Feb 25 2014 3:30pm

Food Is Life: Gastronomique Romance for Our Food-Obsessed Culture

Country Heaven by Ava MilesToday we're joined by author Ava Miles, whose Country Heaven has just been released. Country Heaven features a romance between a bad boy country singer and the sassy chef he hires for his next tour. The intersection between romance and food can be a deliciously romantic one, as Ava explains. Thanks, Ava!

Let’s face it. We all have a powerful relationship with food. We’re either talking about what we’re going to eat, posting a recipe on Pinterest, talking about why we can’t or shouldn’t eat that (extra piece of chocolate, say), wailing that we should be on a diet, or heading to the gym to work off our latest meal. There’s no escaping it. And in our food-obsessed culture, we’re not just eating food. We’re reading about it in the many successful foodie romances or watching it on TV as part of our evening entertainment.

Food is life. There’s no escaping it.

Now, I’ll grant you that some people don’t much care what they eat, but they have to be the minority, right? Just look at advertisements and TV shows. There’s a food ad for every commercial break, it seems, telling us all that we need that sandwich or that new restaurant experience. We have shows like Top Chef about people cobbling together ingredients and turning them into a culinary delight. And then there’s Anthony Bourdain, who transitioned from being on the line to gracing TV by talking about what food means to the cultures he was visiting and what is says about them.

So what does the current food-obsession say about us and how does this play out in foodie romances?

Sweet Spot by Susan MalleryFood enhances our senses. Romances that incorporate tantalizing food descriptions as a core part of the story often are meant solely for the pleasure of it. I love books like Susan Mallery’s Sweet Spot. She wove the bakery-owner heroine’s pleasure of making cupcakes and other delights into the story, describing the richness of the batter and the lusciousness of the frosting. As a reader, I find myself falling more fully into scenes like that. I’ve had a cupcake. I know what my favorite one tastes like. I’m sharing the same experience suddenly as the character, and that’s a powerful connection.

Food evokes memories. Like that special song you danced to at your wedding, a certain food or meal leaves its mark on us. And that’s what I show in my current release, Country Heaven. All Tory has left of her family are the recipes her grandmother taught her how to cook, and to honor her, she’s writing a cookbook featuring them and her memories of her grandmother making them. Tory believes in food’s magical qualities—rather like in the bestseller Like Water for Chocolate, one of my favorite books of all time. We never escape the memories she’s so delighted to have left, and how in making one of her grandmother’s recipes, she’s bringing her grandmother back to life over and over again. I know that I still think of my own grandmother every time I make one of the beautiful dishes she used to make when I was a child. Most of us can relate to that.

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'NealFood describes someone’s character. Barbara Samuel (aka Barbara O'Neal) is one of the best authors of using food to tell a story. She masterfully shows how being a chef or cook is the bedrock of her main character’s being. In The Lost Recipe for Happiness, the heroine Elena is ready to become a head chef and takes a job with a restaurant that mirrors herself—someone that’s seen better days and needs to be brought back to life. As she goes through the trials of bringing the all-male staff around (something I can personally attest from my chef days was no easy task), we see Elena’s strength. Her passion to create beautiful, innovative food drives her to overcome all the obstacles in her way…and to trust in the passion of another man, one with a passion for food so much like her own.

Food reveals deep wounds. Sometimes food shows a person’s wounds, and while the food descriptions add a lightness to the story, there’s something darker bubbling underneath. I’m remembering here the Jennifer Cruise heroine in Bet Me, one who was overweight and absolutely loved to gorge herself on Krispy Kreme donuts. She had a negative body image, and the hero, of course, comes through and likes a woman with curves, helping her finally accept herself and see her body as something to be treasured.

So, what is the contribution of gastronomique romance to our culture? We only have to look at ourselves, our personal character, our upbringing, and our appetite for beauty and pleasure in life. We’re telling our own story through our relationship with food. Moreover, when we share our relationship with food with others, we create connection…a sense of community. Sometimes even love.

And deep down, under all of the books, ads, and TV shows about food, I think that’s what we’re hungering for most of all.


Learn more about or order a copy of Country Heaven by Ava Miles, out now:

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USA Today Bestselling Author Ava Miles burst onto the contemporary romance scene after receiving Nora Roberts' blessing for her use of Ms. Roberts' name in her debut novel, NORA ROBERTS LAND, which kicked off The Dare Valley Series and brought praise from reviewers and readers alike. Much to Ava's delight, USA Today Contributor Becky Lower selected it as one of the Best Books of the Year. Ava continued The Dare Valley Series in FRENCH ROAST, which Tome Tender says “raised the entertainment bar again” and then THE GRAND OPENING, which reviewer Mary J. Gramlich says “is a continuation of love, family, and relationships.” The next books in the series, THE HOLIDAY SERENADE, was met with high praise and her ode to the early 1960s, THE TOWN SQUARE, what she calls Mad Men in a small town with a happy ending, melted reader's hearts.

Ava based her original series on a family newspaper, modeled after her own. Her great-great grandfather won it in a poker game in 1892, so Ava is no stranger to adventurous men and models her heroes after men like that-or like Tim McGraw, her favorite country music singer. Now Ava shares the Dare River series, set in the deep South, telling the story of a country singer and a beautiful cook. A former chef herself, Ava used her culinary background to infuse the story with family and personal recipes, but she also used her love for music to write country music songs to set the stage in the novel, creating a unique book experience. Ava-a writer since childhood-now lives in her own porch-swinging-friendly community with an old-fashioned Main Street lined with small businesses.

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Katy Regnery
1. Katy Regnery
What a DELIGHTFUL post! Well done, Ava! :)
Carmen Pinzon
2. bungluna
Great article. Family recipes do keep those memories alive and cement our ties with the past. Look forward to reading your book.
Katy Regnery
3. stacymd2
My all time favorite Food/Romance novel is Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. I read it as a teen and loved it. It is the funniest, craziest love story.
4. Kareni
Thanks for the thought provoking post. Laura Florand writes some fun and drool worthy chocolate-centric romances.
Katy Regnery
5. Barbara O'Neal
Thanks, Ava! Honored to be in such great company!
Ava Miles
6. AvaMiles
I'm so glad everyone enjoyed the article. Loved seeing your comments, especially the incredible Barbara O'Neal. Thank you!
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