In Anthony Capella’s incandescent debut novel, Cyrano de Bergerac’s romantic tale is retold with Italy as the setting and food as the conduit between the two lovers. Laura Patterson is the twenty-something American student in Rome who is wooed by the intrepid Tomasso through the cooking of his friend Bruno. For Tomasso, Laura is yet another conquest, just one more notch in his belt marking his seduction of a nubile tourist. But since Laura is tired of the typical Italian male’s direct approach, Tomasso hits upon the idea of wooing her through cooking. The only problem is that Tomasso is a mere waiter. For Tomasso’s roommate, Bruno, on the other hand, cooking is the very reason for his living. So Bruno cooks while Tomasso pretends to be the chef. For Tomasso this is an ideal situation. Unfortunately though, Bruno falls in love with Laura. Capella weaves his tale through many ups, downs, and detours before bringing it all to a satisfactory ending.
Capella, an Englishman who spends part of the year traveling in Italy, uses his knowledge of Italian cuisine and the milieu of restaurant kitchens to great effect. His description of various Italian delicacies – the tozzetti, the dolce, and various forms of pasta – and the way they are prepared rings true and really creates the right ambience for the story. Bruno uses cooking to express his various moods and also to create distinct feelings in those who partake of his dishes. Capella’s narrative sounds plausible by the richness of the descriptions.
The typical gourmet Italian restaurant has a distinct subculture in its kitchen. From the chef whose renown brings patrons to the restaurant to the tens of minions who toil long hours doing mundane tasks, there is a particular rhythm in its everyday activities. Capella uses this to fine comic effect as both Tomasso and Bruno are employed by Templi, a restaurant run by the French chef Alain Dufrey, where you have to wait at least three months to get a reservation.
The Templi is also the scene where Laura finally realizes the meaning of true love. In Capella’s plot, food and love are woven seamlessly together, and while the plot may meander in the middle of the novel, the food draws the reader in. While the novel is amply interspersed with recipes, food is used to evoke something higher than mere hunger satiation.