La Carteby Tanita S. Davis
SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD LAINEY DREAMS of becoming a world famous chef one day and maybe even having her own cooking show. (Do you know how many African American female chefs there aren’t? And how many vegetarian chefs have their own shows? The field is wide open for stardom!) But when her best friend—and secret crush—suddenly leaves town, Lainey finds herself alone in the kitchen. With a little help from Saint Julia (Child, of course), Lainey finds solace in her cooking as she comes to terms with the past and begins a new recipe for the future.
Peppered with recipes from Lainey’s notebooks, this delicious debut novel finishes the same way one feels finishing a good meal—satiated, content, and hopeful.
From the Hardcover edition.
Gr 8 Up
Seventeen-year-old Lainey has an uncommon dream: to be the first African-American celebrity vegetarian chef. She shows promise, helping out in the kitchen at her mother's Bay Area restaurant and concocting mouthwatering dishes in her spare time. (Hand-written recipes are included.) Cooking is her salvation; she turns to the kitchen when things aren't going well, particularly in her precarious relationship with Simeon Keller. While she cares for him as a friend, she overlooks the way he uses her. When he runs away from a bad situation at home, she offers him brief sanctuary in her home, giving him $500 and food before he jets out of town. Lainey's mom hounds her for details about his disappearance, details that she withholds for weeks. When Sim returns, months later, she's more self-assured and certain of her own plans for success. While Davis's first novel at times suffers from awkward wording and slow moments, it's still a book with a lot of heart. Readers will relate to Lainey, who doesn't always say the right thing, who has a love-hate relationship with her mother, and who finds her dreams realized at the novel's end. Secondary characters, like Lainey's formerly dorky family friend, ring true and add depth to the novel.-Jennifer Barnes, Homewood Library, IL
"A book with a lot of heart. Readers will relate to Lainey, who doesn't always say the right thing, who has a love-hate relationship with her mother, and who finds her dreams realized at the novel's end." —School Library Journal
"Davis's first novel shows much promise for good things to come. Too few novels feature well-drawn, well-educated, middle-class African American characters like Lainey and her family." —Booklist
From the Hardcover edition.
- Random House Children's Books
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Random House
- NOOK Book
- File size:
- 928 KB
- Age Range:
- 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
An empty plate hits the stainless steel deck in the kitchen of La Salle Rouge with a clatter.
“Order up!” somebody shouts from behind me, and the noise level in the kitchen climbs for a moment as sous-chefs and kitchen assistants step and turn in their quick-paced dance. Servers carrying plates to the dining room weave expertly in among the bussers wheeling trays of dirty dishes away. Along the prep counters, white-coated chefs bend to apply finishing touches to warm plates—a curl of deep green parsley, a swirl of roasted pepper coulis, a scattering of white peppercorns. La Salle Rouge has a reputation for excellent meals.
“Let’s move it, people!” Even though she’s yelling at the top of her lungs, our executive chef, Pia Sambath, is in a good mood. I can tell, because none of the line cooks look like they’re trying to hide in their collars. Sometimes, when there’s a major rush on, the yelling turns into screaming and an awful silent concentration. It’s not a good time to be in the kitchen then.
“Order up, table six!”
A red-jacketed server with a pepper grinder under his left arm hustles past with two orders of a creamy soup in white bisque bowls, the steam rising from them making my mouth water. I watch him pass through the chaotic kitchen, imagining him gliding into the dining room, where the walls are a rich, deep red, the floor is old polished hardwood, and the lighting is subdued candlelight in silver sconces on the walls. Maybe the server slides the soup onto a table for two in front of the long, narrow windows that look out onto the courtyard fountains. Maybe he takes the bowls upstairs to the rooftop seating and offers pepper to a young couple who are there to get engaged. It’s happened before. La Salle Rouge is just the type of restaurant where people go to propose or mark fiftieth anniversaries with fancy entrees and rich desserts.
From my stool in the back corner of the room, I watch clouds of steam rise to the high ceilings from the metal sinks under the window. Smoky fragrances from a heavy cast-iron grill sizzling on a gas range mingle with the pungent smell of garlic and onions and the deeper tones of coffee. The silvery crash of forks and knives hitting the heavy rubber sanitizer trays almost drowns out my mother’s voice calling me over the cacophony.
“Lainey? Lai-ney! Elaine Seifert!”
Sighing, I look up to see my mother standing at the far end of the kitchen, wrapped in a huge apron and wrist-deep in some kind of dough. Her close-cropped black curls are covered by a toque blanche, the white chef’s hat, and her deep brown skin shows a contrast- ing smudge of white flour on the cheek, just below her dimple.
“Homework?” My mother mouths the word exaggeratedly, eyebrows raised, and I roll my eyes. Frowning, she points with her chin to the side door that leads to the stairs. I roll my eyes again, mouthing, Okay, okay, not needing her to pantomime further what she wants me to do. I hate the thought of leaving the clattering nerve center of the restaurant to wrestle with my trigonometry homework in my mother’s quiet office downstairs.
The bright lights and swirl of noise and motion are muffled as the kitchen door swings closed behind me.
It’s hard to remember a time when the restaurant hasn’t been the center of our lives. Mom used to be a copy editor and wrote food features for our local paper, the Clarion, and she met Pia when she did a write-up on the culinary school Pia attended. Pia thinks it was fate that Mom wanted to invest in a restaurant at the same time Pia wanted to buy the old bank building.
La Salle Rouge doesn’t serve much in the way of “kid” food, since the menu doesn’t cater to people my age on a cheap date, but I’ve loved everything about it from the first. I started experimenting with being a vegetarian when I turned fourteen, but Pia still found things to feed me and taught me to be creative with vegetables and tofu. I like to think I’m the best-fed vegetarian in the state of California.
Pia’s been really good about teaching what she knows, and I decided early on that this is the work I want to do—get out of school and get into the kitchen for good. Mom and Pia have created a popular French-Asian-Californian fusion restaurant that has gotten great reviews from food critics. They took the best of each other’s tastes—Mom’s traditional Southern flavors and Pia’s French training combined with her vegetable- and spice-savvy Cambodian tastes—and pulled off what one food critic called “stylized food with unique flavor combinations in an intimate setting.”
Whatever that means.
Three years ago, when I started high school thirty pounds heavier than everyone in my class, Mom and I came up with a light menu for La Salle Rouge, and it’s been such a popular idea that Mom lets me come up with tasty, low-calorie desserts, which is one of my favorite things to do. It hardly seems fair that I have to walk away from all of that just to do trigonometry, but my mom says I have to finish school before I concentrate on cooking. She says it’s smarter to have a “backup plan,” and she’s made me apply to plenty of colleges and check out business majors just in case I ever want to do anything else with my life. I guess that makes sense if you’re anybody other than me. When I turn eighteen, I already know what I’m going to do.
First, I’m going to buy a plane ticket to D.C. and go to Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian and leave roses. They don’t let you walk through it, but somewhere—I don’t know where—I’m going to leave a bouquet and a little note for her. Julia Child is my patron saint. She’s the queen of all reasons people can do anything they want in life. Saint Julia didn’t start cooking until she was practically forty, and she went on to do TV shows and make cookbooks and be this huge part of culinary history. She never got too fancy, she never freaked out, and she was never afraid to try new things. I want to be just like her—except maybe get famous faster.
The second thing I’m going to do is buy myself a set of knives. Pia swears by this set of German steel knives she got when she graduated, but I’ve seen the TV chef Kylie Kwong use a phenomenal-looking ceramic knife on her show on the Discovery Channel. Either way, knives are what the best chefs have of their very own.
The third thing I’m going to do, after I get back from Washington and get my knives, is . . . get discovered. Somehow. I know I’m going to have to pay my dues, but I’m so ready for my real life to start. It’s not something I admit to a lot, but my real dream is to be a celebrity chef. Do you know how many African American female chefs there aren’t? And how many vegetarian chefs have their own shows? The field is wide open for stardom. Every time I watch old episodes of Saint Julia, I imagine that I have my own cooking show. The way celebrity chefs do it now, I could also have a line of cooking gear, cookbooks, aprons, the works. People would know my name, ask for my autograph, and try my recipes. All I have to do is finish my trig homework and get back into the kitchen.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
This is Tanita S. Davis’s first novel. She made her first pâte à choux in high school, discovered that Mae Ploy sauce goes with almost everything, and that there’s nothing on earth like good Thai food. She lives in Northern California with two finches, a snake named Willful, and the world’s best baker.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Seventeen year old Elaine (Lainey) Seifert lost her dad when she was three. She lives with her mother,Vivianne. LaSalle Rouge is a French-Asian-Californian restaurant that receives rave reviews from critics and Vivianne owns it. Lainey dreams of becoming a celebrity chef. There's no place she'd rather be than in the kitchen of her Mom's popular establishment and there's nothing she'd rather be doing than cooking. Food seems to be this young lady's life. Yes, it is definitely her passion. She loves to shop for it, loves to cook it and loves to share her edible creations with her peers; particularly her friends in the jazz choir at school. When Lainey's friend, Simeon, leaves town her passion fades. She's still cooking but now it hides her hurt, helps her to cope in a difficult situation and comforts her when she's stressed. But when she realizes Simeon isn't the guy she imagined him to be she regains her focus and is able to make choices to better herself and her life. There are many teen novels these days focusing on such serious topics that they could also be considered adult reads. A La Carte does not fit into that category. I see this as a book very suitable for a middle school reader. I'm thinking high school girls want to read something a little more deep and dramatic, but it would be a cozy read for the ones who can do without alot of drama; especially if they love to cook. I liked reading this book. I learned about foods I never heard of before and what I really liked was seeing a recipe in handwriting at the end of each chapter; some of them even have food stains - unique!
Do you like cooking? Are you familiar with Julia Child? Then A LA CARTE by Tanita S. Davis is the book for you! A La Carte is about an inspired chef named Lainey, who dreams of following the footsteps of her idol Julia Child and becoming the first African American female who has her own cooking show. Lainey is blessed to have the opportunity of experiencing a "Chef's life" in the kitchen thanks to her mom Vivianne, who is also a Chef and who is always happy to try one of her daughter's new recipes. Like an average teenager Lainey goes to high school and deals with homework tests, friends, and boys. Unfortunately, Lainey also deals with teenage problems. Like trying to figure out who her real friends are. "My mom wishes I had friends; can you tell? Anytime I have a project with someone, Mom wants to make sure to send them home with cookies." I would recommend this book not only to inspiring Chef's but to everyone. The book is quite interesting you never want to put it down. You are tempted to read and read in order to find out what happens next. I also must warn you, do not read the book on an empty stomach because the book will also make you hungry and crave all of Lainey's recipes she describes in the book . The book also gives you an idea on how it's like being a Chef and what they have to go through at their jobs, like cutting an onion in two seconds. Like a great meal, you have to enjoy the story bite by bite and then reflect on the interesting taste. If you liked "A La Carte "then you will also love Tanita S. Davis' other interesting book called "Mare's War".