Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Into the Fire...

A note from Annette: Please welcome my dear friend, guest blogger Meredith Mileti to Working Stiffs. She doesn't write crime fiction, but she writes deliciously about food and life.  

I’ve spent the last several months working on promotion for my first novel, which debuted last week.  It is entitled Aftertaste:  A Novel in Five Courses. It has been an incredibly exciting and nerve-wracking time for me, a whirlwind, a dream come true.  Somebody pinch me. 

The protagonist of Aftertaste is a high-powered and ambitious New York City chef. I had to do a fair amount of research to write about a professional chef and the world of high-end restaurants, but the food descriptions came easily to me.  I love to cook.  And eat.  In fact, I spend an obscene amount of time thinking about food.  If I told you exactly how much time, you’d be shocked.

A few weeks ago I got an email from the dining critic at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  She wanted to interview me about Aftertaste and my interest in food.  I’ve long been an admirer of hers, and in truth had often fantasized about having dinner with her, so of course, I jumped right on it.   Not to mention what wonderful publicity it would be!  “Absolutely, I’d love it,” I wrote back. She responded that she hoped I might be persuaded to invite her to dinner. Oh, and would I mind if she brought a photographer along to snap a few photos of me in my kitchen as I prepared the food?    

Now, my unusually competent protagonist may be a professional chef, amazingly successful and lauded in food magazines from Gourmet to Bon Appetit, but the real-life me is just an incredibly enthusiastic eater and home cook.

What had I done?  I’d just invited the notoriously tough dining critic into my home, and I’d agreed to cook her dinner?  What was I thinking? 

I marshaled all the resources I had, armed myself with a stack of cookbooks, and made copious notes as I set out to construct the perfect meal.  It had to be five courses.  Why?  Because I’d just written a novel called Aftertaste:  A Novel in Five Courses.  How could I serve her anything less??  Why couldn’t I have written a novel entitled Aftertaste: Local Take-out Favorites?  Not to mention that at least a couple of the dishes had to be from the book. (I’d included one recipe from each course.) And I couldn’t even cheat and prepare everything in advance because she wanted to watch me do it, so I had the added pressure of needing to cook while being interviewed and photographed! Oy vey.  

For the record.  I am not a multi-tasker.  In fact, I am a consummate uni-tasker.  Also, as a former Girl Scout, I believe in being prepared, so I made the entire menu the day before –the culinary equivalent of a dress rehearsal.  The day arrived.  All systems were go.  The table was set, the loaf of homemade bread cooling on the rack. 

The critic arrived with the photographer.  I smiled and cooked and came up with what I hoped were reasonably coherent responses to her questions whilst managing not to overcook either the pasta or the swordfish.  I was in the home stretch.  Everything had gone perfectly and according to plan. The photographer had packed up her camera and we were sitting around my dining room table, enjoying the last of the desert (a warm polenta cake with homemade lemon mascarpone gelato and fresh blackberry sauce) and chatting about my journey as a writer and a cook while waiting for the espresso to brew.

Suddenly, right in the middle of my recounting what I hoped was an amusing anecdote about my foray into recipe testing for the book, I sensed that I’d lost their attention. I saw them exchange a stricken look. Was it something I said?  Confirmation that perhaps I really am as uninteresting as I suspect? 

 “Ah,” the critic said, gesturing behind me into the kitchen.  “Are those flames coming from the coffee pot?”

Yes, in fact they were. Flames shot up from the handle, blackening the hood.  
We rushed in.  The kitchen quickly filled with smoke and the noxious fumes from the melting plastic of the handle.  I shut off the gas and was attempting to remove the still blazing pot when my husband doused the entire mess with the pot of pasta water I’d left cooling on the stove. 

There was no espresso.  In fact, there will be no espresso in my house until I replace the coffeemaker AND have the stove repaired.

Both the critic and the photographer were extremely good-natured and charming about the whole mess.  Still, it didn’t keep me from several sleepless nights as I waited for the article to be published.   To my immense relief, the article omitted all mention of my espresso flambĂ©. Now, no one need ever know.
Since producing her first batch of gluey brownies from her Easy-Bake oven, Meredith Mileti has loved cooking for her family and friends. She is an adventurous and eclectic diner, and appreciates any well-cooked meal, whether from a lobster shack in Bar Harbor, a friggitoria in Naples, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris or an undiscovered little gem in her Pittsburgh neighborhood. Aftertaste is her first novel.


Annette said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Meredith! But I do hope you realize your secret is out now!

Folks, I've been to Meredith's house and eaten her cooking. She's fabulous. And so is her book.

Ramona said...

Responding with smarts and grace to a kitchen crisis is a lot more interesting than presenting a perfect meal--unless it happens during the 1st course instead of the 5th. And now you have a funny anecdote!

Best of luck with the book! I'm looking forward to reading it.

Joyce said...

Welcome Meredith! Great story. You made me hungry, though. Gotta go get breakfast!

Laurie said...

Congratulations, Meredith, on your book! I'm looking forward to reading it. As Annette said, your secret is now, out! :-)

Meredith Mileti said...

Thanks everyone! Now I can laugh about it and see it for the amusing anecdote it is. Nothing like a little distance to put things into perspective!

Joyce - what did you have have for breakfast? Wishing I had a warm croissant with a little bitter orange marmalade, but my breakfast reality was Grapenuts with soy milk!

Patg said...

Hi Meredith, great story. Wow, a fellow soy milk lover. Good luck with your book.

joanie murray said...

Great story Meredith. Much good luck to you. It was good to see you at the launch party.

Joyce said...

Meredith, breakfast was an omelette with low fat cheddar and a slice of Heartland Grain toast. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

E.B. Fyne said...

That's a funny story. I'm sure it's funnier to you in retrospect. :-) Glad everything turned out OK.

Meredith Mileti said...

Thanks everyone for all you wonderful comments and for hosting me on Working Stiffs today!