For the October / November 2022 edition I chose the novel Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson (September 2005)
Right around the time when we started talking about our next selections at the beginning of this year, I read an article on The Guardian titled Top 10 cooks in fiction written by Annabel Abbs. Number 10 is Gerald Sampler, protagonist of the novel I chose:
Gerald is a ghostwriter for C-list celebrities who likes inventing recipes. From his Tuscan hilltop he cooks with great gusto, using copious amounts of an Italian digestif called Fernet Branca. The plot is fast-paced but daft, the characters ludicrous but hilarious, and the recipes imaginative but ridiculous. Mussels in chocolate, garlic ice cream, a pie made from cat and kerosene, all doused in Fernet Branca, and described by one reviewer “lingering in the mind like poems”. This farce of a novel is a perfect reminder that no cook should take themselves too seriously.
The New Yorker's review clarifies that two expats are the novel's main characters:
In this comic novel, two expats try to live on the same Tuscan mountaintop for the summer without killing each other: Gerald, an effete English snob and amateur cook who makes his living as a ghostwriter; and Marta, a bohemian composer from a crime family in a former Soviet republic. Hamilton-Paterson quickly seduces the reader with the perfectly captured acerbic tone and timing of Gerald and Marta’s badinage.
I'm looking forward to reading how Gerald uses Fernet Branca in the kitchen, since when I was growing up in Italy it was strictly drunk as a digestivo (digestif).
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