Interview & Giveaway: The Chef's Secret by Crystal King

Good morning, dear readers! Welcome to my stop on Crystal King's blog tour for The Chef's Secret! Today I will be hosting an interview with Crystal and later on I will be posting my review. Sneak peek...I LOVED it!

Hope you enjoy the interview!

Hello Crystal and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Chef’s Secret!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’m Crystal King, the author of The Chef’s Secret and Feast of Sorrow, which was long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. I’m an author, culinary enthusiast, and social media professor. My writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. I have taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US. Many years ago, I started out writing poetry and was honored to be nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I also founded and co-edited the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review. I received my MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where I developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers stuck in the middle of their work. Hopefully, someday that will be a book too!

What inspired you to write The Chef’s Secret?

When I was doing research for Feast of Sorrow and wanted to understand more about the ancient Roman gourmand Apicius, I kept coming across the name Bartolomeo Scappi as one of the most important chefs in the history of Italian cuisine. I picked up the cookbook more out of curiosity than anything else. But I found that the cookbook is very readable and there is a lot of really fascinating information about the various regions where the food is from and about Bartolomeo's employers in the papal kitchen, and the various Cardinals he worked for. But there's not much about him and his life. There's a few small details like his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni, worked for him, and we know about the banquets that he created for his wealthy employers. But we don't have any idea where he lived or how much money he made or if he was in love or if he had any children. And so I thought, this has to be my next book, I want to explore his life.

What research did you undertake when writing The Chef’s Secret?

I begin my research usually when I'm reading other books, other histories. I spend a great deal of time trying to understand everything I can about my real characters and the time in which they lived. Which means, in this case, it was a bunch of books about Renaissance Italy, and books about food in that time. Once I had the structure of the book, I headed to Italy, setting up meetings with historians, with food experts, and taking tours of the places where my novel is set. One of the locations in the book, the inn where the climax of the story takes place, is set in the little boutique hotel we stay in every time we go to Rome, Casa Dei Coronari. The proprietors shared a lot of information about the Renaissance building and its owners, and were kind enough to show me one of the remaining arches of the street behind the hotel, la Via Dei Tre Archi, which is hidden, essentially, in the garage behind the building! It’s that kind of thing that is amazing to me--being able to look into the past and find creative ways to bring those findings to present readers.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Chef’s Secret?

I hope that the book whets their appetite a bit--it’s full of incredible feasts and food. I also hope they learn something new. It’s set in a rich time frame of the Renaissance, and Bartolomeo Scappi was the world’s first celebrity chef. I hope that others find him as fascinating as I did.

What was your favorite scene to write?

This is a hard question because there are so many enjoyable scenes that I wrote. Maybe the scene with Michelangelo, because it was a fun scene, and was more of a nod to the great master than anything else. Scappi and Michelangelo worked at the Vatican at the same time, and I like to think that the two might have known each other.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

The scenes with code! Writing in cipher isn’t easy at all. I lucked out and found a site online that helped me generate much of the code, but there was still wrangling and testing it out to make sure that it worked. I also had to write the passage in Italian (which my friend and tutor, Graziella Machetta proofread) and then translated it. I wanted to make sure it was right, for anyone that was diehard enough to try and check it. So far, no one has bothered, ha!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t remember exactly when, but I was quite young when I began writing. I was always writing stories and poems as a kid. I never played with dolls and was only interested in books. I remember going to a Young Authors conference of some sort when I was about ten and I met Madeleine L'Engle. I loved her books so much as a child and to meet the person who created them was hugely inspiring to me.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

It’s not daily, for one! I write mostly on weekends, usually on Sundays. I have a day job as a social media professor and coming home and writing at night is just too draining.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

That I also have a fulltime job! But yes, my two books out in the world shows that anyone can do it.

Who are your writing inspirations?

I have so many that it’s very hard to really pick one. I love Italo Calvino, M.F.K. Fisher, Neil Gaiman, Anais Nin, and Gunter Grass to name a few. I wrote a blog post once about my top 100 books if you want a bit more insight into my bookish loves.

What was the first historical fiction book you read?

I was reading by the time I was 3 years old, and have always read voraciously. I even won a medal in 1st grade for reading 100 books in a year. So I have NO idea. There have been so many through the years. Maybe Johnny Tremain or Old Yeller.

What is the last historical fiction book you read?

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore. It’s a beautiful tale of historical, magical realism about the formation of Liberia.

What are three things people may not know about you?

1. I’m a gamer. Most people are surprised to hear that, but I love good, story-rich fantasy and sci-fi games like Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls games, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed (if you love history, the AC games are SO amazing), and so many more.

2. I’m terrified of going to the dentist. My father recently told me that when I was a kid I could always feel the drill through the laughing gas, so I imagine that’s why.

3. If you’ve been to my house, you’d know this, but my husband and I collect Shepard Fairey (of Obey Giant and the Obama “Hope” poster fame) prints.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

I love the research. Digging into the past is so much fun. Uncovering all the layers and figuring out how to fill the gaps in between what we know and what we don’t is extraordinarily satisfying. I feel like a god (all that world-building!) and a detective all at once.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

I actually tend to read a lot of fantasy, which may also surprise some people. I have several shelved fantasy novels that I might dig out of the drawer some day. I do read a lot of ancient historical fiction and Medieval/Renaissance era fiction, however. I tend to like things set before the 1600s best. It feels more foreign and I like employing my imagination toward that. I also read a lot of historical novels set in Italy, from any era. I’m a bit obsessed with il bel paese.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

That whole gaming thing. ;-) I love video games because to me they feel more active than watching TV. I’m adventuring, making decisions and participating in a story.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I’m working on a novel that is set at the same time as The Chef’s Secret, about Vincenzo Cervio, the meat carver to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. And perhaps Bartolomeo Scappi will make an appearance!

Oh yay! I loved Bartolomeo! I will be waiting ever so impatiently for your next release!

The Chef's Secret by Crystal King

Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Atria Books
Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, eBook

Genre: Historical Fiction

A captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.

When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.

With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Praise for The Chef's Secret

"King’s characters are drawn as lovingly, as sensually as the food and the Vatican world she describes, and the plot itself — part secret-code mystery, part love story — moves like a well-paced meal." (Boston Globe)

“King supplies all of the elements historical fiction fans expect in a juicy Renaissance tale, including luscious meals, erotic interludes, and deaths by poison and blade. This rich tale should satisfy the appetites of fans of historicals.” (Publishers Weekly)

"In The Chef’s Secret, Crystal King serves up a delectable read stuffed with passion, danger, and a plot worthy of Dan Brown. This fast-paced, engrossing novel brings Renaissance Rome and the Vatican to life through the eyes of a famous papal chef. You won’t be able to put it down." (Stephanie Storey, author of Oil and Marble)

"A veritable feast for the senses, The Chef's Secret is part mystery, part love story, and all sumptuous sixteenth century Italy. This tale of one of the world's first celebrity chefs—Bartolomeo Scappi, a DaVinci of Renaissance cuisine—sent me on a quest to know more, and to my kitchen to experiment—a sign of a great historical novel. Readers will delight in a plot as juicy as Scappi's braised beef!" (Heather Webb, international bestselling author of Last Christmas in Paris)

“The Chef’s Secret is a sumptuous buffet, serving up a love story (two of them!); mystery and suspense so thick you could cut it with, well, a chef’s knife; and such a vibrant panorama of Ancient Rome you’ll feel you’ve walked its streets and inhabited its kitchens. Anyone who loves history, food, a great story—read this novel! Warning: it will make you hungry.” (Jenna Blum, New York Times and international bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Lost Family)

"Crystal King’s The Chef’s Secret is a fabulous immersion in the world of renaissance Italy, full of passion, intrigue, secrets, danger, and of course food. Come hungry!" (Melodie Winawer, author of The Scribe of Siena)

“With adventure, engaging characters, and an absorbing mystery, King expertly blends fact with fiction, intrigue, and a powerful love story. Well written and perfectly paced, The Chef's Secret is a fascinating immersion into sixteenth-century Italian life, an introduction to the world's first celebrity chef, and a reminder of the power of food to influence a civilization.” (Booklist)

“King twists in romance, mystery, cultural richness, and some zesty research. Scappi’s secrets are unveiled at a pace that simmers with intrigue…Mixed together with decadent banquets and sweeping historical detail, King has a recipe that entices the senses… vibrant in both visual and flavorful detail.” (Historical Novel Review)

About the Author

Crystal King is the author of THE CHEF'S SECRET and FEAST OF SORROW. A culinary enthusiast and social media professional, her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US. A Pushcart-nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her M.A. in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, June 18
Review at Tar Heel Reader
Review & Interview at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, June 19
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Thursday, June 20
Review at My Reading Chronicles
Interview at Jathan & Heather

Friday, June 21
Review at Amy's Booket List
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Monday, June 24
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Tuesday, June 25
Review at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals
Excerpt at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots

Wednesday, June 26
Excerpt at The Lit Bitch
Review at Orange County Readers

Thursday, June 27
Review at Book Frolic
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Friday, June 28
Review at Mama's Reading Corner
Feature at What Is That Book About

Monday, July 1
Review at Comet Readings
Review at Stephanie's Novel Fiction

Tuesday, July 2
Review at Melissa Reads
Review at Clarissa Reads it All

Wednesday, July 3
Review at Henry and Benny's Book Nook
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Thursday, July 4
Review at Just One More Chapter

Friday, July 5
Review at Coffee and Ink
Review at Girls Just Reading
Review at Book Reviews from Canada


During the Blog Tour, one winner will receive a set of Feast of Sorrow and The Chef's Secret! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on July 5th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

The Chef's Secret

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