A charming restaurantA book and its mysterious author A little secret A romantic meeting Paris and all its magic . . .
Cyrano de Bergerac meets Chocolat and Amélie in this intelligent, charming, and entertaining publishing sensation from Europe.While in the midst of a breakup-induced depression, Aurélie Bredin, a beautiful Parisian restaurateur, discovers an astonishing novel in a quaint bookshop on the Ile Saint-Louis. Inexplicably, her restaurant and Aurélie herself are featured in its pages. After reading the whole book in one night, she realizes it has saved her life—and she wishes more than anything to meet its author. Aurélie’s attempts to contact the attractive but shy English author through his French publishers are blocked by the company’s gruff chief editor, André, who only with great reluctance forwards Aurélie’s enthusiastic letter. But Aurélie refuses to give up. One day, a response from the reclusive author actually lands in her mailbox, but the encounter that eventually takes place is completely different from what she had ever imagined. . . . Filled with books, recipes, and characters that leap off the page, The Ingredients of Love by Nicolas Barreau is a tribute to the City of Light.
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NICOLAS BARREAU was born in Paris, the son of a French father and a German mother. He studied romance languages and literature at the Sorbonne and worked in a bookshop on the Rive Gauche in Paris but is far from an inexperienced bookworm. With his two other successful novels The Woman of My Life and You'll Find Me at the End of the World, he has gained an enthusiastic audience. The Ingredients of Love is his second novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :
Last year in November a book saved my life. I know that sounds very unlikely now. Many of you may feel I’m exaggerating—or even being melodramatic—when I say so. But that’s exactly how it was.
It wasn’t that someone had aimed at my heart and the bullet had miraculously been stopped by the pages of a thick, leather-bound edition of Baudelaire’s poetry, as so often happens in the movies. I don’t lead that exciting a life.
No, my foolish heart had already been wounded. On a day that seemed like any other.
I can remember it exactly. The last guests in the restaurant—a group of rather noisy Americans, a discreet Japanese couple, and two argumentative Frenchmen—were as always sitting around quite late, and the Americans were licking their lips with lots of “Oohs” and “Aahs” over the gâteau au chocolat.
After serving the dessert, Suzette had, as always, asked if I still needed her and then rushed happily off. And Jacquie was in his usual bad mood. This time he was worked up about the tourists’ eating habits and was rolling his eyes as he clattered the empty plates into the dishwasher.
“ Ah, les Américains! They know nothing about French cuisine, rien du tout! They always eat the decoration as well—why do I have to cook for barbarians? I have a good mind to give it all up, it really depresses me!”
He’d taken off his apron and growled his bonne nuit at me before getting on his old bike and vanishing into the night. Jacquie is a great cook, and I like him a lot, even if he carries his cantankerousness around with him like a pot of bouillabaisse. He was already the chef in Le Temps des Cerises when the little restaurant with the red-and-white-checked tablecloths just off the lively Boulevard Saint-Germain in the Rue Princesse still belonged to my father. My father loved the chanson about the “Cherry Season,” so lovely and over so soon—a life-affirming and at the same time somewhat melancholy song about lovers who find and then lose each other. And although the left wing in France had later adopted this old song as their unofficial anthem, I believe that the real reason Papa gave his restaurant that name had less to do with the memory of the Paris Commune than with some completely personal memories.
This is the place where I grew up, and when I sat in the kitchen after school doing my homework surrounded by the clatter of the pots and pans and a thousand tempting smells, I could be sure that Jacquie would always have a little tidbit for me.
Jacquie, whose name is actually Jacques Auguste Berton, comes from Normandy, where you can look out as far as the horizon, where the air tastes of salt and nothing obstructs one’s gaze but the endless wind-tossed sea and the clouds. More than once every day he assures me that he loves looking far out into the distance—far out! Sometimes Paris gets too confined and too noisy for him, and then he longs to get back to the coast.
“How can anyone who’s ever had the smell of the Côte Fleurie in his nostrils ever feel good in the exhaust fumes of Paris, just tell me that!”
He waves his chef’s knife and looks reproachfully at me with his big brown eyes before brushing his dark hair from his forehead, hair that is more and more—I notice with a little sadness—flecked with threads of silver.
It was only a few years ago that this burly man with his big hands showed a fourteen-year-old girl with long, dark blond plaits how to make a perfect crème brûlée. It was the first dish I ever impressed my friends with.
Jacquie is of course not just any chef. As a young man he worked in the famous Ferme Saint-Siméon in Honfleur, the little town on the Atlantic coast with the very special light—a refuge for painters and artists. “It had a lot more style then, my dear Aurélie.”
Yet no matter how much Jacquie grumbles, I smile inwardly, because I know he would never leave me in the lurch. And that’s how it was that evening last November, when the sky over Paris was as white as milk and people hurried through the streets wrapped up in thick woolen scarves. A November that was so much colder than all the others I had experienced in Paris. Or did it just seem like that to me?
A few weeks earlier my father had died. Just like that, without any warning, his heart had one day decided to stop beating. Jacquie found him when he opened the restaurant in the afternoon.
Papa was lying peacefully on the floor—surrounded by fresh vegetables, legs of lamb, scallops, and herbs that he had bought at the market that morning.
He left me his restaurant, the recipe for his famous menu d’amour with which he claimed to have won the love of my mother many years before (she died when I was still very small and so I’ll never know if he was pulling my leg), and a few wise bits of advice about life. He was sixty-eight years old, and I found that far too early. But people you love always die too early, don’t they, no matter what age they live to?
“Years don’t mean anything. Only what happens in them,” my father once said as he laid roses on my mother’s grave.
And when—a little nervous but still resolute—I followed in his footsteps as a restaurateur that autumn, the realization that I was now quite alone in the world hit me very hard.
Thank God I had Claude. He worked in the theater as a set designer, and the massive desk that stood under the window in his little attic apartment in the Bastille quarter was always overflowing with drawings and little cardboard models. When he was working on a major job, he would sometimes go to ground for a few days. “I’m not available next week,” he would say, and I had to get used to the fact that he actually refused to answer the phone or open the door even when I was ringing his bell like mad. A short time later he was back as if nothing had happened. He appeared in the sky like a rainbow—beautiful and unattainable—kissed me boldly on the lips, and called me ma petite while the sun played hide-and-seek in his golden blond curls.
Then he took me by the hand and led me off to present his designs to me with gleaming eyes.
I wasn’t allowed to say anything.
When I’d only known Claude for a few months I’d once made the mistake of expressing my opinion openly and, my head to one side, thinking aloud about what might be improved. Claude had stared at me, aghast. His watery blue eyes seemed almost to overflow, and with a single violent movement of his hand he swept his desk clean. Paints, pencils, sheets of paper, glasses, brushes, and little pieces of cardboard flew through the air like confetti and the delicate model of his set for Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which he’d spent so much effort producing, was broken into a thousand pieces.
After that I kept my critical remarks to myself.
Claude was very impulsive, very changeable in his moods, very tender, and very special. Everything about him was “very,” there seemed to be no well-balanced middle ground.
We’d been together about two years by then, and it would never have entered my mind to question my relationship with this complicated and very idiosyncratic man. If you consider it closely, we all have our complications, sensitive spots, and quirks. There are things we do or things we would never do—or only in very special circumstances. Things that make other people laugh and shake their heads and wonder.
Peculiar things that are ours and ours alone.
For example, I collect thoughts. In my bedroom there’s a wall covered with brightly colored notes full of thoughts that I’ve preserved so that, fleeting as they are, they won’t be lost to me. Thoughts about conversations overheard in cafés, about rituals and why they are so important, thoughts about kisses in the park at night, about the heart and hotel rooms, about hands, garden benches, photos, secrets—and when to reveal them—about the light in the trees and about time when it stands still.
My little notes stick to the bright wallpaper like tropical butterflies, captured moments that serve no purpose but to be near me, and when I open the balcony door and a light draft blows through the room they flutter a little, as if they want to fly away.
“What on earth is that?” Claude had raised his eyebrows in disbelief when he first saw my butterfly collection. He came to a halt by the wall and read some of the notes with interest. “Are you going to write a book?”
I blushed and shook my head.
“Good gracious, no! I do it…” I had to think for a moment myself, but couldn’t find a really convincing explanation. “… you know, I just do it. No reason. Like other people take photos.”
“Could it be that you are a little weird, ma petite?” Claude had asked, and then he had thrust his hand up my skirt. “But that doesn’t matter, not in the slightest, because I’m a little bit crazy too…” He brushed his lips over my neck and I suddenly felt quite hot. “… crazy for you.”
A few minutes later we were lying on the bed, my hair wonderfully disheveled, the sun shining through the curtains and painting little quivering circles on the wooden floor, and I could subsequently have stuck another note on the wall about love in the afternoon. But I didn’t.
Claude was hungry, and I made us omelettes, and he said that a girl who made omelettes like that could be allowed any quirks she liked. So here’s something else:
Whenever I’m unhappy or uneasy, I go out and buy some flowers. Of course, I also like flowers when I’m happy, but on days when everything goes wrong flowers are for me like...
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