Thursday, January 5, 2012
A Lucky Twist by Julie Hyzy
LUCY BURDETTE: Believe it or not, An Appetite for Murder was not the only book released this week!:) In fact, one of my favorite cozy foodie writers also has a new release--AFFAIRS OF STEAK, #5 in the White House Chef mystery series. I picked the first book up this summer and was instantly addicted. If you haven't tried one of chef Ollie Paras's adventures, I recommend you trot directly to the nearest bookstore and buy one. Lucky for us, Julie agreed to visit the blog today and talk about the White House kitchen. Welcome Julie!
JULIE HYZY: One of the questions I’m always asked about writing the White House Chef mysteries is: Have you actually seen the White House kitchen? Up until last June, I regretfully answered, “Not yet.”
Mind you, I’ve done (and continue to do) exhaustive research by reading books, watching DVDs, examining floor plans, studying photos, and talking with staffers, so I had a good idea of what the main kitchen looked like even before I created Olivia (Ollie) Paras and her cohorts. But there’s a big difference between knowing everything about a location and experiencing it in person.
Last June I finally got my chance. My family and I were in D.C. for a few days as part of a two-week driving vacation (one van, two parents. three daughters—I could write a blog post on that alone!), and we’d snagged a tour of the White House through our Congresswoman. No purses, no bags, no cameras allowed. We agreed as a family that since we were visiting the president’s home we ought to dress up a bit, so that meant no jeans, gym shoes, or flip flops, either.
You need to understand that we’d visited Arlington National Cemetery the day before and spent hours there. Fortunately, I twisted my foot. Yep, you read that right. Fortunately.
I was wearing silver wedge sandals (they’re cute) because they were the only dressy shoes I’d brought along. Twisted foot + wedge sandals = not the smartest move ever, but I’m not complaining. Nope, not at all.
Visitors arrive at the White House through the East Wing (and metal detectors, natch). The tour leads through the Visitor’s Foyer and into the Central Hall of the ground level. A slew of temporary screen-like walls are set up on the west end of the Central Hall to discourage visitors from exploring. Not that anyone could. Two uniformed Secret Service guards are there behind ropes, making sure no one steps off the beaten path.
The tour continues up a tall flight of stairs. I’d taken this tour before and I knew I could probably make it up those steps, but I thought it might be worth asking if there happened to be some other means of getting to the first floor. I approached one of the handsome uniformed gentlemen. He grinned. “I could carry you,” he said, adding, “Just kidding.” He moved aside to invite me in to the cordoned off area. “Come on,” he said, “there’s an elevator.”
Officer Cornell (such a nice man!) walked fast, making it a bit tough for sore-ankle-on-wedge-sandal-me to keep up, but I did the best I could. He led me through a corridor, stopping at a white stone archway that was blackened in patches. He pointed. “See those scars? That’s from when the British burned down the White House during the war of 1812,” he said.
Did I touch the wall? You know I did!
And I tucked away a detail to add to the next book.
We took a left past the arch. The kitchen. Ollie’s kitchen. I felt as though I’d come home. Seriously, I’m not kidding. No one was working there at the time (what? I thought the team was there every moment!) and the place was a spotless sea of stainless steel. I’d described the kitchen as small, but I hadn’t appreciated how truly undersized the space was. I’d bet most restaurant kitchens are bigger. I can’t believe they create meals for hundreds of guests in that compact space. But they do. The real executive chef, Cristeta Comerford, produces thousands of amazing meals every year in an area not much larger than my family room. I was impressed.
Officer Cornell led me through the pantry to the staff elevator, also stainless steel. It was small, but serviceable and transported us up one flight into the main floor Butler’s Pantry. I made a mental note to include a scene here next time too. Let me tell you, I was in heaven at this point. We exited through the Family Dining room (where the rug was partially rolled up. No idea why), past the Usher’s office (yes!!!) and through the Entrance Hall where I rejoined my family right before they were about to tour the East Room.
I thanked Office Cornell, trying my best to look nonchalant. Was I giddy? Beyond belief. My husband gave me the, “I know you’re bursting to tell me,” look. My daughters were asking “What did you see, Mom?” and it was all I could do not to babble.
Back when I caught this lucky break—or should I call it a lucky twist?—Affairs of Steak, the fifth White House Chef mystery had already been written and turned in. In Affairs, Ollie is stuck working with Peter Everett Sargeant, the thoroughly unpleasant sensitive director (quite the contradiction in terms, if you ask Ollie) on a project assigned by the First Lady. I really like the way this story turned out. Affairs of Steak just came out two days ago—I’m really excited about it.
The sixth book, however, was still a twinkle in my eye last June. As of today, that one is written and turned in, too. Ollie’s lucky to be alive after this adventure. She sure came close this time! To be honest however, I’m feeling like the lucky one. Even though the kitchen was precisely as I’d imagined, injuring my ankle and meeting Officer Cornell were fortunate twists of fate. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to experience Ollie’s kitchen firsthand. Being there has made it even more real for me and that allows me to make it more real for my readers.
I want to go back, of course. Maybe I’ll take up skateboarding right before my next visit. What do you think?
LUCY: Such a fun story Julie! My husband and I have been listening to the Jackie Kennedy tapes--lots of good insider dope on living in the White House, including the dreaded disease White House-itis! I'll start the questions: Any sense of whether the White House approves of the books? And how long do you expect the Ollie series to continue? (and ps, here's a link to where you can buy Julie's books.)