Saturday, 9 March 2013

Coming Clean in the Kitchen - a Confession by Amanda Usen + Giveaway

You all know how much I love culinary romances, so it is my great pleasure to welcome to Ex Libris, the wonderful culinary romance author and fellow chef herself, please give it up for the lovely Amanda Usen! Amanda was kind enough to share with us her story and answer my noisy questions about writing what she knows and does for a living, so read on to discover some "Behind the Scenes Secrets" of her books! :-)

Coming Clean in the Kitchen: a Confession
by Amanda Usen

Hi, Stella! Happy Blogoversary to youuuuuuu! (add a small beagle howl from Samson, the mischievous dog in Scrumptious, who gnaws on Marlene’s best battery-operated friend.)

Thanks for asking me a few culinary romance related questions to give me a jumping off point. I’m terrified my answers are going to disappoint you, but I’m going to be honest. I’m going to come clean, and simultaneously give you the dirt on SCRUMPTIOUS and LUSCIOUS, my first two romances. (More coming from Entangled’s Indulgence line this year!) Here goes…

Stella: Despite being a chef, spending hours in a kitchen due to your job, do you still find cooking and the kitchen an ideal and sensual set-up for a romance? Why do you think cooking and tasting food are such a great counterpart to seduction and falling in love?

Amanda: Oh, man. You want to know why I set my romances in the kitchen? Because I’ve always had a thing for guys with talent. It could be anything, music, writing, martial arts, acting…can you tell I’m racking my brain to remember ex-boyfriends? When I graduated from Vanderbilt University with my handy-dandy degree in poetry-writing, I got a job in a restaurant as a prep cook. Go ahead and laugh. I’m giggling, too! I wasn’t very practical back then. When you are twenty-two, working in a restaurant is a blast—lots of banter, great snacks, show-off chefs trying to impress the newest hire, and many, many drinks after work. I decided to go to culinary school so that I could join the party forever. It worked, God help me. I met my husband on the first day of class, and we’ve been cooking together ever since. Here is the un-spun truth: I put my heroes and heroines on the hot line because it’s my life, my world, and my memories of coming of age and falling in love with this guy:

Wow! *sighs*
I married a chef, and I live and breathe food. It’s as simple as that. I wish I could be all literary and craft-y, and talk about food evoking emotion and characterizing my heroes and heroines by their food choices…and all of that is true. But I write hot chef heroes and heroines because I love to cook, bake, and eat. Why do I think a food is a great set-up for romance? Because my husband seduced me with salmon sandwiches, creative cocktails and cooking shirtless. I put a whole lot of our first ten years together into SCRUMPTIOUS. None of the sexy bits, though! I’m not that confessional. Also, I learned in my fiction-writing classes that if you stick to close to the truth, it isn’t as much fun to read or write. I could probably go through Scrumptious page by page and tell you where and when I learned each bit of culinary knowledge. Chocolate in the demi-glace? Carmel Valley Ranch Resort, Carmel, CA, when I was doing my extern from the Culinary Institute of America. Burns and scars on Joe’s forearms? Compliments of my sauté-cowboy husband, of course! Marlene’s dessert menu at Chameleon? The desserts I made when I was Susan Spicer’s pastry chef at Bayona in New Orleans. In fact, she put my Pecan Roulade recipe in her cookbook Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes From Susan Spicer’s New Orleans! My husband and I got married while we were living in NOLA and the chocolate ganache wedding cake covered with berries and roses that Marlene makes at the end of the book is totally my wedding cake, right down to the slippage. There I was in my white gown, buzzed on champagne and joy, when the event manager informed me (since I’m a pastry chef) that the gorgeous, ganached, offset layers of my cake were slipping backwards. No, I did not make the cake myself, thank God! So what did I do? I grabbed a dinner plate, turned it upside-down, and jacked the back of the cake up so that it tilted forward. That got us through the cake-cutting ceremony, and after that it didn’t matter. Fourteen years later, I know a lot more about wedding cakes, so Marlene does something a little different to save her cake from the floor in Scrumptious, but that moment of holy crap really happened to me.

The leaning tower of my wedding cake  pre-dinner-plate solution

Now here’s the kicker: I gave Scrumptious everything I had…but I signed a two-book deal! The LUSCIOUS experience was completely different. First and foremost, I set the book in Verona, Italy, and I’ve never been to Italy. Yup. I said it. Never. Why did I do such a crazy-ass thing, when I’m clearly a write-what-you-know kind of girl? I had this idea—this Romeo and Juliet parallel idea. And poor Olivia, many readers hated her in Scrumptious because she was a weakling and a terrible friend, but my own life was such a pressure cooker at the time that I completely identified with her, and I wanted her to get the heck out of Norton and get her groove back. So I immersed myself in Veronese cookbooks, helped to harvest and crush the 2010 Chardonnay grapes at Arrowhead Spring Vineyards, and begged my high-school best friend’s Italian mother-in-law to make sure my Italian was correct. I did (gag) research, and I waited to get crushed in reviews. But the reviews were awesome, and if you get a craving for Tiramisu or Grilled Bruschetta while reading the book, the recipe is on my website! In fact, if you get a craving for just about anything in my books and it’s not already on my site, I probably have the recipe. Just ask!

My next book INTO THE FIRE is coming in June from Entangled’s Indulgence line, and I’m thrilled to have found a new home for my hot chefs and all my latest favorite recipes. Into The Fire is more along the lines of Scrumptious, and it’s got a big piece of my heart in it. Also an amazing chocolate cake and a splendid drink we like to call the Blackberry Smash. I can’t wait to share all of them with you.

Thanks for having me on your blog, Stella! It is my pleasure and privilege to celebrate your Blogoversary with you, and it was fun to come clean about why I write culinary romance!

Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. She married him after graduation in a lovely French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, and they spent a few years enjoying the food and the fun in the Big Easy. Now they live in Western New York with their three children, one hamster, two guinea pigs, a tortoise and a new-to-them beagle.

Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found chasing the kids around the yard with her very own hot chef husband. If you want to chat about romance, writing or recipes, please visit her at 
her website where you can find recipes for many of the yummy dishes in her books (and the recipes in her aphrodisiac menu). She can also be found on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

Scrumptious by Amanda Usen

Joe Rafferty is just as mouthwatering as the food he cooks. But if he thinks he's going to waltz in and take over her kitchen, he's denser than a thick slice of chocolate ripple cheesecake. Marly has invested too much of her life in Chameleon to hand off the restaurant to someone else—especially a cocky–as–all–get–out superstar chef. But there's no denying the man knows how to light her fire. Question is: Can she have the sizzle without feeling the burn?

Eat, play, love

Plain old ice cream just isn't going to cut it. To beat these blues, chef Olivia Marconi needs the good stuff: rich, creamy tiramisu gelato. And no place better to get it than Italy. But a fresh start is nearly impossible with Sean Kindred dogging her every move. She's been burned by his too-hot-to-handle antics before. Though there's no denying the man can still get her all fired up. Could a weeklong affair finally turn into something more lasting...or will it all go up in flames?


Amanda has generously offered winner's choice of either a copy of Scrumptious or Luscious!

To be entered just fill out the Rafflecopter form below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway is open worldwide and ends on 5 April 2013!

Good luck!

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