The Chef’s Secret
Based on the life of Bartolomeo Scappi although fiction the book helps readers enter the world of an Italian Renaissance Chef. Where he came from or his origins are not quite known, but according to research he came from the town of Dumenza in Lombardy and the inscription on a stone plague in the church of Luino. The book opens with his death and the sadness it brought to those who worked with him as the secret chef of Pope Gregory. But, Scappii in April 1536 organized a banquet while he was in the service of Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio and she served as the author brings out in this novel other cardinal after this beginning with Pope Pius IV, entering the service as in the novel of the Vatican kitchen. He continued to work as a chef for Pope Pius V. He is considered one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs but first let’s learn more about his nephew Giovanni, his new role as the chef for the Pope as Scappi’s family and friends and those that worked with him at the Vatican prepare for his final repose and funeral services.
The story is told in two voices that of Scappi and Giovanni. When the will is read, he is instructed to take the documents that he was left in the will and told to burn them, but he could not resist learning what was so dire that his uncle wanted his words destroyed? As we hear his thoughts and we learn what is in them shockwaves will reverberate within Giovanni and then lives will take on a different turn as he shares his knowledge with a close friend, questions the carver/Francesco and then learns the truth about his birth. The research presented about his life helps to mirror the one described in the past in the book as we learn about his cookbook titled Opera deli’arte del culinary which houses about 1000 recipes. Imagine living during the Renaissance and experiencing his magnificent cuisine as prepared for you in this book and his cooking skills and tools included for culinary experts to mirror on their own. The Vatican chef is depicted as someone that is well respected and loved but when Giovanni uncovers the messages behind the codes that he left in his journal’s lives are going to be at stake and events will turn dangerous.
Getting to know more about Giovanni we understand abut social classes and that people are not always judged by who they are but by the amount of wealth and status they have amassed, Upgrading his wealth when becoming the main inheritor of huge amounts of money from his uncle, and the coded private journals it becomes more relevant that crimes were committed by his uncle as we learn more about his secret love, Stella, their clandestine meetings and what he did to prevent her from enduring a horrible marriage.
Learning more about Stella and their relationship we find out that it was revealed to several who might help them keep it concealed. Life changes and they can no longer meet for four years as Giovanni falls for Isabetta and things take on a different turn for both. As the journal falls prey to the wrong hands, the story becomes one of revenge and a vendetta against this chef is reborn.
An entry in the journal brings alarm to Giovanni as betrayals and friendships in the past are brought to the present. A brother who is out for revenge and several who want their legacies to bring them fame and fortune. Cesare, Giovanni, the husband of Stella, her first one, others that have mocked Bartolomeo and a comet that has its own special light and meaning to those who view it. For 74 days it shined, and it enlarged after his death. Many came just to see it but what happens next will shock readers. Researching several of the characters within this novel I learned about Giovanni Battista Bellaso, an Italian cryptologist whose help he enlisted to learn the code. But, when Isabetta hears an argument and the journal is within plain sight, will he tell her the truth about his parentage, and will that change it all. Revenge is on the minds of her brothers related to her mother’s murder but who is responsible. Will a black cloud line the sky when all the truths come out about Bartolomeo?
One man wants to take away what Giovanni has inherited. A courtroom scene to decide who gets the recipes a foe or does he keep them. Letter stating that Rossini gets the book of recipes and someone he claims witnessed the signing. But, is that true? Will he lose his legacy? Everyone wants something as the author brings to light the power of the comet and its significance.
When something happens and the journal is stolen and the recipes are in danger of being given to someone else, what happens next will impact many lives as the past comes barreling through in the present and Giovanni’s relationship with Isabetta might end. Who stole the box with the recipes and the journal? What role does Salvi play in showing his loyalties to Giovanni and making sure that he knows the truth about the recipes and how to get them back. Added in we learn the identity of Stella, who was responsible for the death of Isabetta’s mother, Sandra the midwife who helped birth Giovanni. Lies, betrayals, revenge, retribution, fate, legacies that are so valuable to so many, one man who set it all in motion and whose daring deed might take away the comforts, love and families of others.
One man’s fame and one man’s legacy might tear down that of others in the present as se learn more about the death of Giacomo Crispo, Stella’s role in dealing with the indiscretion that someone high up saw and learned, add in another death that would free her completely but what at the newborn child? What about Cesare his brother? Will they ever mend their differences? When Isabetta is kidnapped and her family learns the harsh reality and truth about Sandra’s death, will Giovanni be able to free her from the fate might await him? Will her family understand the past and allow them to deal with the present together? Lives end. Battle lines are drawn and at the end who will remain to keep The Chef’s secret hidden forever? Author Crystal King takes us back in time to understand and learn about the life of a master chef named Bartolomeo Scappi and his cookbook, L’Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi, his nephew and apprentice Giovanni Brioschi who he bequeathed some jewelry to a sister named Caterina and the rest to this nephew causing a family feud that would take over the rest of the novel. Dinners planned, menus that many would regale in if the could experience the cuisine of the time period and join in the festivities as the author takes us back in time to appreciate the Renaissance and all its glory and sample the dishes that many of us will never be able to sample and savor. Betrayals, family secrets, lies, family discord, two women who would never know the truth about each other, one man who set it all in motion and an author who creatively and brilliantly brought it light. Lights shine in the sky and so did the comet until…….!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine/MJ network