Georgia's Kitchen

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About The Book

At thirty-three, talented chef Georgia Gray has everything a woman could want—the top job at one of Manhattan’s best restaurants; a posse of smart and savvy gal pals who never let her down; and a platinum-set, cushion-cut diamond engagement ring courtesy of Glenn, the handsome entertainment lawyer who Georgia’s overbearing mother can’t wait for her to marry. The table is set for the ambitious bride-to-be until a scathing restaurant review destroys her reputation. To add salt to her wounds, Glenn suddenly calls off the wedding.

Brokenhearted, Georgia escapes to the Italian countryside, where she sharpens her skills at a trattoria run by a world-class chef who seems to have it all—a devoted lover, a magnificent villa, and most important, a kitchen of her own. Georgia quells her longings with Italy’s delectable offerings: fine wine, luscious cheeses, cerulean blue skies, and irresistible Gianni—an expert in the vineyard and the bedroom. So when Gianni tempts Georgia to stay in Italy with an offer no sane top chef could refuse, why can’t she say yes?

An appetite for something more looms large in Georgia’s heart – the desire to run her own restaurant in the city she loves. But having left New York with her career in flames, she’ll need to stir up more than just courage if she’s to realize her dreams and find her way home.

Excerpt

Georgia turned onto a tree-lined street of brick town houses and brownstones, stopping when she reached a gunmetal-gray low-rise that shared none of its neighbors’ quiet charm. Strips of smoky glass sliced through the facade, and a row of porthole windows ran under the roofline: the restaurant. An architectural travesty or triumph, depending on which side of the design camp you fell, but it got people talking, which was, after all, the point. MARCO was discreetly stamped in a cement block over the door, though as far as Georgia knew, no one had ever noticed this so-called sign. If you had to ask, you didn’t deserve to eat there.

Heaving open the vaultlike door, she walked through the steel-blue dining room, past the polished nickel tables and chairs and the white, ultrasuede banquettes, her heels clicking across the terrazzo floor. The floral designer freshened a mammoth arrangement on the lacquered bar, replacing spent stems with Casablanca lilies, irises, and peonies—all white, a Marco dictum.

The daily staff meal and meeting began promptly at three, and Bernard, the restaurant’s laser-tongued general manager, had zero patience for latecomers. Six four-tops shoved together created a makeshift communal table, and seating was first come, first served. As waiters, cooks, and busboys rushed in, Georgia took her seat, instinctively turning her engagement ring—a cushion-cut diamond on a platinum band—to the underside of her hand, subway-style. Unpolished nails and nicked-up hands, unfortunate but unavoidable occupational hazards of chefs everywhere, were hardly the ideal backdrop for such a splendid ring. But Glenn wanted her to wear it, and not on a chain around her neck as she’d prefer. He wanted it on her left ring finger as on every other bride-to-be.

He was still sleeping when she’d left their apartment early that morning to head to the fish market with Ricky, her sous-chef. She kissed Glenn good-bye, first on his forehead, then on his lips, hoping he’d wake up and kiss her back, which he did for a second before rolling over and mumbling something she couldn’t understand. Their conflicting work schedules had never allowed for a ton of snuggling time, but lately sleepy kisses and barely intelligible See you laters were as good as it got.

“Hey, Chef, long time no see.” Ricky slid into the seat next to her, tossing his yellow hair out of his eyes. Wearing baggy shorts down to his knees and tube socks pulled so high they could have been tights, he looked more clown-school grad than classically trained chef. He wrinkled his nose and sniffed the air. “Did you forget to shower after our fishing trip? Or is it me who smells like a salty dog?”

“Definitely you, Rick,” said Georgia. “I’ve Purelled my fingers to shreds.”

She and Ricky had met years earlier while working for a tyrannical boss whose idea of a good time was throwing knives at a corkboard decorated with Polaroid pictures of his staff. Since then, they’d cooked side by side in cramped kitchens all over Manhattan, and when Georgia was promoted to head chef at Marco, she’d insisted on hiring Ricky as her second-in-command. Not only was he a culinary savant who could tick off twenty-nine different kinds of basil and the best uses for each, but he was one of the few people who told her exactly what he thought. About everything.

Bernard strode to the table, trademark red clipboard tucked under his arm, wire-rim specs perched on his nose. “Good afternoon, everyone. It’s Friday and we have a big night.” He tapped his pencil on the clipboard. “Socialites, B-list actors, even a low-ranking politician.”

No one was better at building buzz than Marco, former chef and current proprietor of his eponymous restaurant, and the faux foodies couldn’t eat it up fast enough. Though his menu was uninspired and his decor was as slick as his demeanor, his restaurant was booked months in advance, and even the five-and-dimes, the least desirable time slots, were reserved weeks out.

“And,” Bernard continued, “rumor has it Mercedes Sante from the Daily may be dropping in. You know what that means. If anyone spots the old bag, punch it into the computer ASAP. We fucked up the Herald, let’s not fuck this one up too.”

Rumors of wig-wearing reviewers flooded the restaurant, but unless an actual source was named, everyone rightly assumed they came from Marco, who had somehow graduated elementary school without learning the story of the boy who cried wolf.

Three busboys brought out the staff’s “family meal”: a bowl of soupy spinach, a platter of spaghetti doused in a watery red sauce, and a plate of mini-meatballs directly from Costco’s frozen-food section. As usual, this family meal would never be served to an actual member of Marco’s family, not even his wicked stepmother.

Georgia listened as Bernard rattled off her daily specials for the servers, then allowed them small tastes of the samples the prep team had prepared. There was a beautiful branzino they’d picked up at Hunts Point; a house-made taglierini with peas and ramps from the Greenmarket, slivers of bresaola, and shaved pecorino; polenta with wild-mushroom ragout; risotto with baby artichoke, asparagus and mint; sautéed periwinkles; and herb-stuffed leg of lamb.

Having inherited the regular menu directly from Marco, who balked at even the tiniest change, Georgia’s opportunity to cook the way she wanted was showcased in the nightly specials. There was no way she’d leave their fate in the hands of the waiters until they were completely schooled on the preparation details. Nor would she ever serve anything less than first-rate.

“Do you guys have any questions?” she asked after they popped their first tastes.

“Is there butter in this branzino al sala?” asked a ruddy-cheeked guy who was the latest addition to the team, his mouth full of fish.

“First, sala is a room. It’s sale—as in ‘salt.’ But only tell people that if they specifically ask, otherwise they’ll assume it’s too salty. And tell them the salt, which dries into a hard crust that’s cracked open at the end, preserves the fish’s natural flavors and juices as it cooks so it’s moist and tender. And no butter, just olive oil, fresh thyme, chervil, and lemon.”

“Push this one, guys. We’re selling it at thirty-three bucks a pop,” Bernard said without looking up from his clipboard.

“Really?” Georgia said. “A little high for my taste, but almost worth it.”

“So, it’s rich and flavorful?” the new guy continued hopefully.

She shook her head. “Subtle and delicate. Tell them we only serve this when the branzino is really top-notch. Say that and it’ll fly.”

Georgia had waited tables while getting her degree at the Culinary Institute of America and knew exactly what to say to make a dish sell out. She also knew how to guarantee it’d be on the next day’s lunch menu in a slightly different, and likely chopped, form.

“Uh, okay,” he said, popping another bite into his mouth.

She ran through the rest of the specials, going over their selling points until the waiters knew them cold. When conversation turned to the new Zac Posen–designed wait uniforms, she rocked back her chair and stared up at the glossy blue ceiling, wondering how much longer she could stand working at Marco, or rather for Marco. Granted, there was the generous paycheck. And the exposure. Without it, she’d never be able to open her own place. Having seared her skin in some of the city’s top kitchens, she was ready, really ready, to run her own restaurant. But planning a marriage and planning a business was way too much planning, even for an überplanner like Georgia. Though she hated to admit it, her engagement was sapping her energy.

It didn’t help that Glenn was so busy defending his clients at the entertainment law firm where he worked that he barely had time for anyone else. When they’d first met, he spoke of becoming a public interest lawyer, but law school, his parents, and the promise of a fat paycheck killed his idealism fairly quickly, or at least put it on hold. Now the plan was to cash out at forty-five and work for an NGO, but until then, work/client schmoozing/partying took precedence over just about everything. Last week he’d had Georgia reserve at Marco for his biggest client, hip-hop star Diamond Tee. Apparently a huge Tee fan, Marco made sure the Cristal was flowing all night long. When it came to celebs, A-, B-, or even C-list, Marco was the best kiss-ass in the business.

“Yes, Georgia, even you.” Georgia’s chair fell forward with a thud. Bernard, who’d removed his tiny specs, stared at her.

“What was that, Bernard?”

“I said Marco doesn’t give us free gym memberships for nothing. He wants everyone to look good—even those of you in the kitchen. And we’re putting together a team for the Corporate 5K, if anyone’s interested.”

“Are you saying I’m fat?” Georgia sucked in her stomach the way she’d been trained to do by her whippet-thin mother back when she was a pudgy six-year-old.

“Fat? No. But remember: working out is as good for the mind”—Bernard touched his glasses to his forehead—“as it is for the middle. That’s it, everyone. Have a good night.” He nodded to Georgia, straightened his tie, and marched out to the floor, a picture of competence. Even the way he walked, as if an invisible cord were holding his carriage perfectly erect, was efficient.

“Now Marco’s making us work out too? As a team? What’s next—group therapy? A sweat lodge? Or maybe just a drum circle?” Ricky didn’t bother concealing his contempt. Several months back, his parents had flown in from California for a visit. Aging hippies, they’d arrived at Marco smelling of patchouli and home-spun yarn and were ignored, made to spell their last name—Smith—a half-dozen times, and at last shunted off to a doily-size table in Siberia, all thanks to Marco, who’d checked them out from the tops of their multicolor caps down to their ergonomic shoes. While Georgia had her own reasons for disliking her boss, Ricky would never forget the slight to his mom and dad.

While he went outside to smoke, Georgia headed to the locker room, eager to get the night started. The minuscule room was empty. A couple of lockers lined one wall, and a flimsy mirror hung behind the door. During her first week on the job Marco had ripped down the mirror, emptied a bindle of coke on it, and chopped it up with his maxed-out credit card while Georgia stood by, pretending it was no big deal that her brand-new boss was doing lines in front of her. He offered her one, and she smiled politely and mumbled something about needing to get back to the kitchen. Of course she’d known the restaurant industry could get crazy, but it wasn’t until Marco that she’d seen it in full-blown action. When she told Glenn the story, he barely raised an eyebrow. “In the restaurant?” was all he had to say.

Before anyone could barge in, Georgia slipped out of her street clothes and into her work uniform. Wearing shapeless khakis, white chef coat, and black clogs, she probably wouldn’t turn any heads. But at thirty-three, she was tall and trim, any pudginess long gone thanks to her thrice-weekly runs at the Reservoir. Her eyes were green and catlike, her skin fair and clear, the type that pinkened from the slightest exertion, and her nose, long and thin, would have cast an aristocratic air were it not for the slight bump on the bridge, a remnant from a childhood roller-skating accident. As a college boyfriend once remarked, she looked as if she’d stepped out of the pages of a Victorian novel, a proper English lady, sun parasol and all. Except the hair. Unruly curls on a good day, a downright frizz fest in the summer and in a hot kitchen. Which is why at that very moment she was assiduously twisting her dark-chocolate-colored mass into submission. Two bobby pins dangled from her lips, and her eyes were narrowed with concentration.

“Georgia. I was looking for you.” Georgia stared up into the slickly handsome face of Marco, boss, restaurateur, onetime chef, one-night stand. He had the jutting cheekbones, pillow lips, and perma-tanned skin of a daytime-soap star.

“Oh, hey, Marco.” The bobby pins dropped to the floor with a barely audible ping.

“How’s it going? Planning the wedding?”

If there was one thing Georgia couldn’t stand, it was talking to guys she had slept with—particularly her boss—about her upcoming nuptials.

“Yup. Going smoothly. Very smoothly.” She bent down to pick up the pins.

“That’s great, Georgia.” He held her gaze for a second too long. “So, Bernard told you about Mercedes Sante.”

“He sure did. Exciting.” She tried to force her hair behind her ears and felt it instantly spring back. “I’m sure everyone will do great.”

“I wanted to talk to you about that.” He looked down, put his hands behind his back, and cleared his throat like a high school football coach psyching up the team for the homecoming game. Georgia noticed his hair was thinning.

“A good review from the Daily, as you know, can bring in unprecedented business.” He smirked. “Not like we really need it, but you never know.”

She obliged him with a tight smile.

“But it can also make or break a chef. Especially an attractive Food Network–worthy chef like yourself. You know what I’m saying?”

Georgia tried to remember why she had slept with him in the first place. Was it the devastating news that Glenn had cheated on her? The lobotomizing trio of bone-dry Sapphire martinis downed in response to said news? The fateful decision to play “Crazy” on the jukebox right before last call?

“Sure thing, Marco. Don’t worry. It’ll be great. I better run.” She stepped around him carefully, so as not to brush even one button on his custom-made Borrelli shirt.

By nine o’clock, Georgia felt as if her clogs had been Krazy Glued to the floor. They must have done 150 covers, almost all of them seafood. As she’d predicted, the branzino special was a hit and was eighty-sixed an hour and a half after open. Despite the crush, the kitchen was holding its own, and most of the dishes were coming up on time. She’d replated more than usual, but at least everything had been at the window when she’d needed it.

“Did we get a write-up in the Junior League Digest or something? What’s with all the salmon, sauce-on-the-side requests?” she asked Ricky.

“Close. Tell magazine. The ‘Shit Girl’ issue.”

“You mean ‘It Girl’?”

It, shit, what’s the dif? If you’re blond, were born on Park Avenue, and are married to an investment banker, chances are you’re at Marco tonight.”

“Hence the disproportionately large number of arugula salads. Got it. Speaking of Park Avenue princesses, are you coming to see Lo tonight?” Lo was one of Georgia’s two best friends and, at the moment, a folksy singer-songwriter. This followed stints as a film production assistant, a junior copywriter, and an apprentice herbalist; there was no telling how much longer her Joni Mitchell phase would last. The house phone rang before Ricky could answer.

“Chef! Glenn!” yelled a dishwasher from across the kitchen.

“Take over, Rick.” She picked up the extension as he began expediting, calling out orders to the line cooks. “Hey, sweetie. How are you?”

“I miss you.”

“Me too. What are you doing?”

“I had to meet Diamond Tee up at Piece in Harlem. He wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“Please tell me you’re not bailing on Lo’s show.” Last-minute cancellations had become part of Glenn’s MO lately.

“I’m not bailing. I’ll be there.”

“Good. I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“You mean that wasn’t you who kissed me good-bye this morning?”

“No, it must have been your other fiancée.”

“Her again. If I don’t make it to the restaurant, I’ll definitely make it to the show. The Rumpus?”

“The Rumpus.”

“Okay, George. I’ll see you there. Promise.”

“Great. And give my regards to Mr. T. Oh, wait, that’s the guy who kicked Rocky’s ass, right?”

“Funny,” Glenn said before she hung up.

Ricky looked over. “Your dude coming tonight?”

“He is,” Georgia said. “He promised.”

“Awesome.” Ricky held up his hand for a high five.

Georgia swatted it away. “I’m not sure having my fiancé agree to meet me at a dive bar on the Lower East Side is worth a high five.”

“I guess a high five is a little excessive.” He dropped his hand. “Low five?”

She laughed. Sometimes Ricky and she got along so well it seemed a shame they couldn’t just get it over with and fall in love. But he’d never made her belly ping or her neck tingle or distracted her so much she couldn’t think of anything other than how sexy his forearm was. Glenn did.

Bernard burst through the swinging door and into the kitchen. “Table fifteen. She’s here.”

Georgia and Ricky looked at each other blankly.

“None other than Mercedes Sante herself. She’s disguised as a fat carpetbagger,” Bernard said. “On second thought, I don’t think she’s disguised at all. Check out her order—you better make that guinea hen sing like a canary.” He turned to the rest of the staff. “People of the kitchen, the vippiest of VIPs is in our midst. Let’s make everything perfect. And if anyone has some spare ecstasy to slip into her, er, hen, that wouldn’t hurt either.”

Ricky pulled up the order. “Holy shit, Chef. In addition to the hen, she wants the grouper—when’s the last time we served that? The venison, ditto, the special risotto, ravioli, the lamb, that rabbit no one but Marco likes, Oysters Marco, the beet salad, and the three special apps.” He looked at Georgia. “We’re screwed. Aside from the specials, she ordered the worst things on the entire menu.”

“It’s Marco’s funeral, not ours,” Georgia said, knowing full well that if the famed food critic wasn’t happy, it was Georgia’s future that would swoosh straight down the toilet. But a great Mercedes Sante review would catapult her into the top echelon of New York City chefs, Food Network–ready, as Marco put it. Even more important, it would enable her to open her own restaurant. With a glowing review, financing would be a cinch; she’d have investors lining up outside her apartment, fat checkbooks in tow. Taking a few deep breaths, she mumbled a quick prayer to Ganesh. Two and a half, she begged the Hindu god and remover of obstacles, just two and a half forks. Please. She set to work.

Word of Mercedes’s arrival spread as fast as the latest starlet-in-rehab rumor, and the kitchen sprang into high-alert reviewer mode. This was slightly different from high-alert celebrity mode, in that the food mattered more than the booze, and at night’s end not even a smidgen of the check would be comped. The goal was for Mercedes to eat like a queen, and to assume every other no-name diner did too.

Georgia walked from station to station, staring over the shoulders of the line cooks, scrutinizing the dishes they prepared, sampling sauces, poking meats, stirring pots, sticking her nose everywhere, her spoon everywhere. Her manner was steady and calm despite the oppressive heat and cacophony of clanking pans, clashing blades, grinding machinery, and doors heaving open and closed. Only her hair betrayed her frazzled nerves, poking out like bunches of past-its-prime frisée. The two parallel lines etched between her eyebrows, the “elevens” as Glenn’s mom referred to them, deepened with concentration. Her skin flushed pink, then rose, finally settling somewhere around unripe strawberry.

She dipped her spoon into the special risotto. “Not bad. A tad more butter to finish.”

The cook nodded. “Yes, Chef.”

Georgia looked around. “Where’s my grill guy?”

No one answered. Leaving the station during service was not tolerated. During a review was unthinkable. She turned to the line cooks. “All hands on deck. Got it? Tell him if he doesn’t get his fucking ass back now, he’s fired. I mean it.”

The kitchen stopped for a split second. Georgia was known as one of the coolest chefs around. She rarely cursed (mostly because she wasn’t very good at it), wasn’t above plucking a chicken, and made everyone from the new guy washing dishes right on up to Ricky feel appreciated. Sure, she was a bit of a control freak, but compared to the pot-slamming, dish-dumping antics of some of her peers, this was easily overlooked. In return, she demanded full accountability from her kitchen.

“Sure thing, Chef,” said the cook.

Georgia grabbed a board of basil chiffonade from the garde-manger, who was in charge of cold apps, and slipped it into the garbage. “Try again. And make it pretty. Please.”

He pulled out another bunch of basil, rolled the leaves into a fat joint, then gracefully sliced the roll into thin ribbons.

“Lovely,” Georgia said. She’d worked in too many kitchens where the head chef berated his cooks into creating what he wanted without offering a word of thanks or the tiniest smidge of a compliment. Never, no matter who was sitting in the dining room, would she become That Chef.

After wiping up the last drop of misplaced sauce, she green-lighted the appetizers. The servers came to pick up, and a doe-eyed girl who looked like Bambi and talked like a trucker gave her a thumbs-up.

“She’s drinking like a mother-fucking fish,” she whispered. “That’s gotta be a good sign.”

Georgia nodded. Drinking was good. It meant Mercedes was thoroughly enjoying herself, and if she wasn’t, whatever she didn’t like might be a little hazy when it came time to put pen to paper.

When the app plates came back to the kitchen with nary a scrap in sight, Georgia allowed the smallest of smiles to escape her lips. The cooks had prepared three versions of each entrée, and she chose the best-looking for Mercedes’s table, waiting until the last minute to sauce and garnish. She eyeballed the entrées one final time before their tableside debut, drizzling extra green-peppercorn sauce on the venison and rearranging the sprigs of spiny rosemary on the lamb. An old boss had dubbed her Chef Georgia O’Keeffe, and she still considered presentation one of the most important elements of restaurant food. The waiters whisked away the entrées, so beautifully plated it seemed almost a shame to eat them, and she watched them go, then took a step back and stretched her hands to the tin ceiling.

“Nice job, Chef.” Ricky patted her back. “You done good.”

“You too, Rick. Whatever happens…” She left her thoughts unsaid. Whatever happened would set the course for the rest of her life. It was that simple.

© 2010 Jenny Nelson

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Georgia's Kitchen includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jenny Nelson. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 

 

INTRODUCTION

Georgia Gray’s life seems close to perfect; she’s head chef at a trendy New York restaurant, recently engaged to her handsome lawyer boyfriend, and on the verge of getting a career-making three-fork review from one of the city’s toughest critics. But when her sleazy boss makes a disastrous decision, Georgia finds herself trying to hang on to her credibility as a chef while her personal life crumbles. Suddenly unemployed and unengaged, Georgia picks herself up, packs her bags, and moves to Tuscany, where she helps her mentor, a renowned chef, open a new trattoria. The breathtaking scenery and delectable food help clear her head, the success of Trattoria Dia rebuilds her confidence, and romance with a sexy vineyard owner helps heal her heart. But Georgia realizes she can’t stay in Italy forever, and when the summer ends, she returns home to the city she loves, determined to make good on her dream and open her very own restaurant.

 

QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION

1. The novel begins and ends in New York, yet Georgia has been on “a long journey with more twists and kinks than her hair after a hot summer day at the beach.” (p. 172) Compare the early version of Georgia with the woman she is by the end of the novel. Do you feel she has changed? In what ways?

2. After Georgia confronts Glenn about his cocaine use, he leaves her, first temporarily, and then for good. What might have happened if he hadn’t broken up with her? Would she have left him?

3. At Georgia’s urging, Glenn quits doing coke and cleans up his act. While she is clearly the catalyst for his change, a drug-free Glenn decides that he doesn’t want to marry her. Have you ever helped someone through a difficult time only to find that your relationship suffered or changed as a result?

4. Georgia’s best friend Clem says, “. . . no one knows what will make them truly happy until they find it.” (p. 100) Do you agree with this statement? Support your argument using other characters from the novel, or even examples from your own life.

5. Though we never meet Grammy, she is an important character in the novel and, in many ways, Georgia’s role model. Discuss Georgia’s relationship with Grammy versus her relationship with Dorothy. Is a grandmother-granddaughter relationship sometimes easier to navigate than a mother-daughter relationship? Why or why not?

6. Dorothy and Georgia’s relationship isn’t an easy one, to say the least. From what do you think the tension stems? Are Dorothy’s expectations for her daughter fair? Do they take into account the kind of person Georgia is or the kind of person Dorothy wishes Georgia were? Conversely, is Georgia too hard on Dorothy? Does she expect too much from her mother?

7. According to Georgia, neither Clem nor Lo will ever “get what it felt like to grow up in a household where you were a third wheel to your parents” (p. 99) the way that Georgia does. “Her parents were like two teenagers in love, even after almost thirty-five years of marriage.” (p. 50) How does her parents’ tight relationship affect Georgia? How does it shape her relationships with men? Has your parents’ relationship had an impact on your own relationships?

8. When Georgia first meets Sergio, he says, “We used to care more about family. Friends. Life. Now we care about success. Money.” (p. 126) How true do you find this statement? How true is it in regard to Claudia? In regard to the other characters in the book?

9. Claudia tells Georgia to “Stop looking for what you don’t have, and start seeing what you do.” (p. 151) Do you think Georgia has learned how to do this by the end of the book? Is this something that people often forget to do in their daily lives? Can you think of an instance where that advice helped (or could have helped) you?

10. Georgia’s Kitchen has a cast of strong, supporting female characters. Think about all the different women who influence Georgia’s life. What does Georgia learn from each of these women at various points throughout the novel? What do you think they learn from her? Think about the women who play important roles in your own life. What have you learned from them?

11. Georgia has three significant romances over the course of the book: Glenn, Gianni, and Andrew. Discuss the impact each relationship, and each man, has on her and the choices she makes. Which of these men do you think is best suited for Georgia?

12. The title of the novel is Georgia’s Kitchen. Discuss the significance in relation to the story. What does Georgia learn in the kitchen? Out of the kitchen? Why is it so important for her to have her own kitchen in her own restaurant?

13. Perhaps the most important lesson Georgia learns is that while “it’s okay to be alone . . . it’s okay to ask for help.” (p. 254) Do you think she would have succeeded in opening Nana’s Kitchen without Bernard as her partner? Is her success any less meaningful because she shares it with Bernard? Have you ever had to choose between doing something on your own or asking for help in your own life?

14. At the end of the novel, Georgia reflects that even without a husband or a baby “. . . she was exactly where she wanted to be. Right there at Nana’s Kitchen.” (p. 319) Does Georgia’s happiness resonate with you? Does working hard to achieve a goal make the end result more meaningful? Is there something you’ve worked hard to accomplish in your own life that made you feel the way Georgia does about Nana’s Kitchen?

 

ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB

1. Georgia is determined to create Trattoria Dia’s signature dish and, with a little help from Bruno, she succeeds. Have a book club banquet by asking each member to create their own signature dish and bring it to the gathering.

2. Tuscany and Sicily are important settings in Georgia’s Kitchen. Have each member do some research on either place and share what they discover with the group.

3. If Georgia’s Kitchen were made into a movie, whom would you cast?

 

A CONVERSATION WITH JENNY NELSON

What inspired you to write Georgia’s Kitchen?

I’ve always been fascinated by the inner workings of restaurants and the people who make them tick. It’s amazing how a calm, well-run dining room reflects none of the craziness and drama taking place in the cramped, hot kitchen, just inches away. As my ideas about Georgia and the book’s overall themes began to crystallize, I knew that she had to be a chef. I could visualize her in the kitchen, see how she would act, react, carry herself. No other career encapsulated who she was in the same way.

 

What was the general experience of writing a novel like for you?

I started writing Georgia’s Kitchen as a stay-at-home mom. What began as a short story morphed into a first chapter (completely different from the one in the book) and when I was about fifty pages in, I knew that I wouldn’t stop until I’d completed a novel. It was thrilling to see those pages mounting, and even more thrilling when I started getting positive feedback, because for a while I was really writing in a vacuum, not sure whether anything I’d written was any good. Once I’d completed it, I found my agent and soon after sold the book. I’m still amazed at how things unfolded.

 

You really bring your settings to life, be it the beauty of San Casciano, the rush of New York City, or the heat inside a top restaurant’s kitchen. You currently live in New York, but have you spent a significant amount of time in Italy? Did you need to do much research for the settings of your book—other than eat great Italian food?

I’m lucky to have spent a good bit of time in Italy, all over, really, but mainly in Tuscany. My husband and I were married in Fiesole, at a villa that once belonged to Dante Alighieri (if this feels familiar it’s because Georgia reflects on a wedding she and Glenn attended that sounds suspiciously like ours). In addition to relying on my own experiences, I did a lot of research on Tuscany and Sicily—on the architecture, the landscape and, obviously, the food and wine. As for food, New York is filled with incredible Italian restaurants, and I make it a point to eat at as many as possible, which is no great hardship! My mother-in-law, who grew up in Milan and still spends a lot of time there, was able to help with all the Italian translations.

 

There are great descriptions of meal preparations in the book. Do you cook? What was the inspiration for the signature dish Georgia creates for Trattoria Dia?

I love to cook, but with twin six-year-old daughters, sometimes it’s more about getting dinner on the table than preparing a fabulous new recipe I’ve discovered. Luckily, they’re both good eaters and will try just about anything, so I do get to be a little more experimental at times. Italian food is my absolute favorite to make—I love how forgiving it is, and how it all begins with good, basic ingredients. As for the signature dish, I wanted it to be vegetarian, and because I would happily eat risotto for the rest of my life, I thought it’d be fun to come up with something that was a riff on a traditional risotto.

 

You provide a lot of detail about each character’s sense of style, as well as passing references to various designer clothing and accessories (such as the scene where Clem and Lo are talking about different types of jeans). As you wrote, did you find that the way you visualized the outward appearance of each character reflected a lot about their personalities?

Absolutely. I had a lot of fun figuring out how each character would look and what he or she would choose to wear. Often, when I was creating a character, I would see them for the first time and know exactly what kind of shoes they would wear, how they’d want their jeans to fit, how they’d style their hair, if they’d wear makeup or jewelry.

 

Who are your writing influences and what are you currently reading?

I read anything and everything. I just finished Wolf Hall (I’m obsessed with the Tudors), loved The Help, Olive Kitteridge, and Unaccustomed Earth—Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite writers. I also love the classics—The Great Gatsby, The House of Mirth, and anything by Jane Austen. I’ll pick up pretty much any novel or collection of stories, but nonfiction is a harder sell for me.

 

Many authors find that their characters are extensions of themselves, in one way or another. Do you find that to be true? Are any of the characters in Georgia’s Kitchen based on people you know?

None of the characters are pure extensions of anyone I know. This isn’t to say that certain characters don’t borrow traits or characteristics from people I know, but that’s really the extent of it. I did enjoy throwing in elements from my own life (such as the wedding) or the name of the bar where Georgia and Bernard decide to partner (the F&A, named for the way it sounds and also for my daughters Flora and Ava), but you’d have to read really closely and know me really well to pick up on most of these!

 

The complicated relationship between Georgia and her parents is central to the development of the novel, and a theme that most people can relate to. What made you decide to write a character that was closer to her grandmother than her mother? Was it based on personal experience?

Because I have great relationships with both of my parents, I thought it would be interesting to explore a parent/child dynamic that was fraught with tension and disappointment. So often the intentions are good, as I believe Georgia’s, Dorothy’s, and Hal’s are, and yet actions and words can easily undermine these good intentions. Having had two wonderful grandmothers, both of whom lived well into their nineties, I know how important grandmotherly love can be for a kid, even as she grows older. Most grandparents don’t have to do a lot of the heavy lifting associated with raising their grandkids, so they’re free to do nothing but love them. From my experience, unconditional love from a grandparent really is unconditional. I’m also intrigued by the idea of a less-than-stellar mother becoming a terrific grandmother.

 

One of the most significant ideas in the book is learning how to see what you do have, instead of dwelling on what you don’t have. Is that a mantra you live by?

I wish I could unhesitatingly say yes, but like Georgia, I’m still learning.

 

Are you planning to return to Nana’s Kitchen and this cast of characters in your next book, or do you feel like Georgia’s story is finished? If so, where do you think you’ll go next?

I don’t think Georgia’s story is finished by any means, and I’d love to pay her a visit after Nana’s Kitchen opens to see how things are panning out. Is the restaurant the smash success she hopes it will be? Is she still with Andrew? Does she get her own Food Network show? Will she get pregnant? Married? Open a second place? Return to Italy? The possibilities are endless, but writing a sequel is a ways off. Right now I’m working on a novel about a woman whose world is turned upside down when her husband is convicted of a white-collar crime that sends him to jail. Forced to give up her moneyed New York lifestyle, she moves to the country where she falls in with a very different crowd and starts raising goats. Like Georgia’s Kitchen, it’s got a food motif running through it, though in a very different way, and love, family, and self-discovery are important themes.

About The Author

Photgraph by Yuliya Livchak

JENNY NELSON lives with her husband, twin daughters and dog in Millbrook, NY and Manhattan, where she was editor and producer at iVillage.com, Vogue.com and Style.com. This is her first novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (August 2010)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439173336

Raves and Reviews

"A delightful meal of a read--delicious and satisfying. This new writer is one to watch!"
--Katie Crouch, New York Times bestselling author of Girls in Trucks and Men and Dogs

“All the right ingredients--a heart-warming heroine, a romp through Tuscany--make for a delicious book that leaves you hungry for more."
—Julie Buxbaum, author of The Opposite of Love and After You

“A fun read that women of all ages can relate to.”
--Giada De Laurentiis, New York Times bestselling author of Everyday Italian.

"Jenny Nelson delivers on her debut with a rich and delicious read. With a fresh, charming and spirited voice, Nelson will have readers cheering for Georgia!"
--Jane Porter, author of Flirting with Forty and Odd Mom Out

"Jenny Nelson is no flash in the pan; this delectable concoction of gastronomy and self-discovery, spiced with fashion and romance, will have her fans clamoring for more."
--Daphne Uviller, author of Super in the City

"Georgia Gray's adventures in the kitchens of New York City and Tuscany and with love on both continents, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read. This glamorous and delicious tale will have readers cheering as the plucky heroine moves from disaster to dreams-come-true."
--Giulia Melucci, author of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

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