by Cynthia Chow
& Lucy Burdette
While not Mother’s Day related, somehow a review of a food mystery seemed like a perfect fit for our Mother’s Day issue. Today we are reviewing the latest Food Critic mystery, Topped Chef, by Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib. Lucy has also shared a fun guest post with us about writing about a foodie character, and at the end of this post you can enter to win a copy of Topped Chef!
Topped Chef: A Key West Food Critic Mystery By Lucy Burdette
Review by Cynthia Chow
Hayley Snow has finally begun to feel confident at her job as a writer and food critic for the Florida biweekly style magazine Key Zest, but she has yet to face the challenge of reporting a negative review for an established restaurant. Knowing how a poor review can financially devastate a restaurant, Hayley is guilt-ridden when she thinks of all of the hard labor and emotional investment a chef puts into his creations only to have it lambasted in print. However, three visits to Just Off Duval failed to show any improvement and leaves Hayley no choice but to write up a foreboding prediction of failure for the upscale new restaurant.
Hayley’s next assignment will prove to be just as intimidating; guest judge for a new television reality show competition, Topped Chef, whose winner will have a chance at hosting her or her own television cooking show. Although Hayley feels unqualified to determine who could head an entire cooking production, she is even more disturbed when she realizes that one of her co-judges is Sam Rizzoli, the owner of four restaurants including Just Off Duval. Equally as off-putting is the discovery that a lead contestant just happens to be Henrietta Stentzel, a talented chef of Latin cuisine who Hayley unfortunately once accused of murder. All of this pales in comparison to Hayley’s upcoming first real date with Nate Bransford, the detective she met when he suspected her of murder (their actual first date included her mother). Unfortunately, Nate stands up Hayley when another murder takes priority, which would be prophetic enough even without the victim being Sam Rizzoli, strung up like a pirate with a wig and cape.
As Hayley soon learns, reality television is nothing without conflict to be exploited and the producer and director of Topped Chef, Peter Shapiro, is thrilled by the judges’ disagreements over comfort food, molecular gastronomy, and foams. The prospective television reality competition seems to have more in common with a Food Network show rather than the renown Bravo channel production, as the prize is determined as much by the personality of the chef as the cooking skills. The contestants themselves are just as acrimonious–all of them willing to do just about anything for the chance to win their own show and alter the course of their careers and their lives. But is it an opportunity worthy of committing a murder?
As a city commissioner, Rizzoli built up his own gallery of enemies with his self-interested votes advocating for wider channels for cruise ships and anything that would benefit his businesses. When another judge nearly drowns, after claiming to have been shot at, Hayley truly begins to question whether or not the reality show has finally driven someone to kill.
This third mystery in the series written by Roberta Isleib, under the name Lucy Burdette, again delights with delicious descriptions of Key West cuisine and recipes. Hayley is a relatable and very likable character, insulted by the producer’s description of her being “plump like a guinea hen” but resigned to it due to her love of food and complete lack of enjoyment of exercising (although she will commit to if it means a chance at interrogating a suspect). Hayley investigates only when she believes that the police are ignoring the possibility that the murder was motivated by the reality show competition, and she sensibly updates the police with every new piece of information. As an upcoming maid of honor for her former college roommate, Hayley’s duties include discouraging the groom from a pirate-themed wedding even while her own budding romance seems to have been nipped in the bud by the reappearance of the ex-wife. However, when one door closes another door opens and even her friend, the tarot-card reading Lorenzo, may not have been able to predict the new opportunity that may now be available.
A clinical psychologist and blogger for the Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen, the author shares her love of food while crafting sympathetic characters and a mystery filled with multiple motivations for the murder. The descriptions of the coastal cuisine, snappish and temperamental cheftestants, and drag queens, all combine to make this a very well-written and tasty mystery, sure to please fans of food, reality shows, and mysteries.
On Writing a Foodie Character
by Lucy Burdette
Although the Key West food critic mystery series is the third series I’ve written, neither the golf lovers mysteries nor the advice column mysteries focused on food.
Cassie Burdette, my golfer character, was a fast food junkie. In fact, fans worried about Cassie’s diet (and the amount of beer she consumed.) The only recipe she ever produced was called Hot Dog Casserole. It featured, yes, hot dogs and baked beans from a can.
Rebecca Butterman, a psychologist from the advice column books, was an excellent home cook. Cooking kept her sane and she enjoyed preparing dishes like roast chicken and spaghetti carbonara to show appreciation to her friends.
Hayley Snow, the food critic character in my new Key West series, is a real foodie. Here’s how she describes food writing in Death In Four Courses: “When we write about simmering a stew or a sauce for hours or days, we are really talking about how much we owe to the folks who came before us and the importance of cherishing their memory. And how much we yearn to give to the people in our present who’ll be gathered around our table. We are writing about food as family history, and love, and hope, and sometimes a little splash of guilt.”
Writing about Hayley has expanded my food horizons. I have to cook what she might cook and eat where she might eat. Since Hayley came on the scene, we’ve enjoyed her shrimp and grits, key lime cupcakes, strawberry rhubarb coffee cake, and many more ravishing dishes. And we’ve tried about every restaurant in Key West.
There’s only one problem. These days, if I don’t photograph dinner before putting it on the table, my husband worries: Maybe it’s not going to meet Hayley’s standards.
To enter to win a copy of Topped Chef, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Chef”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 18, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.