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The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett

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The Romance Recipe

by Ruby Barrett
July 12, 2022 · Carina Adores
Contemporary RomanceLGBTQIA

Amy owns a restaurant on the brink of failure. She’s done everything she can think of to save her dream, but even hiring a reality-show runner-up as her chef isn’t enough to save it. Sure, Sophie’s even hotter in person than she was on TV (and she was plenty hot there), but she’s turned out to be quiet and uninspiring in the kitchen.

If Sophie’s learned one thing from the spotlight, it’s that she just wants to create amazing food and forget the rest. She thought she’d have the chance at Amy’s restaurant, only to be greeted with higher expectations for her Instagram influence than her culinary influence on the menu. Amy is an abrasive micromanager, but even worse, Sophie can’t help but crush on Amy and her undercut, no matter how frustrated Sophie is with her.

One last chance is presented for the restaurant, but it means doing the one thing Sophie said she never wanted to do: feature the restaurant on a reality show. Can they set aside their differences long enough to save the restaurant? And can they ever figure out what to do about that pesky mutual attraction?

The character work in The Romance Recipe is the best aspect for me. Sophie’s journey is mainly around her bisexuality. She’d come to understand that she’s queer not too long before the events of the story and now she’s settling into self-acceptance and living her truth openly. As a fellow bi person who didn’t figure it out until adulthood, I found this affirming and well-handled. I especially liked that the more Sophie accepted this aspect of herself, the more confident she generally became. She might start out quiet, but she sure doesn’t stay that way, and I really grew to love Sophie as she speaks up to Amy and shows how much more there is to her than the possibility of attracting fans into the restaurant.

Amy has the richest arc, however, as she shifts from trying to please an unpleasable father to living for herself. She’s so desperate to keep her business afloat because she doesn’t want to hear the guaranteed “I told you so” from her complete jackass of a dad, who’s never been the same since Amy’s mother died. This means that Amy doesn’t trust Sophie to help her, until she realizes it’s her best option. I was so happy to see how much more free and open Amy is by the end, understanding that she and Sophie are much better together than when Amy tries to go it alone.

The romance itself worked well for me. I love that they start out with massive crushes on each other, with no idea that the crushes are mutual. Seeing Sophie want to shake the shit out of Amy, because Sophie’s so annoyed with how little control she has in her own kitchen, while also desperately wanting to make out with Amy, was fantastic. I also thought it was adorable the way Amy says “Oh shit” and “I am a truly useless lesbian” out loud the first time she realizes she has feelings for Sophie, while Sophie is right there. Some people might get frustrated with the way Amy runs hot and cold with Sophie, but it made sense to me, given how focused she is on saving the restaurant at the expense of everything else. Also, Amy gives excellent grovel near the end, after dealing with some of her problems, so I was inclined to root for her.

I have one massive disappointment with this book, however, which impacted my enjoyment of the story: I thought The Romance Recipe is a reality show romance and it’s not. There’s a big question around whether the restaurant will get featured on an episode of the show, as well as the preparation that happens once they’re accepted, but we barely see Amy and Sophie on the show, and only at the very end, right before the epilogue. The story is solid and the romance is believable, but it doesn’t deliver on what I believed to be the promise of the blurb.

Read the blurb

Amy Chambers: restaurant owner, micromanager, control freak.

Amy will do anything to revive her ailing restaurant, including hiring a former reality-show finalist with good connections and a lot to prove. But her hopes that Sophie’s skills and celebrity status would bring her restaurant back from the brink of failure are beginning to wane…

Sophie Brunet: grump in the kitchen/sunshine in the streets, took thirty years to figure out she was queer.

Sophie just wants to cook. She doesn’t want to constantly post on social media for her dead-in-the-water reality TV career, she doesn’t want to deal with Amy’s take-charge personality and she doesn’t want to think about what her attraction to her boss might mean…

Then, an opportunity: a new foodie TV show might provide the exposure they need. An uneasy truce is fine for starters, but making their dreams come true means making some personal and painful sacrifices and soon, there’s more than just the restaurant at stake.

Given the way The Romance Recipe held my attention in a year where not too many other books have so far, it’s doing many things right. This story will especially work for people who like romances with restaurant settings, complicated characters, messy family dynamics, and relationships that start from a place of antagonism (I wouldn’t call it enemies-to-lovers). If you’re looking for a reality show romance, especially a cooking show, though? This won’t be the book for you.

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