The Ingredients of Love: A Novelby Nicolas Barreau
A charming restaurant
A book and its mysterious author
A little secret
A romantic meeting
Paris and all its magic . . .
Cyrano de Bergerac meets Chocolat and Amélie in this intelligent, charming, and entertaining publishing sensation from/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>
A charming restaurant
A book and its mysterious author
A little secret
A romantic meeting
Paris and all its magic . . .
Cyrano de Bergerac meets Chocolat and Amélie in this intelligent, charming, and entertaining publishing sensation from Europe.
While in the midst of a breakup-induced depression, Aurélie Bredin, a beautiful Parisian restaurateur, discovers an astonishing novel in a quaint bookshop on the Ile Saint-Louis. Inexplicably, her restaurant and Aurélie herself are featured in its pages. After reading the whole book in one night, she realizes it has saved her life—and she wishes more than anything to meet its author. Aurélie's attempts to contact the attractive but shy English author through his French publishers are blocked by the company's gruff chief editor, André, who only with great reluctance forwards Aurélie's enthusiastic letter. But Aurélie refuses to give up. One day, a response from the reclusive author actually lands in her mailbox, but the encounter that eventually takes place is completely different from what she had ever imagined. . . . Filled with books, recipes, and characters that leap off the page, The Ingredients of Love by Nicolas Barreau is a tribute to the City of Light.
“These are The Ingredients of Love: a delightful heroine, a mysterious hero, romance, Paris, and beaucoup de charme!” Ellen Sussman, New York Times bestselling author of French Lessons
“I loved every moment of being transported to Paris in this charming, disarming novel about matters of the heart. A gem of a novel, sparkling with surprises.” Melissa Senate, author of The Love Goddess' Cooking School and See Jane Date
“A frothy exposé of the perils of book packaging, seasoned with a soupcon of culinary courtship…Lovers of Paris and voyeurs of the French publishing scene will find much to relish.” Kirkus Reviews
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Read an Excerpt
The Ingredients of Love
By Nicolas Barreau
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Nicolas Barreau
All rights reserved.
Last year in November a book saved my life. I know that sounds very unlikely now. Many of you may feel I'm exaggerating — or even being melodramatic — when I say so. But that's exactly how it was.
It wasn't that someone had aimed at my heart and the bullet had miraculously been stopped by the pages of a thick, leather-bound edition of Baudelaire's poetry, as so often happens in the movies. I don't lead that exciting a life.
No, my foolish heart had already been wounded. On a day that seemed like any other.
I can remember it exactly. The last guests in the restaurant — a group of rather noisy Americans, a discreet Japanese couple, and two argumentative Frenchmen — were as always sitting around quite late, and the Americans were licking their lips with lots of "Oohs" and "Aahs" over the gâteau au chocolat.
After serving the dessert, Suzette had, as always, asked if I still needed her and then rushed happily off. And Jacquie was in his usual bad mood. This time he was worked up about the tourists' eating habits and was rolling his eyes as he clattered the empty plates into the dishwasher.
"Ah, les Américains! They know nothing about French cuisine, rien du tout! They always eat the decoration as well — why do I have to cook for barbarians? I have a good mind to give it all up, it really depresses me!"
He'd taken off his apron and growled his bonne nuit at me before getting on his old bike and vanishing into the night. Jacquie is a great cook, and I like him a lot, even if he carries his cantankerousness around with him like a pot of bouillabaisse. He was already the chef in Le Temps des Cerises when the little restaurant with the red-and-white-checked tablecloths just off the lively Boulevard Saint-Germain in the Rue Princesse still belonged to my father. My father loved the chanson about the "Cherry Season," so lovely and over so soon — a life-affirming and at the same time somewhat melancholy song about lovers who find and then lose each other. And although the left wing in France had later adopted this old song as their unofficial anthem, I believe that the real reason Papa gave his restaurant that name had less to do with the memory of the Paris Commune than with some completely personal memories.
This is the place where I grew up, and when I sat in the kitchen after school doing my homework surrounded by the clatter of the pots and pans and a thousand tempting smells, I could be sure that Jacquie would always have a little tidbit for me.
Jacquie, whose name is actually Jacques Auguste Berton, comes from Normandy, where you can look out as far as the horizon, where the air tastes of salt and nothing obstructs one's gaze but the endless wind-tossed sea and the clouds. More than once every day he assures me that he loves looking far out into the distance — far out! Sometimes Paris gets too confined and too noisy for him, and then he longs to get back to the coast.
"How can anyone who's ever had the smell of the Côte Fleurie in his nostrils ever feel good in the exhaust fumes of Paris, just tell me that!"
He waves his chef's knife and looks reproachfully at me with his big brown eyes before brushing his dark hair from his forehead, hair that is more and more — I notice with a little sadness — flecked with threads of silver.
It was only a few years ago that this burly man with his big hands showed a fourteen-year-old girl with long, dark blond plaits how to make a perfect crème brûlée. It was the first dish I ever impressed my friends with.
Jacquie is of course not just any chef. As a young man he worked in the famous Ferme Saint-Siméon in Honfleur, the little town on the Atlantic coast with the very special light — a refuge for painters and artists. "It had a lot more style then, my dear Aurélie."
Yet no matter how much Jacquie grumbles, I smile inwardly, because I know he would never leave me in the lurch. And that's how it was that evening last November, when the sky over Paris was as white as milk and people hurried through the streets wrapped up in thick woolen scarves. A November that was so much colder than all the others I had experienced in Paris. Or did it just seem like that to me?
A few weeks earlier my father had died. Just like that, without any warning, his heart had one day decided to stop beating. Jacquie found him when he opened the restaurant in the afternoon.
Papa was lying peacefully on the floor — surrounded by fresh vegetables, legs of lamb, scallops, and herbs that he had bought at the market that morning.
He left me his restaurant, the recipe for his famous menu d'amour with which he claimed to have won the love of my mother many years before (she died when I was still very small and so I'll never know if he was pulling my leg), and a few wise bits of advice about life. He was sixty-eight years old, and I found that far too early. But people you love always die too early, don't they, no matter what age they live to?
"Years don't mean anything. Only what happens in them," my father once said as he laid roses on my mother's grave.
And when — a little nervous but still resolute — I followed in his footsteps as a restaurateur that autumn, the realization that I was now quite alone in the world hit me very hard.
Thank God I had Claude. He worked in the theater as a set designer, and the massive desk that stood under the window in his little attic apartment in the Bastille quarter was always overflowing with drawings and little cardboard models. When he was working on a major job, he would sometimes go to ground for a few days. "I'm not available next week," he would say, and I had to get used to the fact that he actually refused to answer the phone or open the door even when I was ringing his bell like mad. A short time later he was back as if nothing had happened. He appeared in the sky like a rainbow — beautiful and unattainable — kissed me boldly on the lips, and called me ma petite while the sun played hide-and-seek in his golden blond curls.
Then he took me by the hand and led me off to present his designs to me with gleaming eyes.
I wasn't allowed to say anything.
When I'd only known Claude for a few months I'd once made the mistake of expressing my opinion openly and, my head to one side, thinking aloud about what might be improved. Claude had stared at me, aghast. His watery blue eyes seemed almost to overflow, and with a single violent movement of his hand he swept his desk clean. Paints, pencils, sheets of paper, glasses, brushes, and little pieces of cardboard flew through the air like confetti and the delicate model of his set for Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, which he'd spent so much effort producing, was broken into a thousand pieces.
After that I kept my critical remarks to myself.
Claude was very impulsive, very changeable in his moods, very tender, and very special. Everything about him was "very," there seemed to be no well-balanced middle ground.
We'd been together about two years by then, and it would never have entered my mind to question my relationship with this complicated and very idiosyncratic man. If you consider it closely, we all have our complications, sensitive spots, and quirks. There are things we do or things we would never do — or only in very special circumstances. Things that make other people laugh and shake their heads and wonder.
Peculiar things that are ours and ours alone.
For example, I collect thoughts. In my bedroom there's a wall covered with brightly colored notes full of thoughts that I've preserved so that, fleeting as they are, they won't be lost to me. Thoughts about conversations overheard in cafés, about rituals and why they are so important, thoughts about kisses in the park at night, about the heart and hotel rooms, about hands, garden benches, photos, secrets — and when to reveal them — about the light in the trees and about time when it stands still.
My little notes stick to the bright wallpaper like tropical butterflies, captured moments that serve no purpose but to be near me, and when I open the balcony door and a light draft blows through the room they flutter a little, as if they want to fly away.
"What on earth is that?" Claude had raised his eyebrows in disbelief when he first saw my butterfly collection. He came to a halt by the wall and read some of the notes with interest. "Are you going to write a book?"
I blushed and shook my head.
"Good gracious, no! I do it ..." I had to think for a moment myself, but couldn't find a really convincing explanation. "... you know, I just do it. No reason. Like other people take photos."
"Could it be that you are a little weird, ma petite?" Claude had asked, and then he had thrust his hand up my skirt. "But that doesn't matter, not in the slightest, because I'm a little bit crazy too ..." He brushed his lips over my neck and I suddenly felt quite hot. "... crazy for you."
A few minutes later we were lying on the bed, my hair wonderfully disheveled, the sun shining through the curtains and painting little quivering circles on the wooden floor, and I could subsequently have stuck another note on the wall about love in the afternoon. But I didn't.
Claude was hungry, and I made us omelettes, and he said that a girl who made omelettes like that could be allowed any quirks she liked. So here's something else:
Whenever I'm unhappy or uneasy, I go out and buy some flowers. Of course, I also like flowers when I'm happy, but on days when everything goes wrong flowers are for me like the start of a new regime, something that is always perfect no matter what happens.
I put a couple of campanulas in a vase, and I feel better. I plant flowers on my old stone balcony that looks out over the courtyard and immediately have the satisfying feeling of doing something quite meaningful. I lose myself in unwrapping the plants from the old newspaper, carefully taking them out of their plastic containers and putting them in the pots. When I stick my fingers into the damp earth and root around in it, everything becomes absolutely simple and I lose all my cares in cascades of roses, hydrangeas, and wisteria.
I don't like change in my life. I always take the same route when I walk to work; I have a very particular bench in the Tuileries, which I secretly think of as my bench.
And I would never turn around on a staircase in the dark because of the creepy feeling that there might be something lurking behind me that would attack me if I turned round.
By the way, I've never told anyone the bit about the stairs — not even Claude. I don't think he was telling me everything at that time either.
During the day we both went our own ways. I was never quite sure what Claude did in the evenings when I was working in the restaurant. Perhaps I just didn't want to know. But at night, when loneliness descended over Paris, when the last bars had closed and only a few night owls walked shivering on the streets, I lay in his arms and felt safe.
That evening, as I switched off the lights in the restaurant and set off home with a bag of raspberry macaroons, I still had no idea that my apartment would be as empty as my restaurant. It was, as I said, a day just like any other.
Except that Claude, in just three sentences, had departed from my life.
* * * When I woke up the next morning after what felt like a sleepless night, I knew that something was wrong. Unfortunately I am not one of those people who immediately spring into wakefulness, and so it was at first more a strange feeling of uncertainty and uneasiness that gradually penetrated my consciousness than a clear thought. I was lying on the soft, lavender-scented pillows; from outside the muffled noises of the courtyard entered the room. A crying child, the reassuring voice of a mother, heavy footsteps moving away, the courtyard gate creaking shut. I blinked and turned to my side. Still half asleep, I stretched out my hand and felt for something that was no longer there.
"Claude?" I murmured.
And then the realization came. Claude had left me!
What had still seemed strangely unreal the night before, and after several glasses of red wine had become so unreal that I could well have dreamed it, became irrevocable in the gray light of this November dawn. I lay there motionless and listened, but the apartment remained silent. No sound from the kitchen. No one rattling around with the big dark blue cups and cursing because the milk had boiled over. No smell of coffee to dispel tiredness. No quiet humming of his electric razor. Not a word.
I turned my head and looked over toward the balcony door: The thin white curtains were open, and a cold morning was pressing against the window. I pulled the covers more closely around me and recalled how I'd unsuspectingly entered the dark, empty apartment with my bag of macaroons the night before.
Only the kitchen light was on, and for a moment I stared blankly at the lonely still life that presented itself to my view in the light of the dark metal lamp.
A handwritten letter lying open on the old kitchen table, the jar of apricot jam that Claude had spread on his croissant that morning. A bowl of fruit. A half-burned candle. Two cloth napkins rolled up carelessly and stuck in silver rings.
Claude never wrote to me, not even a note. He had a manic relationship with his mobile phone, and if his plans changed, he would ring me or leave a message on my voice mail.
"Claude?" I called, and still somehow hoped for an answer, although the cold hand of fear was already grabbing at me. I lowered my arms and the macaroons fell out of the bag in slow motion. I felt a little faint. I sat on one of the four wooden chairs and pulled the letter unbelievably slowly toward me, as if that could have changed anything.
I had read the few words that Claude had penned on the paper in his big, sloping handwriting over and over, and eventually seemed to hear his rough voice, close to my ear, like a whisper in the night:
I've met the woman of my dreams. I'm sorry that it had to happen just now, but it would have had to happen sometime anyway.
Take care, Claude
At first I had sat motionless, just my heart beating like mad. So that was how it felt when the ground was pulled out from under your feet. That morning Claude had said good-bye to me with a kiss that seemed particularly tender. I didn't know then that it was a kiss of betrayal. A lie! How contemptible, just to slink away like that!
In a surge of impotent rage I crumpled the paper and threw it into the corner. Seconds later I was sitting over it, sobbing loudly and smoothing the page out again. I drank a glass of red wine, and then another. I took my phone out of my purse and rang Claude again and again. I left messages — some desperately pleading, some wildly abusive. I walked up and down in the apartment, took another gulp to give myself courage, and shouted down the phone that he should call me back at once. I think I must have done that about twenty-five times before I realized, with the dull clarity that alcohol sometimes brings, that all my efforts would be in vain. Claude was already light-years away and my words could no longer reach him.
My head ached. I got up and padded through the apartment like a sleepwalker in my short nightshirt, which was actually the big — far too big, in fact — blue-and-white-striped jacket of Claude's pajamas that I had somehow pulled on during the night.
The bathroom door was open. I looked around to make certain. The razor had gone, as well as the toothbrush and the Aramis aftershave.
In the living room the burgundy cashmere throw that I'd given Claude for his birthday was missing, and his dark pullover was not hanging carelessly over the chair as it usually did. The raincoat had gone from the hook to the left of the front door. I pulled open the wardrobe in the hallway. A couple of empty coat hangers knocked against each other, rattling gently. I breathed in deeply. Everything had been taken away. Claude had even remembered the socks in the bottom drawer. He must have planned his departure very carefully, and I asked myself how I had managed to notice nothing, nothing at all. Not that he was intending to go. Not that he'd fallen in love. Not that he was already kissing another woman at the same time that he was kissing me.
Excerpted from The Ingredients of Love by Nicolas Barreau. Copyright © 2010 Nicolas Barreau. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Nicolas Barreau was born in Paris, the son of a French father and a German mother. He studied romance languages and literature at the Sorbonne and worked in a bookshop on the Rive Gauche in Paris. He is also the author of One Evening in Paris, The Woman of My Dreams, and You'll Find Me at the End of the World.
NICOLAS BARREAU was born in Paris, the son of a French father and a German mother. He studied romance languages and literature at the Sorbonne and worked in a bookshop on the Rive Gauche in Paris but is far from an inexperienced bookworm. With his two other successful novels The Woman of My Life and You'll Find Me at the End of the World, he has gained an enthusiastic audience. The Ingredients of Love is his second novel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I adored this book. Very much a lovely, feel-good romantic dramedy...for as much as there are funny parts of the book, it is set with an undertone of sadness and tragedy in the heroine's life. I do felt it ended rather abruptly, as the rest of the book was seemingly detailed. Had there been perhaps one more chapter or a few more pages written to even out the ending, I would have given it 5 stars. However, do not let it dissuade you from reading this! I found it a wonderful book and I hope more of Mr. Barreau's books will follow in English.