepting those differences.
Although all the men in Jules’s life have left her, she’s willing to take a chance on Max’s Zen philosophy in order to enjoy him while she can. Jules understands when Max tells her: “See, the thing about Zen is, it’s all about the now. Being truly present in the moment, living that moment as if you’ll never get another one – and if it’s the first you’ve ever had.”
In and amongst the minefield of the relationships between Jules and Max, and Max and his family, is the cooking competition, which serves as a dynamic to explore how each person feels about life. And this is where Ms. Edwards shines: She gives you the heart of a character by demonstrating how they approach the creativity of cooking. When you’re cooking a great meal, you have to pay attention, you have to watch, learn and often experiment. And just like cooking a great meal, a life worth living takes time, patience, humor and care.
As the romance builds, what Max experiences with Jules is something he’s never experienced before, and he is beginning to re-think his philosophy of living in the moment. In fact, he begins to want more than right now, he wants a future rooted in the present. For the first time in his life he finds a reason to stay in one place and that reason is Jules.
It’s the “Dorothy Moment"—that sometimes you have to leave home to find out that it’s all happening in your own backyard.
Marisa O’Neill is the Vice President of Romancenovel.tv, managing television productions and everything else in life. She has a sense of humor and some very interesting opinions.