One of the most common comments I hear at my readings is, “The research must be tough.” WinkWink. A ripple of laughter follows.
It’s true. I do hang out in some pretty special places, and I have on occasion sipped a fine wine, all in the name of research. However, though I enjoy wine on a daily basis (not, alas, the fabulous wines I write about) and thrill to the taste sensations of a boeuf bourguignon served in an elegant home in a southern village in Burgundy, I am far from being a writer who is adept at teasing the various flavors out of a complex dish, and making it come alive on the page.
I learned as a young adult while traveling through France that winemaking and lovingly prepared dishes are synonymous with conviviality. What drew me to the world of the senses literarily were the people who inhabit it, starting years ago with friend Astrid Latapie, who set the tone for my Vengeance in the Vineyard series with her poetic descriptions. (Most of CHAMPAGNE: The Farewell takes place at her mother’s country estate in a small village in that region.) Since then I have been fortunate to find “consultants” who are happy to share their knowledge, and sometimes their talent. Food and wine critic Dawn Land, for example, came to my rescue when I decided to set an entire chapter of my second novel, BORDEAUX: The Bitter Finish, in Veritas, an oenophile’s paradise in Manhattan. Chef Sam Hazen invited me to come with a friend to enjoy the “tasting menu,” where tiny portions of exquisite dishes were sent out from the kitchen for our delectation. My guest, Matt Tornabene, owner of Manhattan Wine Company, made sure a marriage was created between the cuisine and wine. It was a memorable evening, or so I thought at the time.
My two protagonists in the series—NYPD woman detective Max Maguire and French investigating magistrate Olivier Chaumont—sit on the same banquette Matt and I had inhabited months before, sampling the same menu over conversation that vacillated between the taste sensations they were experiencing (thank you, Dawn!) and the crime that had them flummoxed. Checking my notes while writing that book (BORDEAUX), panic set in. Had I consumed too much wine? What exactly did Chef Sam use to create the piquancy in a particular entrée? I appealed to Dawn, who wrote this for the novel: “The server brought small, white plates upon which rested Montauk Pearl oysters with tequila lime mignonette…Max savored the sensation of cold stone that the oysters had clung to before being picked…” Success!
White writing BURGUNDY: Twisted Roots, I came across a great website, www.everydayfrenchchef.com and wrote to the proprietor, Meg Bortin, an American ex-pat who is a journalist, and a stellar chef and food writer. Soon we were dining together in Paris, and it turned out she has a country house in Burgundy. It doesn’t get more serendipitous than this! She created menus for the novel, and offered additional information about the food, and a friendship was born.
My world has been enriched immeasurably by wine and food enthusiasts. I think the provenance of the term joie de vivre originated with the vignerons (or wine growers) of French vineyards.
My response when the cliché about how tough the research must be for this series is to laugh along with the audience. It would be too complicated to explain that I have a host of “accomplices” working behind the scenes.
Janet Hubbard’s third novel in her Vengeance in the Vineyard series, BURGUNDY: Twisted Roots, will be published by Poisoned Pen Press in January, 2017. Her website is www.janethubbard.com.