Victoria Rienzi came home to the Jersey Shore to write a new book, learn the family restaurant business, and practice the fine art of Italian cooking. But when delicious dishes are paired with murder, Vic has a little too much on her plate…
When Vic asked her nonna for more responsibility in the kitchen, she didn’t mean forming a thousand tiny meatballs by hand for the family’s famous wedding soup. The dish is to be served at the reception for a close family friend at the exclusive Belmont Country Club. And once there Vic has to deal with a demanding bridezilla and clashes in the kitchen—between the staff and servers, between two egocentric head chefs, and between the country club president and…well…everyone.
The wedding comes off without a hitch—until the body of the club’s president is found on the beach below a high seawall. Now Vic will need to use her noodle to find out who pushed whom too far…before she’s the one who lands in the soup!
About the Author
A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for the Italian Kitchen Mysteries. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista. She lives in central New Jersey with her husband and her two younger sons. She is the author of Murder and Marinara.
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR THE NATIONAL BESTSELLING ITALIAN KITCHEN MYSTERIES
Also by Rosie Genova
“What are you doing in here, Vic?” The deep, familiar tones of my ex’s voice still had the power to set my heart pounding. But I didn’t look up.
“What does it look like I’m doing, Tim?” I released the scoop, gently dropping the thirteenth meatball onto the sheet pan. That left a mere 987 to go. At the rate I was going, I’d be spending my thirty-fourth birthday in the Casa Lido kitchen, still scooping ground meat from this bottomless aluminum bowl.
He stood with his hands on his hips, frowning. “Who said you could make the meatballs?”
“I’m not making them.” I tried to keep the impatience out of my tone. “I’m forming them.” I held up the scoop, covered in flecks of raw meat. “Nando mixed them up.”
“Good.” Tim strode over to the stockpots, lifted the lid of the nearest one, and sniffed. Then he stuck a spoon into it, blew on it, slurped its contents noisily, and nodded. He pointed the spoon at me. “You didn’t make this stock.”
I slammed the scoop down on the worktable. “No, I didn’t make the stock. My grandmother started it and Nando finished it.” I gestured to the simmering pots of stock. “But it will probably be my job to pick every piece of edible chicken from those bones, right after I finish making—sorry, forming—a thousand tiny meatballs for the Wedding Soup.” I imagined tray after tray of meatballs, lined up until the crack of doom, and shook my head. “It’s like some mythological punishment Nonna dreamed up.”
“You wanted to learn the business.” His voice was terse. “That’s why you came back, wasn’t it? I mean, it sure wasn’t for me.”
I tried to concentrate on the task in front of me. I had to make these quickly, while the meat was still cold. Aside from health reasons, if the ground beef, pork, and veal mixture sat out too long, I’d get misshapen polpetti. And then there would be hell to pay, extracted by my eightyish but still formidable grandmother.
But even fear of my nonna wasn’t enough to take my mind from Tim’s powerful presence a few feet from my elbow. I’d come back to Oceanside Park to learn the family business and research a new book, a departure from my mystery series. Instead, I’d stumbled into a murder and briefly back into Tim’s arms. But my role in the outcome of the investigation had left him furious with me. I glanced up and met his cold gray stare.
“Yes,” I said, “That’s why I came back.” It was only a partial truth, and we both knew it. I’d been in love with Tim Trouvare for more than half my life, and trying to push away those feelings was about as easy as fighting a riptide. “Look, Tim, I’m sorry about the way things turned out in May. But it could have been much worse.”
“Right,” he sneered. “I could have been arrested for murder.”
I sighed. “Can’t we just get past this?”
“Oh, I’m past it, sweetheart.” He patted me on the shoulder and I jumped. “I’m past it all.” With that, he swept out the kitchen’s swinging door.
“Ohhhh-kay.” I stuck the scoop back into the meat and tried to focus. I could work only in one-hour intervals, as Nonna was strict about how long the meat could stay unrefrigerated. I looked down at the raw mixture, catching whiffs of fresh parsley and garlic. Once the stock was skimmed and strained, it would be brought to a simmer, and the polpetti would be dropped in quickly to cook. But that was only the last step of the process. There was still the escarole to be cleaned and blanched, another job that would likely fall to me. And the whole thing had to be done in stages. I dropped another meatball onto the sheet pan and counted. Again.
As a favor to an old friend of my dad’s, we’d agreed to make our special Wedding Soup for his daughter’s reception. With two hundred guests, we needed God knows how many gallons of soup. My grandmother had specified five meatballs per bowl—hence the thousand count. But while we could make the stock ahead of time, we needed to complete the last steps at the reception, just before serving. That meant making up all the meatballs and freezing them. Prepping the stock and greens. Transporting all of it to the Belmont Beach Country Club a couple of hours before the service. And Nonna had put me in charge.
“You wanted more responsibility,” she’d said with a shrug. “So now you’re responsible.”
“But, Nonna,” I told her, “Belmont probably has its own staff. You know Chef Massimo—–he’ll want to oversee the prep and service. And we’ll never keep Tim out of there. How will we do this with two kitchen staffs butting heads?” The panic rose in me as I imagined all those culinary egos clashing in one small space. “Can’t we just make it here and drop it off?”
“No.” She crossed her arms, frowning over the top of her glasses. “The polpetti and greens must be cooked just before service.” She shook a knobby finger at me. “Not one moment sooner.”
I could still hear her voice in my ears as I shook out the last tiny meatball. At fifty per tray, I’d need twenty sheet pans. Each would have to be double-wrapped in plastic and set carefully into the freezer. How would we get it all there? How many trips in my little Honda would it take? Not to mention the soup itself: How would we transport all those gallons of chicken stock down Ocean Avenue?
“God,” I moaned. I stared down at the tray of tiny pink spheres. “How did I get myself into this? If I never see another meatball again, it will be too soon.”
But as it turned out, meatballs were the least of my troubles.
“Now, darling,” my mom said, fluttering around me in the Casa Lido kitchen like a stiletto-wearing butterfly. “When you go over there, make sure you clear everything with Elizabeth Merriman. She’s very particular about how things are done.” Mom smoothed the collar of my cotton blouse. “Would you like me to give this a quick press before you go? It is the Belmont Country Club, after all.”
I looked into my mother’s freshly bronzed face. Her long curls, now a purple-tinted auburn, brushed her shoulders, slightly bared by her lime green boatneck top. The combination of colors was blinding. “Mom, I’m fine. I’ll be spending most of my time in a hot kitchen. Once that soup is made and served, I’ll be hightailing it out of there.”
“No, you won’t.” Like an avenging ghost, my grandmother materialized out of nowhere, pronouncing her words with a finality that sealed my fate. And whatever it was, it wouldn’t be pleasant. But it was a price I was willing to pay. I’d even left my East Village apartment in Manhattan to come back to the Jersey shore. Because I was working on a new book based on my family’s history, I planned to spend a year learning about our restaurant business. But thus far, things hadn’t quite turned out as I planned.
“You will stay until the end of the reception,” Nonna said, setting a tray of cookies down on the butcher-block worktable. I stared at the pale, plump pillows edged in golden brown, each perfectly formed. The licorice scent of anise wafted upward, pulling my hand toward the tray like a magnet. And then the sound of my grandmother’s slap resounded across the kitchen.
“Hey!” I rubbed the back of my hand. “Why can’t I have one? You know your ricotta cookies are my favorites.”
“They are for the reception. You’ll put these out on the dessert table.” She crossed her arms, pressing her lips together in a tight red line of warning. It was a line I knew better than to cross.
Oh, no. Waiting for the dessert service meant I’d be stuck at that wedding all night. I’d hoped to be back at my cottage and at my computer by seven to put in a couple of hours of work on my novel.
“But why?” I wailed, sounding like the ten-year-old who’d helped my grandmother set tables in the restaurant more than two decades ago. “Aren’t they having some overloaded Venetian table filled with cannoli and éclairs and napoleons? Do they really need more cookies?” The second the words dropped from my mouth, I realized how foolish they were. This was an Italian wedding, after all. We always needed more cookies. Then a sense of dread overcame me like fog over the ocean. “Nonna,” I said slowly, “these aren’t iced.”
“Of course they aren’t. You’ll ice and decorate those two hours before service, not a minute before or after.” She produced a plastic container of what looked like silver BBs. “One teaspoon of icing per cookie and three silver balls on top. No more, no less.”
My mouth gaped open like one of my brother Danny’s fresh-caught tuna. “I . . . but . . .”
“But nothing, Victoria.” Nonna glared at me from behind her bifocals. I turned an imploring look on my mother.
“Now, Mama,” my mom said, “we can prep these ahead—don’t you think?”
Nonna turned her stony gaze on my mom, who, despite forty years’ acquaintance with her mother-in-law, still flinched. “Nic-o-lina.” My grandmother pronounced each syllable separately and crisply, a sure sign of danger. “The Casa Lido has a reputation to uphold,” she said. “I will not be sending out dry cookies that are imperfectly iced.” Nonna trained her laser-beam stare back on me. “Especially after what happened a couple of months ago.”
St. Francis, give me patience, I prayed. “Nonna,” I said gently, “what happened then was no one’s fault.” But I knew that on some level, she held me responsible. “And we’ve recovered.”
“Thank God,” my mom said. “In any case, Mama, can you really expect Victoria to make all that icing as well as oversee the soup service at the club? It seems like an awful lot to ask.”
“No. Tim will make the icing.” My grandmother’s tight lips curved into either a smile or a sneer. With her it was hard to tell. But Tim had been in her bad graces ever since that little mishap in the pantry, and this was her version of revenge. Tim saw himself as an up-and-coming chef de cuisine, not an assistant baker. It was bad enough we’d have to work together all night, but now he’d be in a fouler mood than usual.
I exchanged a look with my mom, who gave a small shake of her auburn extensions that spelled it out for me: Give it up.
“Okay,” I said. “So, fill me in on how all this is going to work.”
My grandmother rested her palms on the worktable in a war-room pose. Any minute now she’d get out a wall map and pushpins. “All right,” she said. “The polpetti will remain in the freezer until the moment we are ready to load the van. The stockpots are sealed. The escarole is prepped. Both are in the walk-in. Nando will load the van and drive; Chef Massimo will follow.”
“And Tim’s driving me in my Honda.” Oh, goody. Forty minutes alone in the car with my ex-boyfriend. “And when we get there?”
“By all the saints, have we not gone over this?” My grandmother shook her head at my obtuseness. “You set the stock to simmer, adding the greens in bunches. At the very last, you add the polpetti, and you cook them only until they are no longer pink inside, understand?” She spread her fingers wide. “And when you plate, only five meatballs per bowl. As far as the cookies—”
“I know. Ice before service, and only three silver balls per cookie. I get it.”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Remember that you are representing the Casa Lido, Victoria.”
“I will, Nonna. Speaking of which, what about our dinner service here tonight?”
“Nando will drive back for prep, and Massimo will return after the soup is served at the reception. You and Tim will stay for the dessert service and bring back our stockpots.”
“I probably have to wash them, too,” I muttered.
“What was that, Victoria?” my grandmother asked sharply.
“Nothing, Nonna.” I said with a sigh. “I just don’t see why we’re doing this,” I grumbled. “We’re not even getting paid.”
“Now, hon,” my mom said. “Dr. Natale is an old friend. And he wants Roberta to have a special day.”
“Ugh, Roberta,” I said. “Is she still a brat?” The Roberta Natale I remembered was a pampered princess with big hair and an even bigger ego.
My mother frowned. “Now, that’s no way to talk about the bride, Victoria. You just bear in mind that Chickie is a friend of your father’s. And look how he’s taken care of our teeth all these years.”
“That’s reason enough not to help out,” I said, remembering how Dr. Charles Natale, affectionately known as Dr. Chickie, had outfitted me with a monstrous set of braces when I was thirteen. “He tortured me for two years. I was known as Brace Face all through middle school.”
My mom grasped my chin in an Italian love hold and shook it from side to side. “And look how beautiful that smile ended up.”
I peeled her fingers from my face. “If you say so, Mom. Hey, how come Danny never got braces?”
“Daniele’s teeth were straight,” my grandmother called over her shoulder. “You had a gap you could drive a truck through.”
“Thanks a bunch, Nonna.” My grandmother made no bones about her preference for my older brother, a detective in the local police department. As Nonna’s only grandson, he was subject to a different set of rules than I was—that is to say, no rules at all. Basically, all he had to do was show up and eat. “Hey, speaking of my big bro, what’s going on with him and Sofia?”
My mother’s perfectly groomed brows met in a winged arch over her nose, and she gave a little sniff. “I have no idea. Your brother chooses not to share details of his personal life with me. And I’m not entirely certain they belong together anyway.”
“Zitto, Nicolina! For shame.” My grandmother crossed her arms in classic battle pose. “They are married, legally and in the eyes of God. And they will stay that way,” she pronounced. “This is nothing more than some life troubles. They will get past this and start their family.”
“I hope so,” I said, setting the tray of cookies carefully in a plastic bin. “They’ve seemed pretty close lately.” Though my brother and sister-in-law Sofia were officially separated, I knew that Danny was spending more time at the house. He hadn’t yet moved back in, which had us all wondering. And my sister-in-law, with whom I was pretty tight, had been uncharacteristically silent on the subject of my brother. I figured she’d fill me in when she was ready.
“I’m sorry,” my mother said, shaking her head, “but I blame Sofia for that mess you got into.”
I exchanged a look with Nonna. We both knew very well who had gotten me into “that mess” back in May, and she was wearing bifocals and red lipstick. But Sofia, who had hopes of entering law enforcement, had relished her role in solving a murder. “I got myself into it, Mom, but it’s over and done with.” I wedged the container of silver balls down next to the cookie tray. I planned to hold these on my lap; there was no way I was letting my grandmother’s famous cookies ride in the back of the van. When my phone buzzed, I didn’t even have to look at it to know who it was.
“Well, ladies, my prince awaits.” Where the hell are you??? his text read. “And as impatient as ever for my company.” I lifted the container of cookies, holding it close to my nose to inhale the anise scent. The minute I was in that car, I planned to stuff one in my mouth.
Nonna, who besides being a restaurateur was also a mind reader, narrowed her eyes at me. “Don’t get any ideas, Victoria. I know exactly how many are on that tray. And don’t be surprised if I come and check on you over at the club.”
I nearly dropped the plastic bin. “Why? I can take care of things.” I struggled to keep the panic from my voice; if Nonna sensed weakness, she’d zero in for the kill.
She raised her eyebrows over her glasses. “That remains to be seen.”
A loud honk from the parking lot startled me into action. “I’ll be fine, Nonna. Don’t worry about anything.”
I struggled at the back door, trying to ease it open with my elbow without jarring the precious commodity I was holding, all while Tim grinned at me from inside the car.
“Thanks for the help,” I said. Settling the cookies next to me on the seat, I slammed the car door for emphasis.
He lifted a broad shoulder. “C’mon, Vic, you don’t need my help. You’re the girl who’s got it all under control, right?”
“Right,” I said through my teeth. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The summer season was in full swing as Tim and I headed out of our small beach town of Oceanside Park. It was a Saturday in July, and thousands of families had begun their yearly pilgrimage to the shore. Ocean Avenue, the coastal route along our section of beaches, was crawling with weekend traffic. The boardwalk and beaches were packed, and no doubt the Casa Lido would do a brisk business this evening. I found myself wishing that I’d be waiting tables instead of working a wedding reception.
“Do we do this a lot, Tim?” I asked, breaking the silence of the last seven miles.
He leaned close to the steering wheel, eyeing the line of cars in front of him as if he could will them all to move faster. “Do what? Sit in traffic on a Saturday in July?”
“No. I mean the Casa Lido making the soup for this wedding—since when are we caterers?”
“We’re not. This is just a favor. And I’m not any happier about it than you are.”
He stared straight ahead, his lips in a tight line. He already had his bandanna tied around his head, and I noticed the faint furrows over his brows and the lines starting around his eyes. If I looked in a mirror, I’d see the same on my own face. When had we stopped being kids? Was it when we’d gone away to college? Or the day Tim came back and broke my heart? I blinked, both in surprise that it still had the power to hurt and at the tears that started gathering. Tim glanced at me once, and his voice softened. “You okay?”
“What are you thinking about, then?”
“Well, if you must know, I was thinking about the past.”
“Ah, not a good idea, lass. You’re breakin’ your own rules.” He smiled, and my heart turned over.
“Cut it with the blarney, Trouvare. You’re more Italian than Irish and you know it.” But I couldn’t help smiling back. “And do you even know the rules?”
He nodded. “I do indeed.” He held up one finger. “Rule Number One: no touching. Rule Number Two: no reminiscing.”
“So you have learned your lessons.” If only I’d learned mine. “Tim,” I said, “I don’t want to be mad at you, and I don’t want you mad at me. What happened at the restaurant—”
“Was no one’s fault.” He rested his hand over mine briefly. “Look, my manly pride was hurt, okay?”
“I kind of figured that one out already.”
He squeezed my hand once and then put his back on the wheel. “And we’ll always be friends, Vic, no matter what.”
“You bet,” I said. “Friends for always.” And this time, my heart didn’t turn over—it sank like a stone.
• • •
The Belmont Country Club sat high behind the seawall that overlooked Belmont’s steep, narrow beach. The massive Victorian structure had once been a resort hotel for nineteenth-century New York financiers; along its walls were pictures of Astors and Vanderbilts sipping champagne in its dining room and taking turns around the ballroom. The magnificent ballroom featured a gallery of real Tiffany windows and hand-carved Grecian columns. Hopeful brides-to-be spent years on waiting lists (often before they were engaged) to be able to say that their weddings were held at the historic Belmont Club. And every one of these brides has something else in common: daddies with deep pockets. As we pulled into the long drive, I craned my neck to take in the architectural details, the gables and towers and the widow’s walk that circled the central tower.
“Wow,” I said. “This place is amazing.”
“Costs a fortune to have a wedding here,” Tim said.
“With waiting lists a mile long. I guess Dr. Chickie had an in, since he’s the club’s treasurer.”
Tim shrugged. “All I know is the place has two Michelin-star chefs. I’m playin’ with the big boys today.”
“You nervous?” I should have asked whether he was embarrassed, considering that Tim’s role was to throw some raw meatballs into chicken stock and to mix up a batch of cookie icing.
“Nah.” He pulled into a small lot behind the club, in an area obviously meant for deliveries. He turned to me and winked. “I can hold my own.”
I was doubtful, but I only smiled at him as we got out of the car. He grabbed the cooler with the butter and sugar in it, and this time opened the door for me as I emerged with the precious container of cookies. I blinked as we stepped into the long, cavernous kitchen of the country club, outfitted in floor-to-ceiling stainless steel, from its state-of-the-art appliances to its gleaming countertops.
“Whoa,” I said, “you could fit four Casa Lido kitchens in this place.”
Tim smirked. “I’ve seen bigger. You forget, Vic, I worked at Chateau Fromage.”
For three whole months. Ah, Tim, I thought. Is there even room in this kitchen for your ego? “Well, this might not be your beloved House of Cheese, but it’s pretty impressive.”
“May I help you?” a deep voice barked from the other end of the kitchen. I turned, nearly dropping the cookies. A stocky figure emerged from the shadows, and it was hard to tell at first whether the person was male or female. Like Tim, he/she wore a bandanna, but his/her kitchen clothes were black instead of white. Once again, the voice boomed from the dim corner. “What are you doing in my kitchen?”
Okay, I thought, female, but a toughie. In her late fifties, maybe? As she got closer, I noticed her heavy makeup: painted-on brows that gave her a look of perpetual surprise, dark eye shadow, false eyelashes, and a shade of lipstick that suggested she’d been eating orange ice pops. The line of foundation along her chin was much darker than the skin on her neck. Though a red scarf covered most of her head, a scraggly salt-and-pepper ponytail poked out from behind it. All that makeup seemed at odds with her broad shoulders and mannish chef’s coat. Instead of the usual kitchen clogs, she wore heavy black shoes on her feet. “I asked you a question,” she snarled, and I took a step back, still clutching the cookies to my chest.
Tim stuck out his hand. “We’re here from the Casa Lido, Chef. I’m Tim Trouvare.” He grinned in his most charming Italian-Irish manner, as though she should recognize his famous name. But Tim’s hand hung unshaken in the air.
“I don’t care who you are,” she said, fixing me with a bright blue glare, “you don’t belong in my kitchen. And what the hell’s the Casa Lido anyway?”
“Um, it’s a restaurant in Oceanside Park.” I set the bin down on the counter, but didn’t make Tim’s mistake of offering my hand. “I’m Victoria Rienzi, one of the owners.” Okay, I wasn’t really, but this woman was clearly the impatient type; I wasn’t about to launch into my life story and tell her why I was working at the restaurant. “We’re here to serve the soup course. Our guys should be arriving with the van any minute.”
“Ah yes.” A slow smile spread across her face and she rubbed her hands together. “The famous Wedding Soup. Etienne is all ready for you.”
“Etienne?” I asked.
“Etienne Boulé,” Tim said out of the side of his mouth. “Michelin, remember?”
“Oh, right,” I whispered. The scary chef’s demeanor had softened, but there was a glint in her blue eyes. She can’t wait, I thought. She knows Mr. Michelin Star Chef Etienne hates the idea of an interloper in his kitchen, and she wants to see the fireworks.
At that moment, she stuck out her hand. “I’m Kate Bridges, the pastry chef.” I braced myself for a tight grip, but her grasp was surprisingly weak for such a strong-looking woman. She jerked a thumb toward the back of the kitchen. “I was working on the cake when you came in.”
So she was the pastry chef. And like all chefs, she was proprietary about her kitchen. My eyes strayed to the container of cookies on the counter. What will she do when she realizes there will be a tray of cookies competing with her masterpiece of a cake and her perfect Italian pastries?
“Oh, we’d love to see it,” I said, less than truthfully.
Her expression darkened, and she crossed her thick arms. “Nobody sees it until it’s ready to be cut.”
“We understand, Chef,” Tim said quickly, and shot me a look. “Listen, can you point me to a place I can set up my mise en place?”
She gave a snort of laughter. “Now, that’s up to Chef Boulé, isn’t it? I’m sure he’ll be glad to find you a spot for your meez.” She glanced at the container on the counter and then pointed. “What’s that?”
I looked at Tim. Tim looked at me. But neither one of us spoke.
Kate narrowed her eyes, her fake brows wriggling like thin black snakes. “You two aren’t very good at answering questions, are you?”
I took a breath. “Those are my grandmother’s famous ricotta cookies. The bride requested that there be a tray of them on the dessert table this evening.”
“Oh, the bride, ‘requested,’ did she?” Kate asked, and took a step closer. My eyes were riveted to her false eyelashes and two bright spots of blush on her cheeks. She looked like a scary clown, and I stiffened. “Well,” she continued, “if the bride wants these homemade jobs so bad, she doesn’t need my pastries. Maybe she doesn’t need my cake, either!”
Just then the kitchen door swung open, and I was relieved for the interruption—until I got a good look at her. A tall redhead walked toward us, bare-legged in a green sheath and gold metallic sandals. Though her complexion was pale, much lighter than my own, she had a look the magazines call sun-kissed, with a light spray of freckles across her nose and pink cheeks. And the minute her eyes met Tim’s, it was over.
His hand strayed to his bandanna, and I knew he regretted that his dark curls weren’t tumbling charmingly over his forehead. I watched him start to roll the sleeves of his chef’s coat—the better to show off your forearms, eh, Tim? If he’d had plumage, he’d be puffing out his chest and dropping feathers all over the room. But whatever he was doing, it was working. The young woman addressed her words to Kate, but her eyes never left Tim’s face.
“Now, Chef, our bride knows that your pastries are unparalleled. But she has a sentimental attachment to these particular cookies. Might we not make just a bit of room on the dessert table?” She flashed a smile, revealing two rows of white teeth worthy of Dr. Chickie’s best work. Kate seemed unmoved, but Tim was about to melt into a puddle on the floor.
Kate grunted, shook her head, and stamped off to her corner of the kitchen without a word. The redhead, still smiling, held out her hand. To me, amazingly enough. “I’m Lacey Harrison, Roberta’s wedding planner. You’re Victoria, aren’t you?”
I couldn’t help smiling back. “Yes, nice to meet you. We’re—”
“From the Casa Lido, here for the soup service. I’m Tim,” he interrupted, grabbing Lacey’s hand and shooting her the same Black Irish grin to which Kate had been impervious. But not so Lacey Harrison. She cast her eyes down shyly, revealing thick eyelashes—her own, I noted. Her cheeks glowed pink, her lips curved in a sweet smile, and she made no move to remove her hand from Tim’s. In my wrinkled blouse and serviceable skirt, I felt dumpy, frumpy, and old, though I was probably only about five years older than the enchanting Lacey. As I stood watching them, a wave of emotion washed over me, leaving regret and a tinge of sadness behind. If I’d entertained any hopes of getting back together with Tim, they’d just been dashed against the rocks.
“Very nice to meet you,” Lacey said, finally slipping her hand from his. “Both of you.” She turned to me, still smiling shyly. “I’m such a fan of your books. It’s so cool to actually meet you.”
Great, I thought. I can’t even have the satisfaction of hating her. “Thanks,” I said. I glanced at the kitchen clock. It was time to end this lovefest and get down to business. “Lacey, our guys will be here with the soup ingredients any minute. How are we doing for time?”
“Well, the church service was scheduled for three; it’s a full Mass so they should be about halfway through it now. They’ll be taking pictures for a bit afterward, and our cocktail hour begins at five thirty sharp. But I should warn you,” she said, glancing at Tim, “that Chef Etienne and his staff will be here any moment to start preparing. The bulk of it was done yesterday, but with two hundred guests, there’s still an awful lot to do.”
Tim winked at her. “But I know you’ll have it all under control.”
Interesting. When I’m the one who has it all under control, it’s somehow threatening, but when Lacey does, it’s cute as a button. Lacey shook her head, her gold highlights glinting under the bright lights of the kitchen. “That’s Elizabeth’s job. Elizabeth Merriman—she’s the president of the club and the events manager. And let me warn you again: She’s a stickler. She’s really big on the reputation of this place.” She lowered her voice. “We call her the Iron Lady. You know, like Margaret Thatcher. Only she’s worse.”
From the back of the kitchen came a sound that was something between a growl and a curse, and Lacey grinned. “Kate hates Elizabeth. They really butt heads. But Kate’s such an amazing pastry chef that Elizabeth puts up with her.”
Tim cocked his head in Kate’s direction. “Think she’ll give me a few lessons? I’m trying to branch out a bit in my work, maybe add dessert chef to my résumé.” He lowered his voice, as though he were confiding something special. “In fact, I’m doing a little pastry work this evening.”
I clenched my jaw to keep my mouth from dropping open. He was making the freaking icing, and had done nothing but complain about it since Nonna assigned it to him. As our current sous chef, Tim was interested in being a chef de cuisine, period, and lived every day in the hopes our chef, Massimo, would retire or move on so he could step in. I shook my head at him, but he was paying no attention to me—something I would have to get used to now that Lacey was in the picture.
“Uh, I don’t know about that,” Lacey said. “Chef Kate is kind of volatile. And, anyway, the kitchen arrangements would be overseen by Elizabeth. Once the reception is under way, I’ll be leaving.”
I could hear the regret in her voice; so did Tim, apparently, because he stepped closer to her. Inclining his head, he spoke softly. “That’s too bad. But maybe I could see you another time?”
Her cheeks grew pink again. “Maybe,” she said, and then nodded to me. “It was nice to meet you, Victoria.”
“You too,” I said, and we both watched her go. I turned to Tim. “Since when do you have aspirations to be a dessert chef?”
“Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think, Vic. I’m a man of surprises.”
“Right,” I said. “How ’bout you surprise me by getting that icing ready?”
He shook his head. “Too early. And, anyway, I’m not making it. You are.”
“Oh no you don’t. My grandmother will kill me if she thinks I made the icing for her precious cookies. And I’ve never made it.”
The scorn on Tim’s face was withering. He held up his fingers. “It’s three ingredients, Vic. There are industrial mixers here. Even you can’t screw it up.”
“Then the soup is all on you, mister. I’ll oversee the portions, but don’t expect me to be dropping meatballs into hot pots of stock.”
“You might not have a choice, Vic. We’ll need every hand here tonight and—”
Tim’s back was to the kitchen door, so he didn’t see the Belmont Club’s master chef enter the kitchen until it was too late. But I did. I don’t know what I was expecting Chef Etienne Boulé to look like. Rotund, certainly. And maybe somewhere between Batali and Lagasse on the attractiveness scale. But I wasn’t prepared for the tall, elegant, silver-haired Frenchman who stood glowering down at us. And for the second time that day, I wished I’d worn a little black dress instead of a big white blouse.
Tim turned and slapped his hand to his chest. “Chef, pardonnez-moi, I didn’t see you.”
Chef Etienne’s face remained impassive. “Obviously. I take it you are from—”
“The Casa Lido restaurant.” I held out my hand and tried to smile Lacey style. “I’m Victoria Rienzi.”
Though he didn’t kiss my hand, he did treat me to a bit of French. “Enchanté, mademoiselle,” he said, and I stifled the urge to giggle. Tim frowned again and stepped in front of me, grabbing Chef Etienne’s hand. “Chef, it’s an honor. I’m Tim Trouvare, sous chef at the Casa Lido.”
“That remains to be seen,” Etienne said. He looked around at the miles of empty counter space. “I suppose I will have to find a place for you and your staff to work.”
“Yes, if you please,” Tim said, and I half expected him to drop to his knees with the request.
Chef Etienne crossed his arms and lifted his chin. “It cannot be done until my staff arrives. They have precedence, you understand? And how many do you bring, besides the mademoiselle?” He inclined his head in my direction, and I took note of his heavy-lidded dark eyes and full mouth. Despite the silver hair, he couldn’t have been much over forty. He frowned slightly, and I realized he caught me staring.
Before Tim could respond, I heard rapid-fire Spanish outside the kitchen doors, followed by some vociferous French. The voices grew louder, and though I couldn’t make out a word, it was clear there was a giant clash of cultures going on outside those doors. And other things, as well, judging by the clang and clatter of metal carts. Both kitchen doors opened at once, with our line cook, Nando Perez, manning one cart, and a short, dark man who appeared to be his French doppelgänger pushing the other. There wasn’t room for both carts, and neither guy would give way. Nando shouted in Spanish to Tim, while his twin spouted off in French to Chef Etienne.
“Remind your man that he is a guest in this kitchen,” Etienne said through his teeth. “Antoine, entrez, maintenant!
“I am sorry, Miss Victor,” Nando said, still out of breath from his efforts. “But this one would not let me through.”
At that, Antoine scowled and made a hand gesture that is universally understood in all languages, causing Nando to let rip again in Spanish. Judging from his motions in my direction, he was loudly reminding Antoine that there was a lady present. In response, Antoine took my hand in his sweaty paw and pumped it up and down, all the while pleading his case in French.
Tim then pulled Nando to the side; Etienne did the same with Antoine, who only reluctantly released my hand. By this time, all four men were talking at once in three different languages. Just then, the doors swung open again to reveal the Casa Lido’s chef de cuisine, Massimo Fabri. Decked out in an Italian suit, he carried his chef’s coat over his arm. Looking around the kitchen as though he smelled something decomposing, he wrinkled his formidable nose and made his daily pronouncement.
“I cannot work under these conditions,” he said, tossing back his long hair. “I will not have this, you understand.”
Chef Etienne turned to face him. “You will not have this? And who are you, pray tell?”
“Who am I?” he roared, and then launched into angry Italian, adding yet another language to the discordant verbal symphony playing all around us. I headed to the back to find Kate, but halted at the sound of the kitchen door opening behind me.
“What is this commotion? I thought I’d hired professionals, not children. I will not have this in my club, do you understand me?”
I swung around at the sound of her voice and came face-to-face with the Iron Lady herself—Elizabeth Merriman.
Elizabeth Merriman never raised her voice. She didn’t have to. Every word rang with authority and power, stopping us in our tracks. She was tall and broad-shouldered, and her iron gray hair formed tight curls around her head in a style that was popular fifty years ago. She had strong features, with high cheekbones and a long nose. Her gaze moved over us like a searchlight, but her blue eyes were clouded, and I wondered if she had cataracts.
Etienne, who had the least fear of her, stepped forward. “Please, pardon us, madame,” he said. “There was a small altercation, but I believe”—he stopped and frowned at Nando and Antoine—“that it has been settled.” He turned to Tim and Massi. “Has it not, chefs?”
“Yes, chef,” Tim said hastily. Massi merely crossed and arms and sniffed in an injured manner.
“It had better be,” Elizabeth said. She gripped a pearl-handled cane and pointed it at Tim and me. “And you people—I assume you’re from that restaurant in Oceanside, correct?” My eyes were drawn to the large emerald ring she wore, as well as to her thick, reddened knuckles. Arthritis, I thought. That ring will never come off. “Well?” she asked sharply.
But before I could answer, Kate’s voice came from the dim recesses of the long kitchen. “Don’t hold your breath for an answer from those two, Elizabeth.”
Squinting, Elizabeth Merriman frowned in the direction of Kate’s voice. “Lurking back there, are you, Ms. Bridges? So you’re an eavesdropper as well as a troublemaker, I see.”
But it was clear she couldn’t see much at all; she wasn’t leaning on that cane because she was arthritic. She was using it to help her get around. When Kate’s only answer was a sneering laugh, Elizabeth turned her attention back to us. “Is one of you going to answer my question, or have you all been struck dumb?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tim said. “I mean, no, we’re not dumb.” He shot her a blinding smile. “Well, we can talk anyway. We’re here from the Casa Lido.” With a respectful gesture to Massi, he said, “Our chef de cuisine, Massimo Fabri. And this is Victoria Rienzi, one of the owners, and that’s our line cook, Nando Perez.”
She nodded to Massi, and barely glancing Nando’s way, Elizabeth Merriman’s cloudy eyes landed on me. “So you’re a Rienzi, eh?” Peering at my dark blond hair and hazel eyes, she gave me a skeptical squint. Except for my olive skin, I probably didn’t look much like her idea of an Italian.
I nodded, but she said nothing further. If she’d heard of us, it had to be through the restaurant. It’s not like anyone in my family hung out with WASP-y country-club presidents. “We’re here because—”
“I know why you’re here, young woman. The food we serve here isn’t quite to the liking of the Natale family. Apparently, they prefer a more rustic cuisine.” She gestured with her cane to Nando’s cart, on which sat the tightly wrapped stockpots and trays of meatballs. “Wedding Soup, indeed. Call it what it is: a peasant dish.”
I cringed at what I knew was coming. Chef Massi’s face reddened. Scowling furiously, he held out his hands, fingers and thumbs pinched in a universal Italian gesture. “You dare call my food rustico?” he shouted, rolling his R’s so hard that my ears rang. “Then I will take my leave of you.” With that, he lifted his chin and stalked out the kitchen doors.
“Well,” Elizabeth Merriman said, “there’s a classic Italian temper, if I’ve ever seen one.”
Tim heard my soft gasp and gave my arm a warning squeeze. Chef Etienne glanced in my direction, lifting one brow French-ily, as if to say, She calls it as she sees it, mademoiselle.
“Ah, well, it doesn’t matter much,” Elizabeth said. “Peasant food or no, after this evening, Dr. Charles Natale will no longer be a member of this club anyway.” She rested one hand on the countertop, shifting her stare to Nando, who stood frozen with one hand still on the food cart. “Clear that cart at once, boy. That meat shouldn’t be sitting out like that.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the first Italian Kitchen Mystery novel
MURDER AND MARINARA
“The tastiest item on the menu with colorful characters, a sharp plot, and a fabulous Jersey setting. I enjoyed every bite.”—Jenn McKinlay, New York Times bestselling author
“Clever and intriguing….It definitely left me hungry for more.”—Livia J. Washburn, author of the Fresh-Baked Mystery series
“A delectable mystery with an original heroine who shines a light on the complexities of the business of mystery writing and the restaurant world of Italian cooking.”—Kings River Life
"The crime wraps up logically and the characters are likeable...I could easily see reading another in the series, preferably in a beach chair, down the Shore."—The Star Ledger
“What a great beginning to a new series. Love the characters and especially the setting of the series. I found it impossible to put down....So if you like your mystery down the shore, then you should be reading Murder and Marinara.”—MyShelf.com
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What could be cooking up in the Italian Kitchen Mystery? Take a stroll into the kitchen of the Casa Lido family restaurant. Vic is making hundreds and hundreds of meatballs to be served in the Wedding Soup for a wedding at the Country Club.All is going great, until the President of the club,comes in and starts making a fuss at the father of the bride. Then she takes her mean self into the kitchen and starts in on the staff and the head chefs. You best take care and try not to encounter her, or you just might start her off again. Her constant crabbiness may be the reason that she ends up dead (fallen or pushed) behind a high sea wall. As Vic starts investigating the murder she finds herself torn between 2 men in her life, Tim and Cal. Vic is also trying to learn the restaurant business. How she ever gets anything accomplished is also a mystery to me. Stop in for a bowl of wedding soup or a huge serving of spaghetti and see what else is going on there. FTC Full Disclosure - A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
Good story. Kept my attention. Could relate to the Italian family dynamics. But very distracting to have so many typos. Needs closer editing. Will keep reading the series.
I love the NJ shore and family dramas. This book has both. I was a bit disappointed in the romance, but since this is part of a series I assume that will take a while to resolve. Still, the mystery was a clever one and it took both the heroine and her sister-in-law some time to solve it. Nonna is the perfect family matriarch, strict but loving. There are recipes in the back of the book that I must try. All in all, a very enjoyable read.
Great little series.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Another winner from this author. I was spoiled by being to read both books in this series back to back. I have fallen hard for the whole Rienzi family. They are all back. The romantic triangle/tension continues to evolve between Vic, her old boyfriend Tim and carpenter Cal. Nonna is still keeping her family in check and strongly guiding them to her way of thinking. All the characters are growing as we get to know them better. In this installment we meet the chefs at the Belmont Country Club and let’s just say I would rather spend time with chef Gordon Ramsey:) These chefs are extremely temperamental and are not happy having outsiders in their kitchen. When the Club President is found dead there are plenty of suspects including the chefs and the father of the bride. I was very impressed with the way Genova weaves the mystery into the Rienzi family subplots. It is seamless. Having a mystery writer as the protagonist just blends everything together deliciously, like a masterful piece of Italian lasagna, with plenty of layers. This breathes life into the characters and makes the jump off the pages. As with the first story the descriptions and talk of the food made me so hungry. Again I appreciate the recipes included in the back of the book. The only part I don;t like it that now I have to wait for a whole year to visit this wonderful Italian family. Ciao Rienzi Family! I can’t wait until we meet again!!
The Wedding Soup Murder is the second book in Rosie Genova's Italian Kitchen mystery series, featuring a sassy, Jersey Shore heroine, a captivating Italian-American family and more bodies than they know what to do with. Genova's books are filled with tasty Italian treats and plenty of family drama to balance out each whodunit. Readers who are looking for a mystery that will tantalize the palette, as well as, energize the mind, will love this one! What I liked: Victoria has returned home to the Jersey Shore to write a new book. But she isn't looking to write the next great mystery. She wants to learn to cook. And be a part of the family business for a little while as she looks for inspiration, but what she finds is a whole lot of sleuthing going on. I love Genova's heroine for this series. Vic is spontaneous and over the top. She has sass and spunk and all those things every young Italian woman should possess. Her interactions with her family, especially her nonna are fun and full of surprises. Her former ex working right along side her also gives another dimension to the story. Genova has created a great heroine that readers will want more and more of. When Vic and family are set to cater a wedding reception at the local country club, the fun begins. I loved the behind the scenes tidbits about catering and actually making Italian Wedding Soup, now I want to go to an authentic Italian restaurant and try it. When a story makes you want to go beyond the book, you know it was a good one! I had a great time being a fly on the wall with all of the chef personalities and eccentricities flying. It made for a great atmosphere for a mystery. Lots of great suspects including a friend of Vic's family, Dr. Chickie. It was up to Vic to prove him innocent. Genova does a great job of balancing the mystery against the family dynamic of this great Italian-American family. I found myself not only trying to solve the mystery that was currently going on, but wanting to figure out a way to get Vic back together with her ex and even solving the problems between her brother Danny and his wife, who happens to be Vic's partner in crime, so to speak. This book is as much about family, as it is about murder and that made all the difference. Genova is definitely on the right track with this series. Bottom Line: This mystery had all the right elements to make it great. The mystery of what happened to the country club president, was well thought out. It had plenty of suspects and the clues, while easy to follow, did not make the killer obvious. The Rienzi family was a pleasure to read about. Getting to know them was just as fun figuring out the whodunit. Great balance, a fantastic heroine and one over the top Italian family. Great addition to the series.
I'm happy to be back on the boardwalk. The Wedding Soup Murder by Rosie Genova The Second Italian Kitchen Mystery Victoria Rienzi is still on the Jersey Shore learning the family's restaurant business as research for her new book. Unfortunately, Vic's research feels more like punishment as her Nonna has her forming a thousand tiny meatballs, or polpetti, for the Italian Wedding Soup the restaurant is making for a special wedding. In addition, she has to go on site to help prepare the soup and special cookies for the reception with her ex boyfriend, Tim, the sous chef. Add some volatile chefs and staff at the fancy country club and we have a recipe for murder! This second book in the Italian Kitchen Mystery series explores secrets. Multiple secrets are revealed to us as the book progresses; some good, some a possible reason for murder. Does what lies in the past determine what happens now? Do secrets, whether long hidden or recent, make things better or worse? I'm happy to be back on the boardwalk. In addition to a solid mystery, Rosie Genova has given us another fun look into the Rienzi family and their relationships with each other as well as their restaurant, the Casa Lido. I'm curious as to what will develop between Vic and Cal, as well as between Vic and Tim. And I love seeing penance as 100,000 polpetti! Italian Recipes included.
A meticulously crafted mystery with tasty secondary notes of family drama and even a love triangle. The Wedding Soup Murder is the second installment in Rosie Genova's Italian Kitchen Mystery series. At book's end, I delighted in knowing she'd expertly tricked me once again, and I was better for having been tricked. Like any good meal, you'll want to savor every morsel, but you won't be able to pace yourself. I'm ready, and eager, for a third course!
Reviewed for Read Your Writes Book Reviews by Kim The Wedding Soup Murder by Rosie Genova was just what I needed to put me in a relaxing mood to read. This is the second book in the series and can be read as a standalone. I didn’t read the first book in the series, Murder and Marinara and I had no problem getting into The Wedding Soup Murder or understanding the dynamics of the characters. The last couple of cozies I've read have had characters who irritated me with their actions, but the actions of Victoria 'Vic' just seemed genuine and natural. Victoria ‘Vic’ Rienzi has moved back to her hometown of Oceanside Park, New Jersey for the summer. She writes mystery books under the pen name Vick Reed. But she wants to write a non-mystery book and learn how to cook. She spends most of her time at her family's Italian restaurant as a prep cook and waitress. Why she never learned to cook is a little bit of a mystery to me. But that’s besides the point. Vic is tasked with preparing the soup course for the wedding reception of a family friend's daughter. While at the reception, chatting with Dr. Charles ‘Chickie’ Natale (the family friend) and his wife, they are interrupted by Elizabeth Merriam. Elizabeth is the President and Events Manager of the Belmont Beach Country Club. During this interruption, Vic learns something about the man that comes as a complete shock to her. The next day, news spreads about the death of Elizabeth. This puts a bigger light on Dr. Chickie. Apparently in the previous book, Vic helped to solve the murder case. Now, with Elizabeth’s death and suspicion on Dr. Chickie, her father wants Vic to prove that their friend is innocent of murder. “You’re a regular Jessica Fletcher. Murder follows you wherever you go.” Against the wishes of her mother, grandmother, and Detective brother, Vic and her sister-in-law set out on an investigation. I loved this case of whodunit tremendously. Just when you think you knew what happened and why, think again. The characters are all likeable. There's a romance element that involves a love triangle between Vic, her former boyfriend, Tim and a new carpenter in town, Cal. I can’t wait to see what happens there. And of course, there are wonderful Italian food recipes. The Wedding Soup Murder gave me everything I could wish for in a cozy mystery and more. My one complaint is that I have to wait a whole year to find out what else Vic and her family get into. Source: Publisher
-Jersey girl, Victoria Rienzi, writes popular mysteries, but recently she's been staring in her own murder mysteries. Her nonna is supposedly showing her how to run and cook great Italian dishes in their, Casa Lido Restaurant, but so far she's doing more table setting and food prep than cooking. In book two of the Italian Family Mysteries, Vic is making thousands of tiny meatballs and precisely icing little cookies for the fancy wedding of her dentist's daughter, in the exclusive Belmont Country Club. The soup is a hit with the guests, but the elderly rich "Iron Lady" club president is found dead by the ocean seawall. Dr. Chickie was seen with her late last night and the old lady was going to turn him in for embezzling club funds. Vic's parents are sure he's innocent and sets Vic out to prove it. I love the characters in this book. Many chefs and their prima doña personalities make this story so realistic. The flavor and character of the Jersey Shore is evident on every page, and the food descriptions rumble my tummy, with scrumptious recipes included in the book. Vic's family is a treat, with her policeman brother and his detecting wife who is also Vic's best friend. And definitely don't forget Vic's nonna who rules her kitchen and her loving family. With so many possible suspects, the mystery becomes a tasty soup to be savored until the last word. I am loving this series and it is becoming one of my favorite cozy reads!!