Elena Alvarez is a chef. She learned to cook while watching her grandmother and after a horrible accident that killed three family members and her boy friend; Elena started the long road in learning to be a world-class chef. She had made it up the ranks and is offered a golden opportunity to be the executive chef in Aspen, CO. The restaurant is in need of a fresh start and though Elena has to keep some of the old staff on, like the former executive chef, she is feeling up to the challenge until injuries from her accident start bothering her. As Elena works through her issues at work, she finds herself becoming more and more involved with her boss, Hollywood director, Julian Liswood and his teenage daughter.
Julian owns several restaurants and when he bought his latest in Aspen, he went looking at his others for the perfect someone to get this one up and running. No matter how he looked at it Elena Alvarez had everything he was looking for and some things he wasn’t! Still, his timing was perfect when he asked her to move to CO. As he gets to know Elena, he’s begins wondering if this time he’s found the right woman for him. He needs to be careful as he’s already tried marriage several times and he has a daughter to worry about too.
I loved this book and the way it unfolded. Elena has had several hard knocks come her way yet she stays positive and optimistic. Julian isn’t looking for love or a relationship other than getting his daughter back on track and giving her a stable family home. The way these two cautiously ease into a working and personal relationship is endearing. There is no instant magic that takes away all the bad and leaves only the good. Instead those things that shaped their lives are brought out and examined making Elena and Julian work with what they have and not what they wish they had.
The characters and situations are so realistic that you know them or have heard of them. The issue of illegal aliens is raised and the impact that they have on her service industries. The problems that employers have determining if someone is legal or not is also brought up. There is not philosophical right or wrong argument but a stating of facts letting the reader make up their own mind. Being that Aspen is quickly becoming a place for the rich to move, when locals make comments about no one is local any more, it’s a reality that they are trying to adjust to. The town they knew is no more and they don’t know what their place is any more. Even the ski bums looking for jobs to earn money for their skiing are mentioned!
This is not just a love story about Elena and Julian. Elena has an old friend come to help her with the reopening of this restaurant. Patrick isn’t looking for love any more than Elena but he finds it with the former executive chef, Ivan. They are from two different worlds yet have similar outlooks on many things. When ski bum, Dag starts working at the restaurant and makes a play for Patrick, jealousy rears its head and problems erupt. (If you have problems with homosexual partners, you may have issues with this relationship.)
A few of the characters in this book are dead. They are Elena’s aunt who was as close to her as a sister and Elena’s boy friend. They both died in the accident in which Elena was the only survivor. They also like to visit her, encourage her and interact with her in their ghostly forms. Though strange, they seem to give Elena comfort. Once she finds happiness, will they still remain or will to finally be time for them to move on?
One of the pleasant surprises in this book are the recipes. There are several recipes throughout the book that show up on the Aspen restaurants menu. Most are influenced by Elena’s upbringing in NM but they all look delicious. Given the cold weather that we all seem to be having lately, maybe we ought to try Mayan Hot Chocolate.
In this sumptuous new novel, Barbara O’Neal offers readers a celebration of food, family, and love as a woman searches for the elusive ingredient we’re all hoping to find….
It’s the opportunity Elena Alvarez has been waiting for–the challenge of running her own kitchen in a world-class restaurant. Haunted by an accident of which she was the lone survivor, Elena knows better than anyone how to survive the odds. With her faithful dog, Alvin, and her grandmother’s recipes, Elena arrives in Colorado to find a restaurant in as desperate need of a fresh start as she is–and a man whose passionate approach to food and life rivals her own. Owner Julian Liswood is a name many people know but a man few do. He’s come to Aspen with a troubled teenage daughter and a dream of the kind of stability and love only a family can provide. But for Elena, old ghosts don’t die quietly, yet a chance to find happiness at last is worth the risk.