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Review: The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King

Editorial note: I received The Chef’s Secret in exchange for a review. 

The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King is an adventurous tale about the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes. This one is guaranteed to make you hungry!

I love learning about Italian culture. This is one reason I’m going back to Italy this year! The Chef’s Secret is the first historical fiction novel I’ve read set in Renaissance Italy. From the first page on, I was hooked and read it one sitting.

When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

Two perspectives

We read the story both from Giovanni’s perspective and that of Bartolomeo from the past. There is the central storyline of Giovanni discovering his uncle’s vast and secretive past. But as Giovanni pieces together those details, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes. Oh and beyond all of that, Giovanni also experiences a romance, too.

So as you can see much is going on! But the author Crystal King does a fantastic job of managing all the different storylines and giving every aspect plenty of time to develop.

While I expected betrayal and deception with a book that takes place in the era, some of the choices Bartolomeo made in the past definitely surprised me. In fact, this one overall kept me guessing until the end, especially since there were so many reveals I did not see coming!

I liked Giovanni quite a bit and has a solid character arc. Above all, I enjoyed the dynamic between Giovanni and Bartolomeo—you can feel the affection between the two. I also loved the bond between Giovanni and his loyal childhood friend Valentino. The relationships overall in this read are very strong.

Food, vivid historical details

Italian food is arguably the best in my opinion! And I so enjoyed reading about the different feasts served during that time and their cooking methods. It’s interesting to think that Bartolomeo is the author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time—making him the first “celebrity” chef. You’ll want to have snacks handy as you read this!

It’s immediately apparent that Crystal King is an expert in Italy’s history. From the Vatican to Venice, the historical details are absolutely so vivid. This is as much of a history lesson of that era as it is a fiction read. Be sure to read Crystal’s author’s note at the end of the novel where she talks about balancing fact and fiction in this read.

Full of passion, adventure, history and food—this is a fantastic historical fiction one to add to your list.