Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Foodie Feminism: Laura Florand's THE CHOCOLATE KISS

Hunger for food and hunger for sex are two of the most essential drives human beings can experience. Mix the two together in a novel, and you have the recipe for a tasty literary concoction known as the "foodie romance." Often set in a professional culinary setting (a restaurant, a bakery, a catering company), and featuring characters who work therein, the best foodie romances aren't just about a couple falling in love; they're about the way that a love of food contributes to, or serves as a symbol of, a newly developing romantic relationship.

The most enchanting books amongst the recent smorgasbord of foodie romances must certainly be those written by Laura Florand. The first novel in her Chocolate series, The Chocolate Thief, about an American chocolate heiress hoping to expand her mass-market company's reach by drawing on the talents of a world-renowned French chocolatier, was published to deserved acclaim last summer. Her follow-up, The Chocolate Kiss, proves an equally enticing treat—frothing with humor, taut with sexual tension, bubbling over with sophistication and charm. And, best of all, this bonbon of a book has a delicious core of feminist sensibility at its heart.

Since graduating from college, Magalie Chaudron has worked with her Aunt Geneviève and her aunt's lover, Aunt Aja, in their Paris tea shop, La Maison des Sorcières (The Witches' House). Her specialty is the pot of chocolat chaud, so seemingly simple to prepare, yet so delicious when it's made by Magalie. Perhaps it's that slow smile that grows in her when she stirs it. Or perhaps it's the wish she adds after observing what each patron most needs: May you realize your own freedom. May you love your life and seize it with both hands. May all your most wonderful dreams come true. 

But it's Magalie's worst nightmare, not her most wonderful dream, when Phillipe Lyonnais, Paris's Prince des Pâtissieres, decides to open a branch of his world-renowned pastry shop just down the street from La Maison des Sorcières. Despite her aunt's matchmaking schemes, Magalie is certain that "in the whole history of the known world, there had been no mention of a romantic attachment between a prince and a witch. Lots of battles, yes, lots of arrogant royals reduced to toads, but not much love lost." The fame of Lyonnais is certain to put her aunts' tiny tea-shop out of business, and Magalie, plagued by a perpetually peripatetic childhood, yet again out of a place to call her own.

When Magalie sets off to beard the lion in his den, to ask him to open his new shop elsewhere, Phillipe's arrogant confidence and unrecognized privilege (not to mention her own attraction to him) annoy her to the point of rage. She's no beggar, here to ask the lofty prince for a boon. Her cold, ego-puncturing remarks catch Phillipe's attention, but it's not until she refuses his peace offering—one of his own, hand-made macarons ("His Désir. Apricot kissed by pistachio, with the secret little square of pistachio praline hidden inside, like a G-spot")—that he realizes there's something different about this prickly young woman, something that for the first time in a long time fills him with dissatisfaction. He'd "been having a good day," Phillipe thinks, "until he got cursed by a witch."

In his turn, Phillipe refuses Magalie's offering of a cup of her chocolat chaud during the grand opening of his new shop, and the battle lines are drawn. Phillipe devises ever more delectable combinations of macaron ingredients, hoping to overwhelm Magalie's palate; Magalie adds wishes to her patrons' chocolat chaud, all of which, infuriatingly, seem to send them scurrying to the new Lyonnais shop down the street. Who will give in first? Magalie, who knows that a susceptibility to princes has led to many a fine woman's downfall, and refuses to accept the role of helpless princess? Philippe, whose "superiority complex" is so great that he chooses the site of his new shop as "a polite gesture," so "he could make it easier for weekend tourists and not force them to choose between himself and Notre-Dame"?

Is Magalie witch or princess? Is Philippe prince or beast? Can Rapunzel invite the prince into her tower without ceding him herself? Or with both of them starving, will the beast consume her whole?

Asking, not demanding; choosing, not being forced; trusting, not just the one you love, but above all yourself: these are the ingredients for a lasting, and feminist, love, Florand's novel argues, a love that doesn't diminish, but makes you ten times bigger, ten times more powerful. And one that satisfies the deepest hungers we'll ever know.

Photo/Illustration credits:
• Chocolat chaud: My French Country Home
• Macarons: Ladurée
• "She filled her home...": Bethany Barton, The Honesty Revolution

 ARC courtesy of netgalley

Laura Florand, The Chocolate Kiss. Kensington, December 2012.

Next time on RNFF:
Talking about sex in romance


  1. Laura sent me an ARC of this book very kindly to compensate me for 10 days with no power in NY. I love, love, love this series, which actually started with a short story in an anthology, Kiss the Bride. Laura's writing is romantic & sensual, and so good you don't want to put the book down until you finish it. Thanks for the great review!

  2. Glad to hear I'm not Laura Florand's only fan. Thanks for stopping by, Sharlene.

  3. Hi Jackie! I discovered your blog just a couple of months ago and love reading your thoughts on all things romance!

    Inspired by your review of The Chocolate Kiss I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed myself :) Here's my thoughts on the book: http://wordsamany.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/the-chocolate-kiss-laura-florand-review/

    Thanks for writing such great pieces! I've picked up a few other recommendations from your blog; hopefully will get to a few more of them soon.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Juhi! And thanks for the pointer to your review -- I enjoyed reading it.

  4. I loved this one! It is indeed a wonderful feminist romance -- I thought it was great that Magalie started to thaw in other ways, not just romantically, and that they found a way to give in together. My review: http://karenknowsbest.com/2013/05/21/willaful-review-the-chocolate-kiss-by-laura-florand/