Friday, 6 May 2016

The Secret Recipe of Second Chances by J.D. Barrett

This debut novel met The Book Cafe's criteria as it had all the ingredients necessary to show the role of food in our culture, our families and our communities. How sharing food can bind us or repel us in our daily lives.

The storyline is tightly written and fast-paced, set in the environs of Sydney in the late '70's and early '80's and for many Sydney- siders it will be a trip down memory lane.

As a nursing student at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst back in the day, Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo were my stamping grounds. Even the iconic Harry's Cafe de Wheels rates a mention! The novel captured this era so well that I was instantly transported back to the many myths and legends of notoriety for which the area was well-known.

The 1970's witnessed the rise of sophisticated dining, food connoisseurs and laid the groundwork for today's food snobbery, bloggers and well-informed home cooks. An article called "Still Living (and eatingin the 70's written by Jill Dupleaux for the SMH in February 2011, sums up the era perfectly.

"Stick a candle in the chianti bottles, open the 
Mateus Rose, stock up on tinned pineapple. 
There's a bit of the 70's thing going on in the 
food world at the moment, and if you are not careful, 
even the vol-u-vent will be a dish on the cocktail circuit."

The story begins with acrimonious marital separation of Leith and Lucy, both high profile modern day chefs with a successful 3 Hat restaurant called Circa. Lucy, who is forced to start again finds a derelict end-terrace restaurant in Woollooomooloo called Fortune which was once owned by the popular, celebrity chef (and man slut) Frankie who met an untimely end. 

Lucy takes the risk to revive this restaurant and discovers amongst the 30 years of dust and grime, the famous chef's Little Red Book of recipes.

Authentic recipes of the era, true classics - which she as a modern chef promptly deconstructs with the good-looking and charismatic ghost chef Frankie looking on. 

The list of classic recipes includes French Onion Soup, Lobster Gazpacho, Twice-baked Gruyere Souffle, Coq au Vin, Cherry Cobbler, Salad Nicoise, Duck a l'Orange, Devils on Horseback and Peach Crostada. Even Harry's chilli dog gets a mention! 

The restaurant is a roaring success and Lucy falls in love with her muse. Frankie's only request of Lucy is that she finds his killer so that he can pass on.

The novel seamlessly inter-twines the past and present with the help of Frankie's past acquaintances who return to help with the vibrant rebirth of the Lucy's pop up restaurant. These colourful characters move the story forward, the murder mystery is solved and Frankie passes on.  

There is a satisfying yet fanciful twist to the love story between Lucy and Frankie when they reconnect in the future. The desire to meet up with a loved one after they pass is a strong human urge and one that gives the twist at the end a believable edge.

The meaning and role of food is exemplified throughout the story - from the break up meal between Leith and Lucy (baked snapper stuffed with kaffir lime, ginger and lemongrass) to the final meal (herbed omelette) shared by Frankie and Lucy. 

Frankie left a deep emotional impression on Lucy. She keeps him 'alive' with the publication of his recipe book (which she tweaks) and she travels the world retracing his gourmet footsteps to places where his food memories were strongest. 

One day, in search of the perfect peach for Frankie's Peach Crostada recipe she makes her way to the morning markets at St Paul De Vence - one of Frankie's favourite fruit markets. It is here that she finds the perfect peach, which she hands to a stranger, and at this point her new life's journey begins.

The author is currently working on her second novel and I hope it will be a sequel with many more recipes.

French Onion Soup (serves 4)


120 gs butter (I also added 2 tablespoons olive oil)
6 medium brown onions peeled and sliced
100 ml red wine ( I also added a splash of sherry)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
4 sprigs thyme
4 bay leaves
150ml beef stock (I also added 250ml)
1 baguette
100g grated gruyere cheese
50 gm parmesan
Season to taste


Heat butter in large heavy based pot. Gently swear onions 
until soft and caramelised. Add wine, thyme and bay leaves. 
Bring to boil add stock and simmer 30 min. Cut baguette 
into slices and toast. Ladle soup in to bowls and sprinkle 
with gruyere cheese and grill until golden.

Cherry Cobbler


4 cups cherries (I used frozen)
2 tablespoons cornflour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoom lemon juice
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
85g cold butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest


Heat oven 170 degrees

Place pitted cherries, cornflour, sugar, lemon juice in a baking dish. If using fresh cherries bake until soft and bubbling. Remove from heat.

For the topping

Combine 2 tablespoon sugar, flour, baking powder, butter 
and salt to look like breadcrumbs.Sprinkle over 
the cherries and bake in oven 45 minutes until golden.
Serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

Unfortunately, my oven stopped working and I was unable to grill the gruyere 
cheese for the baguette or bake the cobbler until golden - but both tasted delicious nonetheless.

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