Oct 262022

New York Times: For more high-intensity drama in contemporary romance, you can’t go wrong with a restaurant setting. Food, feelings, knives and fire! Which is to say: Kitchen-centered romances are great at exploring more than one kind of appetite, and Ruby Barrett’s THE ROMANCE RECIPE (Carina Press, 282 pp., paperback, $15.99) stands alongside favorites like Alexis Hall’s “Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake” and Solace Ames’s erotic romance gem “The Submission Gift.”

Sophie Brunet is fresh off a cooking competition show she didn’t win, and fresh out of an engagement to a man who reacted poorly when she told him she was bi. Desperate to escape the limelight, she accepts the head chef job at a Boston restaurant — but she’d be enjoying it a lot more if her boss were less of a control freak (and less distractingly hot).

Amy Chambers has always had to be the strong one. When her father left, when her mother died, when she decided her restaurant would pay cooks and servers a living wage no matter what. Hiring a famous TV chef and applying for a new reality series with a cash prize is a last-ditch effort to get her restaurant out of the red. Her crush on Sophie was easy to ignore when it happened across the distance of a television screen — but performance pressure and close quarters have a way of turning up the heat.

The feelings in this one are dialed up so high you almost can’t look at them directly: It would be like staring into the sun. Such a style can drift into self-indulgence if the author’s voice isn’t strong enough to carry it — fortunately, Barrett’s wry, lightly bitter tone is a perfect complement to that rich, heavy angst.

Sophie’s soft yet joyful exploration of her bisexuality lightens Amy’s tragic family dynamics, and the climactic payoff feels more than usually well earned. Like Rosie Danan or Kate Clayborn, Barrett has a way of making palpable the full journey of a relationship: It’s not just two hot bodies being hot in proximity to each other — though the sex scenes are definitely spicy! — but two distinct lives growing toward a shared future.