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Cooking for Picasso: A Novel
     

Cooking for Picasso: A Novel

4.0 5
by Camille Aubray
 

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For readers of Paula McLain, Nancy Horan, and Melanie Benjamin, this captivating novel is inspired by a little-known interlude in the artist’s life.

The French Riviera, spring 1936: It’s off-season in the lovely seaside village of Juan-les-Pins, where seventeen-year-old Ondine cooks with her mother in the kitchen of their

Overview

For readers of Paula McLain, Nancy Horan, and Melanie Benjamin, this captivating novel is inspired by a little-known interlude in the artist’s life.

The French Riviera, spring 1936: It’s off-season in the lovely seaside village of Juan-les-Pins, where seventeen-year-old Ondine cooks with her mother in the kitchen of their family-owned Café Paradis. A mysterious new patron who’s slipped out of Paris and is traveling under a different name has made an unusual request—to have his lunch served to him at the nearby villa he’s secretly rented, where he wishes to remain incognito.

Pablo Picasso is at a momentous crossroads in his personal and professional life—and for him, art and women are always entwined. The spirited Ondine, chafing under her family’s authority and nursing a broken heart, is just beginning to discover her own talents and appetites. Her encounter with Picasso will continue to affect her life for many decades onward, as the great artist and the talented young chef each pursue their own passions and destiny.

New York, present day: Céline, a Hollywood makeup artist who’s come home for the holidays, learns from her mother, Julie, that Grandmother Ondine once cooked for Picasso. Prompted by her mother’s enigmatic stories and the hint of more family secrets yet to be uncovered, Céline carries out Julie’s wishes and embarks on a voyage to the very town where Ondine and Picasso first met. In the lush, heady atmosphere of the Côte d’Azur, and with the help of several eccentric fellow guests attending a rigorous cooking class at her hotel, Céline discovers truths about art, culture, cuisine, and love that enable her to embrace her own future.

Featuring an array of both fictional characters and the French Riviera’s most famous historical residents, set against the breathtaking scenery of the South of France, Cooking for Picasso is a touching, delectable, and wise story, illuminating the powers of trust, money, art, and creativity in the choices that men and women make as they seek a path toward love, success, and joie de vivre.

Advance praise for Cooking for Picasso

“Intrigue, art, food, and deception are woven together in a tale of love and betrayal around the life and legacy of Picasso. Touching and true, this well-written narrative made me long for my mother’s coq au vin and for the sun of Juan-les-Pins.”—Jacques Pépin, chef, TV personality, author

“Camille Aubray has created a vividly imagined tale of a young French woman’s life-changing encounter with the most unconventional artist of the modern age. Intriguing and insightful, the sensory details alone will have you thinking you’re reading the pages seated at a seaside café in the South of France.”—Susan Meissner, author of Secrets of a Charmed Life

“Takes the reader on a heartfelt journey to the South of France . . . In prose that is wise, atmospheric, and plain fun, Aubray expertly blends fact and fiction to create a rich and memorable tale.”—Michelle Gable, New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment

“Aubray brings Picasso brilliantly to life. Her intriguing intertwined narratives are utterly spellbinding and deeply touching—as rare as a page-turner with soul.”—Anne Fortier, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Sisterhood and Juliet

“A warm and spicy combination of art, family intrigue, food, and romance, set in sun-drenched Provence.”—Erica Bauermeister, bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
06/27/2016
In 1936, Céline’s grandmother Ondine Belange was a beautiful 17-year-old girl living in a tiny village in the south of France. The daughter of café owners, Ondine is sent to cook for a mysterious man who has rented a villa in Juan-les-Pins. When the temperamental 54-year-old turns out to be Pablo Picasso, known to have intense love affairs, Ondine’s life (and ultimately Céline’s) is changed forever, especially once she begins posing for him. In the modern day, Céline has come to France under the guise of taking a cooking class to search for the painting that her mother has told her Picasso gave her grandmother. She enlists the help of a celebrity chef, Gil Halliwell, to look for the painting that she is sure holds the key not only to her past but her future. The novel alternates between Ondine’s encounters with Picasso and the repercussions of that brief affair, and Céline’s adventures with cooking, love, and history along the Mediterranean. Both plot lines include a romance—one too sensationalized and one that climaxes without enough buildup. The real meat in this novel is the details (both real and imagined) of Picasso’s fascinating life. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“[A] colorful family saga . . . Cooking for Picasso [is] a novel about how people take what seems to be worthless and make it into something priceless. Whether it’s a woman who creates meaning from sad circumstances or a genius who finds his way through a fallow period to create his masterwork, the characters in Camille Aubray’s novel illustrate how essential bad is to good, life is to death and work is to art. . . . Aubray slowly reveals that value lies not in what you own, but in who you are.”The Washington Post
 
"[A] delicious, atmospheric novel. You'll be glad you're along for the ride."People

“This touching and delectable novel invokes the breathtaking scenery of the South of France and the Cote d’Azur. . . . Aubray paints a beautiful story of love, art, food, and the enduring romance of the Mediterranean.”—Fodor’s Travel
 
“[A] sweet summer escape.”Cosmopolitan
 
“With lively characters and a twisting plot, Aubray’s novel is a smart and satisfying tale of family, creativity, romance and intrigue.”Booklist

"[A] tasty blend of romance, mystery, French cooking, and the hairy old painter himself."—Margaret Atwood

“This richly crafted tale of love, trust, art and food is wonderfully evocative of the sun-kissed Côte d’Azur, while weaving in a modern-day mystery. . . . Ideal for whiling away some time en vacances on the Riviera.”France Today

“Two delicious love stories held together by the bonds of family unfold through Aubray’s lyricalprose as she paints a portrait of Southern France, haute cuisine and the thrilling hunt for a missing masterpiece. With the skill of an artist, she describes Picasso at a crossroads in his life.”Romantic Times

"An entertaining getaway for art lovers and Francophiles . . . The novel's descriptions of food are mouthwatering, and Picasso himself is bold and engaging, a man of outsized passions."Shelf Awareness

"Charming."Muses & Visionaries

“Aubray produces a vivid and interesting picture of Picasso and doesn’t shy away from his personal entanglements.”Historical Novels Review

"In this delightful journey, a woman’s kitchen skills blossom while Picasso struggles with the next steps in his career."—BookBub

"Romance cum mystery—full of art, family bickering, and of course, fabulous food—fully enjoyable.”—Audiofile

“The novel alternates between Ondine’s encounters with Picasso and the repercussions of that brief affair, and Céline’s adventures with cooking, love, and history along the Mediterranean. The real meat in this novel is the details (both real and imagined) of Picasso’s fascinating life.”Publishers Weekly

“A quest for the missing Picasso worthy of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn . . . an amuse-bouche filled with secret ingredients, covert liaisons, and hidden compartments.”Kirkus Reviews

“Intrigue, art, food, and deception are woven together in a tale of love and betrayal around the life and legacy of Picasso. Touching and true, this well-written narrative made me long for my mother’s coq au vin and for the sun of Juan-les-Pins.”—Jacques Pépin, chef, TV personality, author

“Camille Aubray has created a vividly imagined tale of a young French woman’s life-changing encounter with the most unconventional artist of the modern age. Intriguing and insightful, the sensory details alone will have you thinking you’re reading the pages seated at a seaside café in the South of France.”—Susan Meissner, author of Secrets of a Charmed Life
 
“Takes the reader on a heartfelt journey to the South of France . . . In prose that is wise, atmospheric, and plain fun, Aubray expertly blends fact and fiction to create a rich and memorable tale.”—Michelle Gable, New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment
 
“Aubray brings Picasso brilliantly to life. Her intriguing intertwined narratives are utterly spellbinding and deeply touching—as rare as a page-turner with soul.”—Anne Fortier, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Sisterhood and Juliet
 
“Fans of Peter Mayle’s fiction will love Cooking for Picasso, a warm and spicy combination of art, family intrigue, food, and romance, set in sun-drenched Provence.”—Erica Bauermeister, bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients
 
“A love of Gallic gastronomy—and especially the food of Provence—is one of the passions shared by the three generations of French women who are depicted in this intriguing psychological portrait, which doubles as a page-turning thriller based on the search for a missing masterpiece.”—Alexander Lobrano, author of Hungry for Paris and Hungry for France

Kirkus Reviews
2016-05-17
In 1936, young Ondine Belange's parents give her a mission: deliver lunch daily from their Café Paradis to a reclusive man renting a nearby villa. They swear her to silence, for the patron's name is Pablo Picasso.Picasso has fled Paris, his wife, and mistress for the picturesque countryside of Juan-les-Pins. Ondine soon finds herself swept up in the artist's adventures, meeting Matisse and Cocteau; witnessing jealous fights between Picasso's mistresses; posing for a series of portraits; and even taking him briefly as her lover. He sees her as an artist in her own right—a culinary artist. Yet Picasso disappears just as suddenly as he appeared, leaving Ondine more passionately awakened to the possibilities of her own life. Her parents have unfortunately arranged a marriage that will secure their business but personally disappoints her. Luckily, Ondine's long-lost true love, Luc, returns in the nick of time to sweep her out of France. They land in New York, opening their own successful restaurant and raising their daughter, Julie. Years later, Julie gives her own daughter, Céline, Ondine's notebook of recipes, a letter written the day of Céline's birth, and clues suggesting that Picasso left Ondine more than memories—perhaps a painting was hidden among Ondine's effects! A little sluggish at first, with chapters told from a wide-eyed young Ondine's perspective, Aubray's story picks up the pace and ratchets up the tension when Céline's dastardly stepfather and twin half siblings enter the picture. Determined to cut Céline off from any inheritance, they machinate devious obstacles to keep her from her mother, setting in motion a quest for the missing Picasso worthy of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. As with any good quest, the heroine finds love along the way, too. An amuse-bouche filled with secret ingredients, covert liaisons, and hidden compartments.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399177651
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/09/2016
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
66,961
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ondine at the Café Paradis, Spring 1936 

A salty southwestern wind came rushing across the Mediterranean Sea with heraldic ceremony, driving a white-­capped tide against the rocks and jostling the fishing boats in the harbor of Juan-­les-­Pins before sweeping into the backyard of the Café Paradis, where Ondine was busy peeling her vegetables. 

She’d escaped outdoors with her work on this sunny April morning because the café’s kitchen was already a cauldron. A tiny backyard patio was gracefully shaded by a majestic Aleppo pine tree, and Ondine sat on a low stone wall that rimmed the tree. Wielding a confident knife, she diligently pared and sorted Provence’s springtime treasures—­baby carrots, peas and artichokes so tender they could be served raw, topped by thinly sliced lemons sweet enough to eat with their rinds on. 

She was working briskly and a delicate sheen of sweat made her sensitive to that sudden change in the wind as it rustled significantly through the pine tree’s branches. Because Ondine had been raised to believe in nature’s auspicious signs and warnings, she put down her knife, closed her eyes and lifted her head to greet the breeze as it skimmed across her face with an invigorating whiff of the sea. 

She seldom got a quiet moment alone like this to think her own thoughts. So when a hazy premonition of a more exciting future somewhere far away began to shape itself in her mind, she struggled to capture it, as if reaching to grasp a firefly before the light disappeared. 

“Ondine!” her mother shouted from the café’s kitchen. “Where is she? On-­dine!” 

Ondine flinched as she heard her name reverberating against the huddle of pale stone buildings. She glanced up, and saw her mother’s head framed by the window like a portrait of a formidable empress. Even though it was too late for breakfast and too early for the lunch service, there was never a lull in cooking chores to do in order to meet the café’s high standards. 

Everyone who worked in the Café Paradis knew his role, right down to the striped cat who patrolled for any mouse foolhardy enough to come near the kitchen, and the bulldog who stood guard against tramps skulking about for an easy handout or an unlocked window. As for Ondine, who was seventeen now, her job was to do whatever her mother told her. 

Madame Belange peered out the kitchen window and finally spied her daughter. “What do you think you’re doing, lounging there in the garden like a pasha?”

“I’m just finishing up, Maman!” Ondine called, rising hastily and hoisting her vegetable basket on her hip as she hurried to the kitchen. By now the fortuitous wind had gone off on its inscrutable way without her. In its place came the usual busy odors of kitchen oil and truck fuel and wood-­burning from the farmers’ fields. Still, there was definitely a whiff of something special in the air today—­her parents had been acting oddly all morning, murmuring to each other in hushed tones. 

As she drew closer to the open kitchen window, Ondine’s discerning nose picked up the first scents of the day’s luncheon menu: onion-­and-­black-­olive tartes called pissaladière; a pork stew of red wine and myrtle; and, for the fish—­could it be . . .? 

She burst inside and went straight to the old black stove seething in its corner with the collected heat of decades of well-­cooked meals. The fragrance wafting from a big kettle was unmistakable now. 

“Bouillabaisse!” she exclaimed, wondering why her mother had chosen this special dish—­which required a half-­dozen kinds of fish—­instead of making a simpler and less expensive fish soup called bourride. Ondine lifted the pot’s lid and inhaled rapturously. Celery, onion, garlic, tomato, fennel, pepper, parsley, thyme, bay and the distinctive orange rind used in the South of France; and something else especially rare and precious, which turned the broth to the color of gold.

“Did you use Père Jacques’ saffron today?” Ondine asked, impressed. 

Her busy mother glanced up and actually paused for a moment. “Yes,” Madame Belange said, reaching for a tiny glass vial which she held up to the light and examined reverently. “I’m afraid it’s the last of it, all except this one strand which I could not bear to lose.” Mother and daughter exchanged a look of awe as they gazed at the red thread of saffron, which imparted a mysterious taste that the old monk Père Jacques described as a kiss between fresh-­mown hay and chestnut honey. 

Père Jacques had given this homegrown saffron to Ondine when she graduated from a convent boarding school in the hills above Nice. The meditative old monk who ran the abbey’s kitchen was one of those rare elders that appreciated Ondine’s curiosity instead of being irritated by it. Knowing that her family ran a café, he’d allowed her to escape the usual convent chores to assist him in his calm, contemplative gardens, learning his ancient secrets of cuisine. 

There is nothing on earth like French saffron, he’d said proudly, showing her his field of mauve-­colored crocuses which he patiently tended until two rare days in October when they bloomed. Then, all the monks pitched in to pluck the delicate red pistils—­only three per flower—­which, when carefully dried, became those prized red threads that Père Jacques put into glass vials. Ondine and her mother doled out these strands of saffron to make them last, using them only for special occasions, like Christmas custards and macarons.

 “What’s going on today?” Ondine asked, intrigued. 

“We have an important new customer for lunch,” her mother answered distractedly. 

Ondine dipped a spoon to taste the bouillabaisse. “Mmm. Wonderful! But, it could use more pepper,” she suggested.

Madame Belange shook her head and said crisply, “No, it’s fine as it is. I’d rather err on the side of caution today.” 

Ondine felt a wave of sympathy for her mother, who, unlike Père Jacques, functioned as if on a knife’s-­edge, her nerves taut as she constantly battled against time, supplies and cost, with scarcely a franc or a moment to spare. But despite her request for help, Madame Belange kept nudging her daughter out of the way impatiently, as if it were obvious that this small, cramped kitchen didn’t really have room for two grown women. 

Raising a flour-­dusted wrist to push aside a stray lock of hair, Madame Belange said, “Vite, vite, get to work!” But then she cried out warningly, “Attention!” as the back door was flung open by a local dairy boy who barreled in with a large crate of eggs, cheese and cream. Ondine ducked out of the way just in time. 

While her mother paid the boy, Ondine unpacked his crate onto an enormous table in the center of the room. She’d been awake since dawn, first to make hot chocolate for the quick breakfast she shared with her parents, then to serve the morning customers their brioche and coffee. After that, she got the stocks simmering gently on the stove before she went outside to pare her vegetables; now it was time to assemble all the salads for the lunch service.

Yet apparently her mother had much more unusual plans for Ondine today. 

“Just make one perfect salad, fit for our new Patron,” Madame Belange commanded. “And write down every ingredient we’ve used in today’s lunch for our records.” With her hip she pushed a cupboard drawer shut. “This man will be a regular customer, so we don’t want to give him the same lunches again and again. Make notes, tout de suite—­and put that convent schooling of yours to some real use!” 

Ondine reached up to a shelf for one of the blank notebooks they used for such occasions—­bound in butter-­soft maroon leather, they’d been a gift from a stationer who ate his lunch at the café three times a week. She turned to the first page, which had a printed box framed by an illustration of bunched grapes on a twirling vine. Inside the box was a line designated for filling in a Nom. She imagined that this new Patron must be some rich banker or lawyer. 

She paused. “What’s his name?” she asked curiously.

Her mother waved a ladle indifferently. “Who knows? He’s got money, that’s all that matters!” 

So Ondine simply wrote a large P for Patron. Then she turned to the next page and wrote 2 April 1936 at the top before she recorded today’s meal, checking on which ingredients were used and how they were cooked. Her mother kept such records only for distinguished customers, and special events like catered meals or wedding banquets. Later she would add comments about the Patron’s personal preferences and how the recipe might be better tailored to him. 

Madame Belange looked up from the stove and said resolutely, “All right now. Put away the notebook and let’s pack up this meal!” 

“Pack it?” Ondine echoed in surprise. 

Her mother wore an especially sober expression. “This man has rented one of the villas at the top of the hill. Here’s the address,” she said, digging in her pocket for a scrap of paper and handing it to her. “You will use your bicycle to bring him his lunch every weekday.”

“What am I, a donkey?” Ondine demanded indignantly. “Since when do we deliver lunch to people’s houses? Who is this man, that he can’t come to the café to eat his lunch like everybody else?” 

Madame Belange said, “He’s someone très célèbre from Paris. He speaks French, but I’m told he’s a Spaniard. The nuns taught you Spanish at the convent, yes?” 

“A little,” Ondine answered warily. 

“Well, it might finally come in handy.” Her mother glanced around decisively. “Get me that nice striped pitcher for the wine.”

“But that’s your favorite!” Ondine objected. Besides, the tall, hand-­painted pink-­and-­blue pitcher had been promised to her for her wedding trousseau—­if she ever made it to the altar. Her unsentimental mother shrugged. Ondine muttered, “I hope this fancy Spaniard appreciates it.” 

She had to move swiftly now; the meal was coming together quickly. They packed the lunch into an insulated metal hamper, wrapping each dish tightly in red-­and-­white cloths. Then Ondine went into the basement to an oaken barrel of house wine, from which she siphoned off enough white wine to fill a bladder made of pigskin which she brought upstairs. Madame Belange ordered one of the waiters to carry the hamper outside and securely clip it to the metal basket on Ondine’s bicycle. 

“Alors! Listen carefully.” Her mother fixed her with a stern look. “You are to enter the Patron’s house from the side door, which he will leave unlocked for you. Go straight into the kitchen. Heat up the food and lay it out for him. Then leave, right away. Do not wait for him to come downstairs to eat.” 

Madame Belange pinched her daughter on the arm. “Do you hear me, Ondine?” 

“Ouch!” Ondine protested. She’d been listening attentively and felt she didn’t deserve that. But her exhausted mother sometimes just ran out of words, and punctuated the urgency of her commands with a quick slap if anyone in her kitchen asked too many questions. Madame Belange, in her own youth, had never witnessed mothers and daughters having the luxury of time to indulge in searching, philosophical chats. Children were like baby chicks whom one loved the way a mother hen did—­you fed them, kept them warm, taught them how to fend for themselves, and pecked them with a nudge in the right direction whenever they wandered astray.

Madame Belange repeated, “Go in quietly, prepare the food, lay it out, and leave. Do not call out to him or make noise. Later, you’ll go collect the dishes, without making a sound.” 

Ondine had a terrible urge to burst out laughing at these absurd orders to skulk around like a thief. But her mother was so very serious that Ondine recognized the weight of her responsibility. 

“I understand, Maman,” she said, although her curiosity was thoroughly piqued now. 

“Take the daffodils from the dining room with you. Afterwards, on your way home, stop by the market to buy new flowers for the café,” her mother said in a low voice, digging into her apron pocket for a few coins. “Here.” Then, with her elbow, she gave her daughter a shove. “Go!” 

Ondine dutifully went through the swinging doors that led to the formal dining room, which was reserved for the night meal only. Breakfast and lunch were always served outside on the front terrace, rain or shine, since there was a sturdy white-­and-­grey awning that could be cranked overhead and withstood most bad weather.

The Café Paradis occupied the first floor of a limestone house that was the color of a honey praline. Ondine’s family lived in the rooms above the café. The second floor had a master bedroom for her parents, and a smaller bedroom for occasional overnight lodgers. Her two older brothers once occupied that guest room, but both were killed in the Great War and now slumbered in the town cemetery, near their infant siblings who’d been lost to scarlet fever before Ondine was born. The third and topmost floor had only one slope-­roofed room, originally made for servants, where Ondine had slept all her life. 
1 Ondine at the Café Paradis, Spring 1936 A salty southwestern wind came rushing across the Mediterranean Sea with heraldic ceremony, driving a white-­capped tide against the rocks and jostling the fishing boats in the harbor of Juan-­les-­Pins before sweeping into the backyard of the Café Paradis, where Ondine was busy peeling her vegetables. She’d escaped outdoors with her work on this sunny April morning because the café’s kitchen was already a cauldron. A tiny backyard patio was gracefully shaded by a majestic Aleppo pine tree, and Ondine sat on a low stone wall that rimmed the tree. Wielding a confident knife, she diligently pared and sorted Provence’s springtime treasures—­baby carrots, peas and artichokes so tender they could be served raw, topped by thinly sliced lemons sweet enough to eat with their rinds on. She was working briskly and a delicate sheen of sweat made her sensitive to that sudden change in the wind as it rustled significantly through the pine tree’s branches. Because Ondine had been raised to believe in nature’s auspicious signs and warnings, she put down her knife, closed her eyes and lifted her head to greet the breeze as it skimmed across her face with an invigorating whiff of the sea. She seldom got a quiet moment alone like this to think her own thoughts. So when a hazy premonition of a more exciting future somewhere far away began to shape itself in her mind, she struggled to capture it, as if reaching to grasp a firefly before the light disappeared. “Ondine!” her mother shouted from the café’s kitchen. “Where is she? On-­dine!” Ondine flinched as she heard her name reverberating against the huddle of pale stone buildings. She glanced up, and saw her mother’s head framed by the window like a portrait of a formidable empress. Even though it was too late for breakfast and too early for the lunch service, there was never a lull in cooking chores to do in order to meet the café’s high standards. Everyone who worked in the Café Paradis knew his role, right down to the striped cat who patrolled for any mouse foolhardy enough to come near the kitchen, and the bulldog who stood guard against tramps skulking about for an easy handout or an unlocked window. As for Ondine, who was seventeen now, her job was to do whatever her mother told her. Madame Belange peered out the kitchen window and finally spied her daughter. “What do you think you’re doing, lounging there in the garden like a pasha?” “I’m just finishing up, Maman!” Ondine called, rising hastily and hoisting her vegetable basket on her hip as she hurried to the kitchen. By now the fortuitous wind had gone off on its inscrutable way without her. In its place came the usual busy odors of kitchen oil and truck fuel and wood-­burning from the farmers’ fields. Still, there was definitely a whiff of something special in the air today—­her parents had been acting oddly all morning, murmuring to each other in hushed tones. As she drew closer to the open kitchen window, Ondine’s discerning nose picked up the first scents of the day’s luncheon menu: onion-­and-­black-­olive tartes called pissaladière; a pork stew of red wine and myrtle; and, for the fish—­could it be . . .? She burst inside and went straight to the old black stove seething in its corner with the collected heat of decades of well-­cooked meals. The fragrance wafting from a big kettle was unmistakable now. “Bouillabaisse!” she exclaimed, wondering why her mother had chosen this special dish—­which required a half-­dozen kinds of fish—­instead of making a simpler and less expensive fish soup called bourride. Ondine lifted the pot’s lid and inhaled rapturously. Celery, onion, garlic, tomato, fennel, pepper, parsley, thyme, bay and the distinctive orange rind used in the South of France; and something else especially rare and precious, which turned the broth to the color of gold. “Did you use Père Jacques’ saffron today?” Ondine asked, impressed. Her busy mother glanced up and actually paused for a moment. “Yes,” Madame Belange said, reaching for a tiny glass vial which she held up to the light and examined reverently. “I’m afraid it’s the last of it, all except this one strand which I could not bear to lose.” Mother and daughter exchanged a look of awe as they gazed at the red thread of saffron, which imparted a mysterious taste that the old monk Père Jacques described as a kiss between fresh-­mown hay and chestnut honey. Père Jacques had given this homegrown saffron to Ondine when she graduated from a convent boarding school in the hills above Nice. The meditative old monk who ran the abbey’s kitchen was one of those rare elders that appreciated Ondine’s curiosity instead of being irritated by it. Knowing that her family ran a café, he’d allowed her to escape the usual convent chores to assist him in his calm, contemplative gardens, learning his ancient secrets of cuisine. There is nothing on earth like French saffron, he’d said proudly, showing her his field of mauve-­colored crocuses which he patiently tended until two rare days in October when they bloomed. Then, all the monks pitched in to pluck the delicate red pistils—­only three per flower—­which, when carefully dried, became those prized red threads that Père Jacques put into glass vials. Ondine and her mother doled out these strands of saffron to make them last, using them only for special occasions, like Christmas custards and macarons. “What’s going on today?” Ondine asked, intrigued. “We have an important new customer for lunch,” her mother answered distractedly. Ondine dipped a spoon to taste the bouillabaisse. “Mmm. Wonderful! But, it could use more pepper,” she suggested. Madame Belange shook her head and said crisply, “No, it’s fine as it is. I’d rather err on the side of caution today.” Ondine felt a wave of sympathy for her mother, who, unlike Père Jacques, functioned as if on a knife’s-­edge, her nerves taut as she constantly battled against time, supplies and cost, with scarcely a franc or a moment to spare. But despite her request for help, Madame Belange kept nudging her daughter out of the way impatiently, as if it were obvious that this small, cramped kitchen didn’t really have room for two grown women. Raising a flour-­dusted wrist to push aside a stray lock of hair, Madame Belange said, “Vite, vite, get to work!” But then she cried out warningly, “Attention!” as the back door was flung open by a local dairy boy who barreled in with a large crate of eggs, cheese and cream. Ondine ducked out of the way just in time. While her mother paid the boy, Ondine unpacked his crate onto an enormous table in the center of the room. She’d been awake since dawn, first to make hot chocolate for the quick breakfast she shared with her parents, then to serve the morning customers their brioche and coffee. After that, she got the stocks simmering gently on the stove before she went outside to pare her vegetables; now it was time to assemble all the salads for the lunch service. Yet apparently her mother had much more unusual plans for Ondine today. “Just make one perfect salad, fit for our new Patron,” Madame Belange commanded. “And write down every ingredient we’ve used in today’s lunch for our records.” With her hip she pushed a cupboard drawer shut. “This man will be a regular customer, so we don’t want to give him the same lunches again and again. Make notes, tout de suite—­and put that convent schooling of yours to some real use!” Ondine reached up to a shelf for one of the blank notebooks they used for such occasions—­bound in butter-­soft maroon leather, they’d been a gift from a stationer who ate his lunch at the café three times a week. She turned to the first page, which had a printed box framed by an illustration of bunched grapes on a twirling vine. Inside the box was a line designated for filling in a Nom. She imagined that this new Patron must be some rich banker or lawyer. She paused. “What’s his name?” she asked curiously. Her mother waved a ladle indifferently. “Who knows? He’s got money, that’s all that matters!” So Ondine simply wrote a large P for Patron. Then she turned to the next page and wrote 2 April 1936 at the top before she recorded today’s meal, checking on which ingredients were used and how they were cooked. Her mother kept such records only for distinguished customers, and special events like catered meals or wedding banquets. Later she would add comments about the Patron’s personal preferences and how the recipe might be better tailored to him. Madame Belange looked up from the stove and said resolutely, “All right now. Put away the notebook and let’s pack up this meal!” “Pack it?” Ondine echoed in surprise. Her mother wore an especially sober expression. “This man has rented one of the villas at the top of the hill. Here’s the address,” she said, digging in her pocket for a scrap of paper and handing it to her. “You will use your bicycle to bring him his lunch every weekday.” “What am I, a donkey?” Ondine demanded indignantly. “Since when do we deliver lunch to people’s houses? Who is this man, that he can’t come to the café to eat his lunch like everybody else?” Madame Belange said, “He’s someone très célèbre from Paris. He speaks French, but I’m told he’s a Spaniard. The nuns taught you Spanish at the convent, yes?” “A little,” Ondine answered warily. “Well, it might finally come in handy.” Her mother glanced around decisively. “Get me that nice striped pitcher for the wine.” “But that’s your favorite!” Ondine objected. Besides, the tall, hand-­painted pink-­and-­blue pitcher had been promised to her for her wedding trousseau—­if she ever made it to the altar. Her unsentimental mother shrugged. Ondine muttered, “I hope this fancy Spaniard appreciates it.” She had to move swiftly now; the meal was coming together quickly. They packed the lunch into an insulated metal hamper, wrapping each dish tightly in red-­and-­white cloths. Then Ondine went into the basement to an oaken barrel of house wine, from which she siphoned off enough white wine to fill a bladder made of pigskin which she brought upstairs. Madame Belange ordered one of the waiters to carry the hamper outside and securely clip it to the metal basket on Ondine’s bicycle. “Alors! Listen carefully.” Her mother fixed her with a stern look. “You are to enter the Patron’s house from the side door, which he will leave unlocked for you. Go straight into the kitchen. Heat up the food and lay it out for him. Then leave, right away. Do not wait for him to come downstairs to eat.” Madame Belange pinched her daughter on the arm. “Do you hear me, Ondine?” “Ouch!” Ondine protested. She’d been listening attentively and felt she didn’t deserve that. But her exhausted mother sometimes just ran out of words, and punctuated the urgency of her commands with a quick slap if anyone in her kitchen asked too many questions. Madame Belange, in her own youth, had never witnessed mothers and daughters having the luxury of time to indulge in searching, philosophical chats. Children were like baby chicks whom one loved the way a mother hen did—­you fed them, kept them warm, taught them how to fend for themselves, and pecked them with a nudge in the right direction whenever they wandered astray. Madame Belange repeated, “Go in quietly, prepare the food, lay it out, and leave. Do not call out to him or make noise. Later, you’ll go collect the dishes, without making a sound.” Ondine had a terrible urge to burst out laughing at these absurd orders to skulk around like a thief. But her mother was so very serious that Ondine recognized the weight of her responsibility. “I understand, Maman,” she said, although her curiosity was thoroughly piqued now. “Take the daffodils from the dining room with you. Afterwards, on your way home, stop by the market to buy new flowers for the café,” her mother said in a low voice, digging into her apron pocket for a few coins. “Here.” Then, with her elbow, she gave her daughter a shove. “Go!” Ondine dutifully went through the swinging doors that led to the formal dining room, which was reserved for the night meal only. Breakfast and lunch were always served outside on the front terrace, rain or shine, since there was a sturdy white-­and-­grey awning that could be cranked overhead and withstood most bad weather. The Café Paradis occupied the first floor of a limestone house that was the color of a honey praline. Ondine’s family lived in the rooms above the café. The second floor had a master bedroom for her parents, and a smaller bedroom for occasional overnight lodgers. Her two older brothers once occupied that guest room, but both were killed in the Great War and now slumbered in the town cemetery, near their infant siblings who’d been lost to scarlet fever before Ondine was born. The third and topmost floor had only one slope-­roofed room, originally made for servants, where Ondine had slept all her life. 

 

Meet the Author

Camille Aubray is an Edward F. Albee Foundation Fellowship winner. A writer-in-residence at the Karolyi Foundation in the South of France, she was a finalist for the Pushcart Press Editors’ Book Award and the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. She studied writing at the University of London with David Hare, Tom Stoppard, and Fay Weldon; and with her mentor Margaret Atwood at the Humber College School of Creative Writing Workshop in Toronto. Aubray has been a staff writer for the daytime dramas One Life to Live and Capitol, has taught writing at New York University, and has written and produced for ABC News, PBS, and A&E. The author divides her time between Connecticut and the South of France.

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Cooking for Picasso: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Beautifully written, she had me literally spellbound from start to finish. I felt immersed in Picasso's world through the eyes of a girl coming of age. This book really had it all: history, art, food and a multi-generational family dynamic interwoven with secrets, mystery and unwaivering love. I want more!
Anonymous 10 months ago
This was a great story with several generations of women who thrived during tough times! Great story !
Anonymous 11 months ago
This was just as good as her other books (written under the name CA Belmond)!
ThoughtsFromaPage 5 months ago
2.5 I want to start my review by saying that I expected to love this book. I loved the last series that this author wrote, writing as CA Belmond, starting with A Rather Lovely Inheritance. I also have a great fascination with art and artists so I fully expected that this would be the book for me. However, sadly it was not. The story takes place across the decades, the modern story completely in 2016 and the historic part starting in 1936 until shortly before the main character in 2016 is born. Both women are weak and not very likeable. Celine, the main character in 2016, cannot even stand up to her step siblings and lets them ferry her own mother away (step mother to the step siblings) with hardly a word and no action. Meanwhile she goes to France with her aunt on a trip the sick mother was supposed to take. Huh?! Meanwhile back in the 1930’s, Ondine vacillates between being free spirited as she engages in a relationship (if you can call it that) with Picasso and silly and lacking a backbone. Another part of the story that did not ring true for me was the dialogue between Picasso and Ondine. It was awkward and stilted, and I just can’t believe he spoke that way. Picasso was not portrayed kindly, and that viewpoint I did find more realistic. He struggled in his personal life, and the author portrays this accurately. I am sorry I did not like this book more. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read it in exchange for an honest review.
Piney10 11 months ago
This was such a wonderful story and enjoyable fast read. Add some historical fiction, Picasso, Provence, beautiful scenery, some salivating recipes and menus, and voilà a fun read. The Jacques Pepin recommendation went a long way for me as I am a devotee of his cooking. This was such a good diversion from so many of the dysfunctional and complex novels I've read this summer. Generally it is a story about a young woman in Provence, Ondine, who cooked and modeled for Picasso in 1936 and how that impacted her life and that of her child Julie, and Julie's child, Celine. Beautifully written although predictable.