Sunday, November 8, 2009

State of the Onion

State of the Onion
Author: Julie Hyzy
Tekno Books, 2008
325 pages

I've always loved a good mystery, and I love food. So when I came across this first-in-a-series paperback about a White House chef, I was intrigued. (I was also ready for some light reading, which a person needs every now and then.)

Olivia has one of the coolest jobs in the world: she works in the White House kitchen, creating food for the President, First Family, and the ever-changing lineup of Heads of State, diplomats, and lucky others. One day as she's just coming into work, she has an encounter with Naveen, a man being pursued by Secret Service agents. In their brief moment together, Naveen tells her: 1) he desperately needs to get some information to the President, and 2) no one can be trusted, not even the Secret Service. The incident won't leave Olivia alone, even after Naveen is apprehended. Who is he working for? Why did he do something so risky? Why can't she get some resolution from the Secret Service agents working the case (one of them is her boyfriend, Tom). And . . . why are the news reports on TV providing erroneous information about the incident?

Although she's warned by the Secret Service (and Tom) to drop it, Olivia finds herself getting in deep. Naveen contacts her and asks for a secret meeting, and Olivia is propelled by curiosity to meet him in a public place. However, before he can explain anything, Naveen is killed by a mysterious assassin! Now the assassin is after Olivia! Unfortunately, now the Secret Service (and Tom) are very angry with her for staying involved in the case. In fact, they're kind of wondering if she's a little off her rocker.

Meanwhile back in the kitchen, Olivia's mentor, Executive Chef Henry, is about to retire. Olivia would very much like to take on his role, but the new White House "Sensitivity Director" has other plans in mind: he wants to bring in a celebrity chef who went to school with the First Lady. (The chapter where the celebrity chef comes to the kitchen to "audition" is hysterically funny.) Who will get the job? You'll have to read the book to find out!

As Olivia dodges bullets (both literal and figurative), she also has to cook. An upcoming State Dinner could be the most important event of the new President's first year: he's bringing together two nations who have been at war for decades, to try to negotiate peace. The Heads of State and their entourages have different food requirements, so we learn a great deal about the "protocol" of food.

This may not be great literature, but sometimes you need a diversion. The interplay between the characters is fun (e.g., the "Sensitivity Director" is such an ass!) Just so happens, I really enjoyed this and will happily "devour" (ha ha) the rest of the White House Chef series as soon as possible.