Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lucy Burdette's TOPPED CHEF: A Lethal Cook-off

HALLIE EPHRON: Watch out, Hayley Snow the food critic for Key Zest is back!

Lucy Burdette's new Hayley Snow mystery TOPPED CHEF is completely hysterical and for a serious foodie like me, completely divine. In this one Hayley gets rooked into judging a chefs' competition. She's horrified to discover that one of her fellow judges is a chef whom she'd just a soon avoid -- she just gave his restaurant a scathing review.

No worries, because in short order that fellow judge is in no position to give her any grief at all, and Hayley is up to her neck in intrigue.

What I love about this book is the way Lucy uses the three competitors to poke out there. Like... molecular gastronomy.

LUCY BURDETTE: So here's the thing: I had to come up with three foodie candidates for the TV show, and there were already four judges. That's seven characters and I haven't even added the Key West regulars! How were readers going to keep track of them? The clearest way seemed to be how and what they cook--and as one of the characters says, "what is their philosophy of cooking?"

I had lots of fun imagining how the three chefs would think about food and what they’d prepare. One of them leans toward home-style Southern food (a carping judge calls him “Paula Deen squared"); a second cooks from the tradition of molecular gastronomy (a lot of spheres and fumes); and the third, now that I think about it, is a little lost. Although she did produce some killer key lime cupcakes for the wedding challenge.

HALLIE: Okay, so make us jealous. What kind of research did you need to do for TOPPED CHEF?

LUCY: I'm afraid you all will line up and throw cream pies at me if I wax on too long about Key West. I will say that Hayley has a disastrous date at Michael's Restaurant. She eats exactly what I ate. And there is a fabulous event every year called the KEY WEST FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL. It's basically a taste of Key West, but it goes on for three days--a perfect backdrop for a cozy mystery!

HALLIE:  Being a restaurant critic is Hayley's dream job. Is it one you ever dreamed about?

LUCY: I love to eat, and I love to eat good food. But not fancy, fussy stuff. I don't think I'd enjoy being a food critic in real life--when I go out to eat, I like to choose what I feel like eating, not what I think other folks want to hear about. And I draw lines where my character Hayley Snow, cannot. For instance, tentacles. Raw fish and meat. Slimy things. Like that:).

HALLIE:  Oh, Lucy, lead me right over to all the tentacles and raw fish you pass up. Mmmm.

Key West is so quirky and filled with so many memorable characters. Tell us about one who turns up in this book, hopefully not dead.

If you've read the first two books in the series, you'll remember meeting Lorenzo, the tarot card reader--he's one of my faves and he shows up in TOPPED CHEF too.

But then last year I offered an auction item to benefit the Waterfront Playhouse--naming rights to a character in TOPPED CHEF. The man who won the auction sent me a photo and bio of the character he wanted me to include--Randy Thompson, an actual drag queen who performs at the Aqua Bar as Victoria.

I didn't have the heart to explain that I'd offered naming rights, not character development rights. So I took the real Randy to lunch to talk about the psychology of drag queens and watched him (her) perform a few times, and expanded the character from those points. He's utterly adorable and the character turned out to be so much fun!

You were definitely in luck. Randy could have been a computer programmer or an insurance salesman.

Where will your readers find you promoting this book?

LUCY: My kick-off party will take place at RJ Julia booksellers in Madison CT on May 8 at 7 pm. We always have cake and champagne--please come if you can!

I am also doing a blog tour and after that, a "Molly Weston" tour of the Raleigh/Durham area with Hallie and Jennifer McMahon. I'm so looking forward to that! All the details can be found on my website.

Here's a link for ordering the book, and a fabulous book trailer.

HALLIE: Thanks, Lucy! Lucy will be giving away a signed copy of TOPPED CHEF to one lucky commenter, so let's hear from you.

My question: What are your "raw meat and tentacles" -- the foods you'd rather not see on your plate, thanks very much.


  1. Snails. No snails. No raw oysters. Never again. I don't care how old that restaurant is.

  2. Oh, Reine. I'm guessing it's the texture that does it for ya.
    Snails are really just a vehicle for garlic butter.

  3. And... the winner of yesterday's TOP THAT competition: Impossible to judge because you were all too nice and besides, we want to eat what you're cooking.

    I did however make a fabulous lasagne last night which Hayley Snow would have appreciated.

  4. No green soggy stuff for me, as in cooked spinach, collards, chard, etc. Yuk! Put those things in my salad please so I can eat them crunchy. And no fish with a head, eyes, and bones.

    Leave me out of the contest for Lucy's book. Buying the Kindle today for my upcoming weekend trip.

    I wonder if Haley's Mom is still in town? What a pistol.

  5. I'll take your spinach Jack, but not Reine's snails:)...

  6. I’m willing to try most anything, but a bowl of milk-drenched cereal is the “never on my plate” food . . . no oatmeal, either . . . .

    Congratulations, Lucy . . . the book sounds marvelous and I am looking forward to reading it . . . .

  7. Liver and kidneys.... Even thinking of it now..blurghhhhhh

  8. I know I should have a more sophisticated palate, but oysters just..........make me throw up a little in my mouth. There, I said it.

    Congrats on the launch, Miz Lucy! I'm ordering it right now....

  9. Hard-boiled eggs. It's the texture.

    Congratulations Lucy! The book sounds, well, delicious!

  10. So excited that this great series is going forward.

    My "raw meat and tentacles" are just that: less than perfectly fresh raw squid is just really bad. Oh, and raw oysters. Can't do it!

  11. (I'm over here responding as Tace Baker because your blog on Chrome today is all black and weird - not sure why - and when I logged into IE it was as Tace Baker! But you know we BOTH love you.)

    -Edith Maxwell

  12. Joan Emerson - Interesting about wet cereal. My daughter still (at 30-something) won't take milk in hers.

    And boy you guys are really socking it to the oyster. I'll take ALL of yours. And squid? Love it love it. I even clean it and cook it. That way I'm sure it's fresh and not overcooked (which turns it into rubber bands).

  13. I love cereal and milk--just finished a bowl of Barbara's...

    We went snorkeling last year in the British Virgin Islands. The squid were so cute--I would never eat them again, even if I ate them:)

    thank you all for helping me celebrate!

  14. I'm okay with raw meat most of the time, and I've popped the occasional tentacle, snake, liver sausage (braunschweiger), and nearly every vegetable. It's the organ meats that get me (excluding above). Liver, heart, kidneys, tripe, sweetbreads, brains - there's a reason they call it "offal." No. Just - NO.

  15. Yay for Lucy! As for my great culinary turn-off: soggy breadstuffs. Toasted baguette slices in onion soup, pilot crackers in chowder, biscuits that have been left too long atop the chicken pot pie - all are an abomination to me.

    What I want to know is; what is that delicious minty green drink on the cover of TOPPED CHEF? I looked for the recipe in back, but it wasn't there!

  16. Hallie:
    About the best I can do for cereal is to choke down a tiny handful of Cheerios . . . the rest of the family will eat cereal, but I just can’t do it. I’m with you on the oysters [also liver, with caramelized onions and bacon, which both of my daughters claim as their favorite meal] . . . one of the yummiest appetizers we ever had at a restaurant was calamari served with a balsamic reduction . . . .

  17. I like raw meat if it's steak tartare, sushi, and yeah, squid tentacles cooked right.

    What I can't stand -- raw onions, undercooked onions, and scallions (they smell gross). Unfortunate, because I spend a lot of time picking bits of scallion out of Asian food. I'd rather eat a dried grasshopper (Mexican food) than a scallion.

  18. Julia, those are mojitos for the wedding challenge part of the Topped Chef contest. I should have used that recipe!!

  19. "She'd rather eat a dried grasshopper than a scallion" - Perfect epitaph.

  20. So great to see the photo from our night out at Acqua! Thanks for inviting Bill and me to tag along. Can't wait to read this!

  21. Ugh, cereal with milk. After all those years of cleaning soggy Cheerios off high chair trays I can't face cereal, ever.

    Never was much of an oyster fan until a few weeks ago. A friend invited me to drive down to Baton Rouge with her, by way of Pensacola and Biloxi, where we stayed with her family members. Her brother took us out to an oyster bar in Biloxi, two blocks from the Bay, and we had a feast--five different kinds of oysters (including raw), and Bloody Marys. It will be a long, long time before I get to top that meal.

    I'm pretty adventurous with foods, as long as they're well-prepared, not over-salted, and are good quality to begin with. Not much of a fan of just about anything processed, these days. Cereal falls under that category, of course.

    My Catcha included the ever-popular crossword clue word (for leftovers) "ort".

  22. Love oysters, will eat snails, really like lamb liver... BUT I can't face tripe, brain. I don't think I could eat insects and I know I couldn't eat wichity grubs that the Australian aborigines eat.

    Wishing you great success with the book, Lucy!

  23. Yuck...baked beans. Sorry.

    So funny---I love soggy cereal with milk. Especially raisin bran.

    LUCY!! HUrray!! xx

    Love snails, love oysters, love sushi, #nosquidthankyousomuch

    LUCY! Hurray!

  24. ANd yes, JAck, I always ask the waiter to remove the fish head. And body. And everything that isn't delicious.

  25. Happy release day, Lucy! I've already posted my reviews on Amazon and GR--loved this book!

    I'm happy to see so many people share my aversion to oysters. As a kid I popped a deep-fried one in my mouth thinking it was a scallop (I'd ordered the fried fisherman's platter) and I've never recovered from the trauma of that slimy texture.

  26. thanks Hank, and Rhys, and Barb, and susan!

    Hank, I LOVE baked beans. And susan, love fried oysters. But tripe and brains--absolutely not...

  27. I love squid, even raw in ceviche. And oysters. Any old way. I even ate an octopus salad when I was in LA on book tour, and it was yummy.

    So three cheers for the slimy sea things, and three really BIG cheers for our Lucy!!!!!!!!!!

    And I just realized I should have preorderd the book--ordering now. Tempting to go for instant gratification with digital, but then I couldn't share it with my daughter.

    Yay, Lucy and Haley! Can't wait to read it!!!

  28. Give me any kind of seafood, raw or broiled, baked or deep-fried. But I like my meat cooked to death --- my husband likes his beef RARE, and I can't stand a glimmer of pink.

    We both enjoyed the lamb shepherd's pie last night -- but there is still a lot of lamb in the refrigerator. Curry?

    So excited about "Topped Chef" == yay, Lucy.

    p.s. I finished "FIngerprints of You" by Kristin-Paige Madonia late last night -- thanks, JRW, for introducing me to this title. It is so well-written, chock full of philosophical musings along with a great set of characters and plot, poetically woven together.

  29. Congratulations on the new book - wishing you a fabulous launch, Lucy!

    Love key West, love food. Topped Chef is for me.

    As for what is not for me, I veto organ meats/brains. I shudder to think about them on a fork.

    But yes to oysters (pan fried or on the half shell), yes to squid and other tentacled crustaceans, yes to sushi and double yes to mojitos (it's getting on to mojito season on my deck . . .)

  30. Congratulations on the release of TOPPED CHEF, Lucy! I like sashimi at a good sushi bar and medium rare steak, but steak tartare or other raw mammal meat just about freaks me out. As for molecular gastronomy, I've seen it on "No Reservations" and used to watch the short-lived "Marcel's Quantum Kitchen" on the Syfy channel. I'm curious about MG and wouldn't mind trying it at a restaurant sometime. Seeya Wednesday night. Looking forward to Hayley's latest adventure. :)

  31. Lucy, I'm way behind, so will have to get up to speed with this series. Best of luck with it!

    By the way, today is Roast Leg of Lamb Day, in case anyone is interested.

    Who thinks this stuff up?

  32. Happy book launch, Lucy!

    I'll eat fired oysters, but I don't eat any meat or seafood raw. *shudders* But mojitos... *perks up* It's getting to that time of year again. Yay!

  33. I tried steak tartare for the first time this past Christmas Eve. My friend suggested it. I was a appalled when I realized it's raw...HOWever, loved it!

    And I like sushi.

    I'm a big no on organs and snails and raw oysters and exotic meats (from alligator to grasshopper). Will not eat rabbit either. I'm a little weird about meat.

    I don't like super crunchy things either -- no croutons on salads, for example. And I must dip cookies in milk unless they're already soft. Soggy cereal: yum.

    I'm looking forward to reading TOPPED CHEF, Lucy!

  34. Congrats Roberta/Lucy -

    The book sounds like a riot. And I am jealous - it sounds like so much fun thinking about food philosophies and using that to distinguish your charactesr.

    My raw food I'd rather not see on my plate?

    Mayonnaise: If I suspect the sauce has mayonnaise in it - if I sniff it's existence anywhere near - the food is ruined for me. And I can't eat it.

  35. So funny to hear about everyone's quirks:) No mayonnaise, no crunchy things, raw vs cooked--no wonder foodie TV and chefs are so popular. Everyone has an opinion.

    We'll raise a mojito to Linda Rodriguez today for her new book out today too. And also Liz Mugavero...

    Denise, glad you enjoyed FINGERPRINTS OF YOU. I did love her characters and writing.

  36. Thanks so much, Roberta/Lucy! A toast right back to you. It's fun to have such great book birthday buddies!

  37. I love fish in a variety of ways, but not in soups or chowders. . .can't stand to even look at it.

  38. I'll eat most anything as long as it has been cooked. NO raw fish or raw meat, and no oysters EVER; eww! On the rare (ha!) occasions when I eat beef, it MUST be burned to a crisp. I really don't like beef at all, except for an occasional hamburger when I'm on the road while on vacation. (Meals at my house mostly consist of chicken or fish...or chicken or fish. You get the picture!) Oh, and I don't particularly like lamb but I'll force it down if someone serves it to me.

    I do like cold cereal, but with just enough milk to coat it, and it must be skim milk. I don't like any other kind. I'm not above having a bowl of cold cereal for dinner if I'm exhausted or if the arthritis is acting up.

    A comfort food meal I like is rice cooked in chicken broth, with lots of Parmesan cheese added and and an egg swirled through for the last few minutes. My mom occasionally made this for us when we were kids, and I always liked it. I don't remember the exact portions that she used. After trying for years to make it the way Mom did, I finally asked her around twenty years ago how she made it. She was shocked that I remembered it AND that I was making it for myself. She said she hated it and only made it for us when money was really tight and there wasn't much food in the pantry!

  39. I don't really like slimy, fishy things. And I can't eat organ meats anymore-however, almost everything else is fair game. I have "Topped Chef" waiting for me at my local-you've become a must buy for me!

  40. My father used to have tripe and calves brains (not together)! The idea was totally unappealing (tactful, aren't I?) to the rest of the family.
    I've tried a lot of things-including chocolate covered grasshoppers, a waste of chocolate- but some textures and associations just don't cut it.

  41. Linda! Happy Launch Day to you, too. Can't wait to see what Skeet's up to in this book.

    I'm raising a virtual mojito in your direction.

  42. thank you Lil! and Jan--and anyone I might have missed. It's so much fun to launch a book here with all my Red buddies!!

    Vickie, I like fish chowder, but hate running across a rubbery clam:)

    Deb, so interesting that your mother's rice loomed large for you and yet was not a pleasure in her mind...

  43. Virtual Mojito! What a great name for a rock band, right?

    And I love chili--but I eat around the beans.

  44. I don't eat fish or any seafood except for canned tuna. I'm a meat and potatoes type of girl and not an adventurous eater.

    I don't watch Top Chef on T.V., but I have eaten some of their Healthy Choice Top Chef steamer meals and I like them.

  45. Brains, cheeks and lips! There's a restaurant called Resto in Manhattan that serves groups of 8 or more the entire animal of their choice, in various courses. When I did this we had lamb and there was at least one course I skipped, though the bravest of our group requested, if I call correctly, cheeks. Not me. rachelkb at gmail.com

  46. Thanks, Brenda! A toast back to you!

  47. Hallie, yes... snails as vehicle for garlic butter! LOLOLOL

    Lucy... we don't even discuss snails out loud in our house. omg, no.

    Hank... still chuckling over your eating around the beans in chili... too, too funny...

    We should have a Launch Lunch.

  48. Reine, I think we've just had the launch lunch for today!!!

    Rachel, there's another name for a band: Brains, Cheeks, and Lips:)

    thanks to everyone for visiting today and making the launch SPECIAL!! xo