Cooking for Picasso

Cooking for Picasso

by Camille Aubray

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399177668
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/20/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 59,902
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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.


From the Hardcover edition.

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. 

 

Reading Group Guide

A CONVERSATION WITH CAMILLE AUBRAY

The first question most people ask me about my novel Cooking for Picasso is usually, “Where did you get the idea for this story?” And I can’t help thinking, “The inspiration was right there on the French Riviera just waiting to be noticed, so perhaps it found me!”
It all began in Antibes. While traveling along the bright blue Mediterranean coast with its glittering sea, I glanced up at an enormous image of a face on a museum banner, staring back at me with dark, compelling eyes. It was Pablo Picasso, and the museum banner was for the famed Château Grimaldi. I learned that, shortly after the Second World War ended, when paint and canvases were in short supply, Picasso had painted murals upon those very walls and whatever other surfaces he could find. Now this castle is called the Musée Picasso.
“Who are you looking for?” his challenging gaze seemed to ask. And soon enough my answer was, “You!”
For, in researching Picasso’s many years of residence on the Côte d’Azur, I discovered a true but little--known fact: in 1936, Pablo’s life in Paris was in such utter turmoil that he’d actually stopped painting. His wife, Olga, the Russian ballerina, discovered that Picasso’s young mistress, Marie--Thérèse, had given birth to a daughter. Olga began separation proceedings, and once the lawyers got involved, the endless legal wrangling was just too much for anybody, let alone a highly sensitive soul like Picasso; because, perhaps more than other artists, for him the personal life and the professional life were indelibly intertwined. Stressed out and desperate for relief, Pablo secretly slipped out of Paris by train. The surname of Picasso is actually his mother’s family name; so now he traveled under his father’s surname, Ruiz, as a way to remain anonymous. The mysterious Monsieur Ruiz rented a villa in the seaside town of Juan--les--Pins during the less--touristy season of spring. No one knows for sure what happened during this reclusive interlude—-but whatever it was, it enabled him to pick up his brush and begin painting again. Within a year he would produce his masterpiece, Guernica.
That little biographical tidbit was enough to set my imagination on fire. Furthermore, as I delved into the unusual artwork that Picasso created during this interval, I learned another intriguing detail: he’d made a pair of paintings of a dark--haired, unidentified woman. People still wonder today—-who was she? Because of her hair color, some say she was the photographer Dora Maar who was soon to -become Pablo’s new mistress and muse. Others say it was the brunette sister of Marie--Thérèse. But I knew exactly who that enigmatic model was—-my heroine, for I now felt free to invent a fictional -character.
Surrounded by the irresistible cuisine of the South of France, with its prodigious food markets and its lively cafés, I asked myself one key question: Who fed Pablo Picasso? If he was in hiding, he’d be careful about dining out too often and being recognized. So, who cooked for him?
As I roamed the village of Juan--les--Pins and its cafés, I envisioned a local girl, Ondine, riding a bicycle with a hamper of food, pedalling to the beautiful surrounding villas, with their high stone walls spilling over with flowers—-and secrets. I imagined that my young heroine’s Provençal cuisine and her very presence would be the flame that reignited Picasso’s creative fervor; and that he, with his brilliance, forceful personality and absolute dedication to his work, would in turn inspire Ondine to greater risks and heights. Bouillabaisse, bourride, tapenade, pissaladière, tartines, daube de boeuf à la provençale . . . these iconic dishes all found their way into my novel at key moments in the story. Meanwhile my readers would meet some of the Côte d’Azur’s most famous residents: Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, and of course, Picasso’s women.
For, as one of the characters in my novel says, “Picasso changed houses as often as he changed women.” Going up and down the coast of the French Riviera and its hilltop villages, you can pick out multiple towns where Picasso lived for various periods—-with various ladies. My research took me from the beaches and cafés of Antibes and the fishing town of Juan--les--Pins, to the food markets and mu-seums of Nice, Ménerbes, Golfe--Juan, Cannes. And, of course, to the pottery town of Vallauris, where Pablo lived with his mistress, the artist Françoise Gilot. It was all so intriguing, for, as another of my characters in Cooking for Picasso says, “There was a lot of overlap with Picasso’s women—-he kept them on the hook and played them against one another.”
In writing about my heroine Ondine, I wondered, how would she survive her intense encounter with Picasso? I knew the impact would be life--changing, so I decided to follow her—-and Picasso—-through the years, revealing other crucial moments that helped Ondine to mature into a courageous adult whose ambitions intersected with Picasso at times that were also greatly significant in his life. And, in following Ondine’s lifetime, it was natural for me to think about how her adventures with Picasso might also affect her daughter, Julie, and even her American grand--daughter, Céline. This finally led me to the hilltop village of Mougins, where Picasso lived with his second (and last) wife, Jacqueline, in a house they called Notre Dame de Vie. Here the great artist died in 1973. Mougins has for decades been a center of gastronomie, so it was a perfect locale for my novel.
Drawing on my experiences writing and producing for film and TV, I envisioned Ondine’s modern--day grand--daughter as a freelance Hollywood makeup artist who feels compelled to find out what happened when her Grandmother Ondine crossed paths with Pablo Picasso. So Céline enrolls in a cooking--class--travel--package deal, held at a mas hotel in Mougins, run by a fictional, attractive but temperamental British chef. Unlike her Grandmother Ondine, Céline has no natural talent for cooking, and this will sorely try the patience of her Michelin--starred chef. But Céline and Gil find other reasons to overcome their mutual wariness and to help each other.
For my research about the subtleties of French and Provençal cuisine, I sought out several French chefs on the Riviera who graciously invited me into their kitchens, as well as the generous Jacques Pépin, onetime chef to Charles de Gaulle and now a revered tele-vision personality—-who told me that my novel made him homesick for his mother’s coq au vin. I found these brilliant artists of cuisine to be more soulful, modest and practical than popular culture imagines great chefs to be.
All of the artwork that I describe in my novel was really made by Picasso, except for one that I invented—-the portrait of Ondine, the Girl-at-a-Window. But this was indeed based on the painting that Rembrandt made in 1645 with the same name. Picasso was often inspired to do his own versions of the masters, especially Rembrandt.
Following in Picasso’s footsteps on the Côte d’Azur led me to richer experiences than I could possibly have imagined when I first began my journey. To this day there are enduring signs of his vitality, his art and his verve, in the many statues, paintings, pottery and -murals he bequeathed to the various towns and their museums. All you have to do, as the French author and Riviera resident Colette once advised, is, “Regarde!” Yes, just “Look!” Readers have already begun to tell me, “I took your book along with me, as a travel guide speaking in the voice of a trusted friend.”
And so merci, Picasso, for helping me to connect with all these kindred souls who, like me, can’t resist the lure of la joie de vivre on the French Riviera.

1. In the early chapters of Cooking for Picasso, long before we actually see Pablo Picasso, we hear a lot about him when the heroine Ondine talks to her parents. What does she observe later from his eating -habits, the letter he wrote to his friend in Paris, and the note he left for Ondine on the table? What do you remember most from that moment when Ondine actually meets Picasso for the first time?

2. When you learned of Picasso’s childhood through his eyes, did this change your view of him? What made him feel guilty about his ambition and dedication to his art? What is causing him the stress that made him stop painting?

3. How would you describe the different personalities of Ondine, -Julie and Céline? What are the roots of the family’s tensions? What legal and financial complications make it impossible for Céline to help her mother?

4. When Céline and her Aunt Matilda begin their cooking class in Mougins, what causes Céline to immediately get off on the wrong foot with Chef Gilby Hallliwell? Why is secrecy necessary for Céline’s quest? Why do Céline and Gil have trouble trusting each other? What draws them together in spite of their wariness?

5. Ondine’s life takes an unexpected turn just when she is getting more confident about Picasso. What were your feelings about Luc? Did you feel relief or apprehension about what impact he might have on Ondine’s life? Did you later feel that your instincts were correct?

6. Céline’s visit to a French lawyer results in a startling revelation about her Grandmother Ondine’s death. How does what Céline learns from Monsieur Clément change everything for her? And what does this revelation tell the reader about Ondine’s fate?

7. Try making a list of all the paintings mentioned in the novel and looking them up on the Internet. (The only fictional painting in the novel is Picasso’s portrait of Ondine called Girl--at--a--Window.) What do you feel about the artwork that Picasso produced during this mysterious interlude?

8. Discuss the impact of Ondine’s return to France on her daughter Julie. How does seeing familiar things and people feel different to the reader when we view it all through Julie’s eyes?

9. After the Second World War, Picasso comes back into Ondine’s life. What has happened to them both with the passage of time? How does this encounter strengthen Ondine’s resolve to do something to help Julie?

10. What makes Céline finally open up to her Aunt Matilda and bring her along to visit the fortune--telling neighbor Madame Sylvie? How did you feel about Madame Sylvie’s revelations?

11. How does Céline’s quest collide with Gil’s business problems? What makes her finally decide to take Gil into her confidence? Why is it now possible for them to begin to trust each other?

12. What gives Ondine the courage to seek out Picasso again after so many years? Do you think he planned to help her all along, or do you think he made a sudden decision to do so?

13. What do we learn about Céline’s father, Arthur, in the chapters when he was courting Céline’s mother, Julie? When Arthur and Julie come to visit Ondine years later, why does the birth of Céline impact Ondine so deeply? What significance can be found in Ondine’s dream about being visited by Picasso after his death?

14. What did you feel about the final revelation at the end of the novel? How does Gil help Céline understand its significance?

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Cooking for Picasso: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year ago
This was a great story with several generations of women who thrived during tough times! Great story !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was just as good as her other books (written under the name CA Belmond)!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I delightful read.
ThoughtsFromaPage More than 1 year 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 More than 1 year 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.