The following is my select reading list of novels that give front and center to delicious plots and passages about food, chefs, restaurants and other gourmet attractions. The Crispy Cook has read many of them, and they run the gamut from cozy mysteries and chick lit novels to literary classics. Please feel free to add comments below to suggest additions to this hors d'oeuvre.
Abu-Jaber, Diana, "Crescent" (NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 2003, first edition). A haunting and magical book about the orphaned Sirine, chef at a Lebanese restaurant who falls in love with the Iraqi Literature Professor, Hanif. Plenty of side-plots and great restaurant banter among the Arabic student clientele.
Allison, Karen, "How I Gave My Heart to the Restaurant Business: A Novel", (NY: HarperCollins, 1997). A novel of the New York City restaurant business by a former three-star restaurateur.
Averill, Thomas Fox, "Secrets of the Tsil Cafe" (NY: Bluehen Books, 2001). Young Wes Hingler grows up with two feuding foodie parents; a dad who owns a Southwestern/Native American restaurant and a mom with a catering company.
Barr, Nancy Verde, "Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance" (NY: Algonquin Books, 2006). A semi-autobiographical novel about an Italian-Irish prep cook for a television cooking show featuring a Julia Child-like star. Some romance and recipes added.
Bauermeister, Erica, "The School of Essential Ingredients" (NY: Putnam, 2009). On Monday nights when her restaurant is closed, Lillian holds a cooking school, where she teaches her students essential lessons about cooking, life and love. And they teach her too.
Binchy, Maeve, "Scarlet Feather", (NY: Dutton, 2001). Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather are cooking school chums and upon graduation, decide to combine forces in a Dublin, Ireland catering company.
Blochman, Lawrence G., "Recipe for Murder" (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1952). A vintage mystery starring Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee, scientific sleuth, as he investigates the murder in the gleaming kitchens of the Barzac Soup Canneries. Dr. Coffee must look into the ranks of the dissenting Ox Tail and Cream of Celery factions, marketing executives and feuding home economists.
Bond, Michael - Monsieur Pamplemousse series. Prolific author Michael Bond, creator of Paddington the Bear and the Olga da Polga guinea pig childrens' tales, has at least 15 mystery novels featuring undercover French restaurant critic and gourmand, Monsieur Pamplemousse (French for grapefruit). Magnifique!
Bourdain, Anthony, "Bone in the Throat" (NY: Villard, 1995). Before he hit it big with his high-octane restaurant confessional "Kitchen Confidential" (a non-fiction foodie classic already), Bourdain wrote this novel about a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking and drugging restaurant chef who gets in trouble with the Mafia.
Capella, Anthony, "The Food of Love" (NY: Viking, 2004). A sensual first novel by Capella about Tommaso, an Italian waiter, posing as a chef, who is beguiled by the American Laura. She is determined to only date Italian men that know food, so in a retelling of the Cyrano de Bergerac story, enlists the help of the shy chef, Bruno, who promptly falls in love with Laura. Lots of Italian lingo, architecture, and of course, food.
Carl, JoAnna - Chocolate Mystery series. This cozy series features Texas ex-trophy wife Lee McKinney, who moves back to her Michigan hometown to work in her aunt's gourmet chocolate business.
Carlson, Lori Marie, "The Sunday Tertulia", (NY: Perennial, 2000). Each Sunday afternoon Claire is invited to her adopted aunties' tertulia, a lunch and gab session with her Latina friends.
Carter, Sammi - Chocolate Mystery series. See JoAnna Carl above. Another cozy series with another divorcee in a chocolate shop.
Chepaitis, Barbara, "Feeding Christine", (NY: Bantam Books, 2000) - Teresa's Bread and Roses catering business is gearing up for their Christmas open house when everything in her personal life starts spinning out of orbit. Plenty of cooking tidbits spice up the plot.
Childs, Laura, Tea Shop Mystery Series - A cozy mystery series featuring Theodosia Brown, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop in historic Charleston, South Carolina. Delightful recipes and special tea time decorating and menu ideas at the back of each book.
Christensen, Kate "The Epicure's Lament" (NY: Anchor Books, 2004). Hugo Whittier is the reclusive hero of this black comedy as he retreats to the dilapidated family mansion to smoke and eat himself to death. To his dismay, various eccentric relatives keep moving in.
Crusie, Jennifer and Bob Mayer, "Agnes and the Hitman" (NY: St. Martin's, 2007). The two bestselling authors collaborate on this romantic-adventure-suspense caper involving food writer Agnes Crandall and her hit man love interest, Shane.
Davidson, Diane Mott - Goldy Bear Culinary Mystery series. Davidson is the reigning queen of the culinary mystery series, with a Colorado caterer, Goldy Bear, who solves many a whodunnit in between whipping up fabulous feasts. Recipes included.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee, "The Mistress of Spices" (NY: Anchor, 1998). - A magical realist novel about Tilo, who trained as a mystical healer in her native India and now heals people in her spice shop in Oakland, California. The novel was later made into a 2005 film.
Elbling, Peter, "The Food Taster" (NY: Plume, 2003). A fabulous, earthy tale of a simple peasant, Ugo, who becomes the food taster at the court of a vicious Duke and must use all his wiles to keep himself and his beloved daughter alive. Italian Renaissance recipes included.
Esquivel, Laura, "Like Water for Chocolate" (NY: Anchor Books, 1992). The author's first novel, a magic realist AND foodie classic. The Mother of all Foodie Novels. Esquivel interweaves the bittersweet story of a young Mexican woman, Tita de la Garza, whose home cooking is infused with her emotions after her mother forbids her to marry the love of her life. A recipe for a Mexican dish or folkloric home remedy heads each chapter.
Fairbanks, Nancy - Carolyn Blue culinary mystery series - Carolyn Blue is an El Paso, Texas food writer whose culinary capers often intersect with the need to figure out who killed the alarming number of corpses that keep interrupting her cooking and writing. Recipes at the back of each book.
Flagg, Fannie, "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe", (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1988). A folksy foodie classic set in a down-home Southern cafe during the 1930s. You can almost taste the pimento-cheese sandwiches.
Fluke, Joanne, Hannah Swensen mystery series. A light culinary mystery series featuring a Minnesota bakery owner. Recipes included.
Gannascoli, Joseph R. and Allen C. Kupfer, "A Meal to Die For: A Culinary Novel of Crime". Benny Lacoco wanted to be a restaurant chef, but Mob ties got in the way, and so he operates as a "food fence", finding ways to pawn off stolen gourmet food and wine.
Gordon, Nadia, "The Sunny McCoskey Napa Valley Mystery series". Chef Sunny is the heroine of these novels which feature her organic restaurant and the other bistros and wineries in this California region.
Harris, Joanne - Any novel by this wonderful writer will have luscious descriptions of French cooking, gardening, wine and other delights for the senses. "Chocolat" is her best known work, but don't miss out on her other novels too, including the dreamy "Five Quarters of the Orange and "Blackberry Wine".
Hart, Ellen - Sophie Greenway & Jane Lawless series. This art has two separate culinary mystery series: one featuring Minneapolis food critic Sophie Greenway and the other featuring Minneapolis restaurateur Jane Lawless.
Hendricks, Judith Ryan, "Bread Alone" (NY: William Morrow, 1993). Wynter Morrison gets ditched by her upwardly mobile husband and drifts over to Seattle, where she works in a bakery and heals her sore heart with breadmaking.
Hildenbrand, Elin, "The Blue Bistro" (NY: St. Martin's, 2006). Described as a sophisticated romance novel in which upscale Nantucket restaurant hostess pines for the affections of her boss, who dines nightly with a female chef.
Hudler, Ad, "The Househusband" (NY: Ballantine, 2004) - Lincoln Menner is a househusband raising his 3-year-old daughter and cooking up gourmet meals for his hospital executive wife. Recipes included. A sequel, "Man of the House", was just released in September 2008.
Jacobs, Kate, "Comfort Food" (NY: Putnam, 2008) - Middleaged Gus is the long-running host of a television cooking show which he producers think needs some spice in the form of a hot, young beauty queen sidekick.
Jacques, Brian - The Redwall series. This juvenile fantasy series is chock full of feasting scenes among the Good animals (hares, voles, otters, badgers) of Redwall Abbey. They work hard at the harvest and in fighting off the Bad animals (foxes, rats, wild cats) but then enjoy bountiful harvests of nut-studded cheeses, ales, casseroles of grains and vegetables and toothsome, honey-drenched desserts.
James, Kay-Marie, "Cooking for Harry: A Low-Carbohydrate Novel" (NY: Shaye Areheart Books, 2004). This light confection was written by a best-selling author under the pen name of Kay-Marie James to raise money for her financially-strapped best friend, so there's a mystery underpinning this tale about a chubby hubby whose gourmet hobby must be curtailed on the advice of his doctor. Plenty of mouthwatering cooking scenes.
Kilham, Nina, "How to Cook a Tart", (NY: Bloomsbury, 2002). Caloric cookbook author Jasmine March has some problems: her husband has taken up with a skinny young lover, her daughter has an eating disorder, her publisher wants to cancel her book contracts and there's that dead corpse in her kitchen.
King, Mia, "Good Things", (NY: Berkley, 2007) - A chick-lit novel about a Seattle cooking show personality who loses her job and her roommate at the same time and strives to live simply and well, as she used to preach on her TV show. Scrumptious recipes included.
King, Peter, The Gourmet Detective Series - This culinary mystery series sends its chef-cum-sleuth to Provence, Bologna, New York City, a Swiss spa, and a British castle-turned-medieval-theme restaurant where he delves into solving the inevitable murder which crops up during his foodie research assignments.
Kirchner, Bharti, "Pastries" (NY: St. Martin's Press, 2003). Sunya is a Seattle bakery owner who is struggling with competition from a chain bakery down the block, a repellent, potential new stepfather and loss of her boyfriend. The remedy to her woes? She enrolls in a world-class baking school in Japan.
Lanchester, John, "The Debt to Pleasure" (NY: Henry Holt, 1996) - A literate novel about a strange Englishman, Tarquin Winot, whose gourmet pleasures and life philosophy unfold in an increasingly diabolical manner.
Laurent, Antoine, "Cuisine Novella" (NY: Viking, 1987). The author's first book, a novel in which a French master chef proposes to instruct fashion designer Annabelle Fleury in the secrets of haute cuisine.
Lewis, C.S., "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe", (NY: Collier, 1970). Not your typically foodie novel per se, but the passages involving tea with Mr. Tumnus (boiled egg, sardines on toast, buttered toast, toast with honey, a sugar-topped cake), the hot, sweet, foamy, creamy drink and Turkish Delight with which the Queen tempts Edmund, and the homey food whipped up by Mrs. Beaver are enough to create a foodie out of anyone who reads this fantasy classic.
Louie, David Wong, "The Barbarians are Coming" (NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2000). In this humorous novel, Sterling is a first generation Chinese-American CIA graduate who becomes the chef fora private WASP-y club in Connecticut, while juggling a new romance with a Jewish-American princess and dental student.
Lynch, Sarah-Kate, "By Bread Alone" (NY: Warner Books, 2004) - A sultry novel about French breadmaking and its lasting influence on a London housewife. The author also wrote another foodie novel "Blessed Are the Cheesemakers".
Lyons, Nan and Ivan, "Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of America" (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993). A sequel to the Lyons' wildly successful gastronomic murder mystery, "Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe", which was made into a 1978 film with the wonderfully comic actor Robert Morley as the overweight gourmand determined to sample the specialties of various world-class European chefs, but finds that they are fatally "prepared" in the same way as their dishes before he can dine. In this American sequel, murder breaks out at a Culinary Olympics.
Martin, Deirdre, "Just a Taste" (NY: Berkley, 2008). Chef Vivi has a bistro across the road from widower Anthony's Italian restaurant and these two find love after fighting a culinary war in their Brooklyn neighborhood.
Mason, Sarah J., "Corpse in the Kitchen" (NY: Berkley, 1993). English Det. Sgt. Trewley is aided by his scientist and judo expert partner, Sgt. Stone, as they investigate the murder of a baker, suffocated by a wad of her own bread dough.
McCouch, Hannah - "Girl Cook: A Novel" (NY: Villard, 2004). A chick lit novel centering on the trials of Layla Mitchner, looking for love and respect in the heat of Manhattan's trendiest restaurant kitchens.
McKevett, G.A. - Savannah Reid series. Light police procedurals featuring Southern California Police Detective Savannah Reid, a chubby, 40-something policewoman with a fondness for desserts.
Mehran, Marsha - "Pomegranate Soup" (NY: Random House, 2005). This debut novel and its sequel "Rosewater and Soda Bread", combine Persian cooking with Irish culture, as the three Iranian Aminpour sisters open the Babylon Cafe in a rural village.
Myers, Tamar - Magdalena Yoder series. These culinary mysteries feature Yoder as the owner/cook of an Amish inn located in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Loaded with down-home cooking and recipes.
Mones, Nicole, "The Last Chinese Chef", (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007). Recently widowed Food Writer Maggie McElroy finds solace in classical Chinese cuisine when she travels to Beijing to write an article about a chef hoping to make a spot in the National Cooking Team for the 2008 Olympics.
Norris, Frances, "Blue Plate Special: A Novel of Love, Loss, and Food" (NY: St. Martin's Press, 2005). Newly orphaned in her thirties and half-heartedly interested in her job as an L.A. food stylist, Julia Daniel struggles with depression and a dream to be photographer on her own.
Pence, Joanne - Angela Amalfi series. A breezy, romantic, culinary mystery series with San Francisco food writer and caterer Angela Amalfi at the helm.
Pezzelli, Peter, "Francesca's Kitchen" (NY: Kensington, 2006). Francesca is an Italian-American Queen of the Kitchen, who faces widowhood and an empty nest with sadness until she finds a new family to cook and care for as a part-time nanny.
Posadas, Carmen, "Little Indiscretions: A Delectable Mystery", (NY: Random House, 2003). An international bestseller and winner of Spain's top literary prize, the Planeta, this novel looks at the mysterious death of a pastry chef in a walk-in freezer as he is planning a banquet at a Spanish villa.
Prior, Lily, "La Cucina" (NY: HarperCollins, 2000) . The Sicilian version of proto-foodie novel "Like Water for Chocolate", in which our middle-aged librarian protagonist, Rosa Fiore, leaves her raucous rural peasant family, comprised of six older brothers, a pair of younger Siamese twins, and her parents when her teen lover is murdered by the Mafia. She becomes an academic librarian in Palermo and saves her passions for her cooking, until a mysterious English visitor, L'Inglese, enters her life.
Rawles, Nancy, "Crawfish Dreams" (NY: Doubleday, 2003). Camille Broussard looks around at her floundering family and depressed Watts neighborhood and decides to get cooking! She opens Camille's Creole Kitchen and works up some culinary magic.
Rayner, Jay, "Eating Crow" (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004). Written by a restaurant critic, this novel features Marc Basset in the same profession, who must deal with the repercussions when he writes a scathing review and the chef subsequently kills himself by roasting himself in his own oven, with a copy of the review affixed to the oven door.
Rich, Virginia - The Eugenia Potter series. The late Virginia Rich wrote several food-laden mysteries, starting with "The Cooking School Murders", which star the savvy Eugenia Potter, a Nantucket retiree. Nancy Pickard has continued the delightful and well-written series.
Samuel, Barbara, "No Place Like Home" (NY: Ballantine, 2003) - Teenaged Jewel Sabatino left her large Italian family back in Colorado to seek love, fame and fortune with her guitarist boyfriend. 21 years later she returns to her estranged circle of family and friends and works in the family restaurant until she gets back on her feet.
Stolz, Karen, "World of Pies" (NY: Hyperion, 2000). A slice of life in a little Texas town from the 1960s to 2000, as seen through the eyes of Roxanne and her close-knit family. Plenty of down-home cooking spices up the plot. Recipes included.
Stout, Rex - The Nero Wolfe mystery series. Grand master mystery writer Stout wrote over 30 novels and 30+ short stories featuring his corpulent, housebound (by choice) detective Nero Wolfe, whose sidekick Archie Godwin does all the legwork in solving multiple murders. Wolfe's passions are for growing orchids in his opulent New York City brownstone and for the three gourmet meals his personal chef Fritz prepares for him (with Wolfe's critical suggestions).
Taylor, Timothy, "Stanley Park" (NY: Counterpoint, 2003). Jeremy Papier has Vancouver's hottest restaurant, The Monkey's Paw Bistro, but is also immersed in solving a decades-old crime in the park that his "participatory anthropologist" professor father lives in as he studies the homeless and roasts up sparrows.
Temple, Lou Jane - Heaven Lee series. Lee is the chef at her Kansas City restaurant, Cafe Heaven, and sleuths for clues when she's not cooking there or judging barbeque contests in this cozy culinary mystery series.
Truong, Monique, "The Book of Salt" (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003). The author's first novel, based on the life of Binh, the Vietnamese cook for Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein during their Paris years.
Volland, Susan, "Cooking for Mr. Right" (NY: New American Library, 2005). The chef author writes a light novel about the romantic life of Seattle restaurant cook Kate Linden. Recipes at the back of the book.
Ward, Jane, "Hunger" (NY: TOR, 2001). After her marriage breaks up, Anna Rossi makes a new start as a kitchen assistant in a New Hampshire ski resort.
Winston, Lolly, "Good Grief", (NY: Warner Books, 2004). Sophie is a young widow with panic attacks and depression who moves to Oregon to make a fresh start as a culinary student and bakes her way through her grief.
Wright, Vinita Hampton, "Velma Still Cooks in Leeway" (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000). Velma is the part-time janitor at her Baptist church and has a restaurant in her southeastern Kansas town. Plenty of down-home recipes and small town banter.