Recipe for a Charmed LifePaperback (2024)

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Heaven smelled like melted butter, Georgia May Jackson was sure of it. And a bustling kitchen in Paris on a chilly early April evening was as close to heaven as she'd come in her thirty-three years. Glancing around at the hive of activity surrounding her in the kitchen of La Pomme d'Or, the Michelin-starred restaurant where she served as sous-chef, Georgia inhaled the satisfying aroma of garlic sizzling in melting butter and tried her best to ignore the two men observing her from the doorway. Their careful scrutiny made her queasy with nerves. So much was riding on tonight. She scrubbed her hands on her kitchen whites and tried hard to look cool, confident, and collected. She could do this, right? She'd been training for it her entire adult life.

"Come on, Georgia, you've got this," she murmured. "It's just like any other night." But that was a big fat lie. Tonight could change everything. If all went well, it could prove, once and for all, that she had the experience and skills to run her own kitchen in Paris. It had been her biggest dream since she was ten years old, and it was finally within her grasp. She simply had to prove she was ready . . .

Georgia darted a glance at the kitchen doorway where her mentor, famed Parisian chef Michel Laurent, was standing with Etienne Fontaine, the head chef of La Pomme d'Or. They were both watching her carefully, arms crossed in identical postures. Michel gave her a brief nod and a small, polite smile. Etienne, her boss for the past six years and her boyfriend for the past two, threw her a wink and a cheeky grin. She exhaled in relief. Etienne knew how important this assessment was for her. He wouldn't look so enthusiastic if it didn't seem promising.

In the blink of an eye, she caught a glimpse of herself as a young girl, avidly glued to a rerun of The French Chef on the old television set in the front room of her dad's dusty West Texas ranch. Ten-year-old Georgia had been all gawky elbows and bright curly ginger pigtails, filled with grand dreams and aspirations, filled with a longing to prove she was worth something. There in that faded living room, watching Julia Child, the iconic star of 1960s French cooking in America, she'd found her inspiration. Julia became her patron saint of the kitchen. Day after day, as she watched Julia craft a startlingly impressive flaming cheese soufflé or spatchco*ck a turkey, Georgia had imagined what it would be like to be the star of her own restaurant kitchen in Paris. She yearned to be like Julia, so cheerfully capable, in charge of her own future, filled to the brim with a zest for life. Even at that young age, she was determined to show her family and the world that she was good enough, that she could do big things. She was desperate to matter. In all the years since, she had never wavered from that desire. And now, if all went well tonight, her dream would finally come true.

Georgia drew a deep breath and tucked a loose ginger curl back into her chef's beret. No time to falter now; she had worked too long and hard for this moment. By habit, her fingers drifted to the tiny four-leaf clover charm she wore around her neck on a delicate gold chain. Made of green enamel, the charm was chipped and worn from years of rubbing. It was a cheap trinket, but the most precious thing she owned. She'd had it since she was five years old. Georgia rubbed it again now for luck, sending up a little prayer to Julia in heaven.

"Help me show them I can do this, Julia," she whispered. "Let all those years of hard work, all my sacrifices finally pay off."

It was time.

"Is everything ready?" Georgia called out in French. The kitchen staff nodded in unison.

"Oui, all is in order," Celine, one of the assistant chefs, responded crisply, not pausing as she deboned a fillet of sole.

"Bon." Georgia slowly circled the kitchen, observing each station. Every member of the kitchen staff was performing their duties with well-oiled precision, and the kitchen rang with the sound of sharp steel dicing vegetables and the hiss and bubble of delicious things cooking in pots and cast-iron pans.

It was just past six o'clock, not yet the dinner hour in Paris, but already the tables in the dining room were filling with tourists who typically ate earlier than Parisians. Tonight promised to be long and busy. Georgia gave a small nod of reassurance. So far everything was running smoothly.

"Pardon me, Georgia, could you taste this pistou?" Ismael, the newest prep cook, stood at her elbow, anxiously holding out a spoonful of bright green sauce. "Cyril says it is inedible." He looked distressed.

Georgia frowned and glanced over Cyril, a hulking, swarthy man standing at the long, gleaming gas range. A Frenchman from Lyon, he had been working in kitchens longer than she'd been alive. Although he was skilled in the kitchen, he was often cruel to the other staff, particularly the younger prep cooks. Georgia found his meanness intolerable and tried to make up for it by being extra encouraging to those he cut down.

"Inedible, hmm?" she said, reaching for the spoon. "Let me see."

She took the spoon and tasted a few drops of the pistou. For a brief moment she felt a flutter of apprehension. Would she be able to taste the ingredients this time? Recently her normally keen sense of taste had inexplicably and intermittently begun to fail her, a phenomenon that was mystifying and terrifying in equal measure.

She concentrated hard. Garlic. Basil. Pistachio. Comte cheese. She exhaled in relief. She could taste it all. It was bright and fresh, very flavorful, actually, though in truth missing . . . a little something.

"It's good," she assured Ismael, who was standing by her elbow like a puppy eager to please. "It just needs a little . . ." She tasted the pistou again, letting the ingredients speak to her. She could feel the nuttiness of the cheese at the hinge of her jaw, the raw garlic on the tip of her tongue, sharp and bright as steel hitting flint, that luxurious umami of the buttery roasted pistachios. What was it missing? She stilled herself and closed her eyes, allowing the clamor of the kitchen to die away until there were only the flavors in her mouth and the certainty that this dish was asking for something more . . .

Her eyes popped open. "Got it!"

She added two small pinches of fresh ground black pepper and a dash of lemon juice and tasted it again. Perfect.

Ismael watched her closely. "How do you do that?" he asked in wonder. "How do you know exactly what it needs?"

Georgia shrugged. "I don't know. I just feel it."

She had always cooked by instinct. Etienne joked that as a chef she was more like a mystic than a scientist, and it was true. She had graduated from culinary school in the States and endured twelve years of brutal practical apprenticeship in various kitchens of Paris. As a chef she used the techniques she'd acquired every day in the kitchen, but she relied most on her sixth sense about food, an intuition that had rarely led her astray. That is until recently . . . She pushed the thought away. For tonight, her luck seemed to be holding. Right now that was enough.

"Here, try this." She handed Ismael a tasting spoon dabbed with a few drops of the bright pistou.

He tasted it. "C'est délicieux." He nodded approvingly. It's delicious.

"Good. Tell Cyril it's ready to serve."

Ismael cast a nervous glance over to Cyril. "Could you tell him?" he asked meekly. "He won't believe me." The tips of his ears turned pink, and he looked down at his kitchen clogs, murmuring, "He called me garbage, only fit to take out the trash I cook."

"He said that?" Georgia asked indignantly. She put her hands on her hips and cast a quick glance over at Michel and Etienne. She didn't want to risk an ugly scene with Michel watching, but she was in charge of this kitchen right now and she couldn't stand by and let Cyril's bullying go unchallenged, not even on a night as crucial as this. She took a deep breath and marched over to Cyril's station. He was at the stove, searing duck liver.

"Cyril," she said calmly in French. "I need to speak with you."

"What?" He glanced up and leveled a hard stare in her direction, challenging her. Georgia knew that he resented her elevation to sous-chef over him, even though she was the better choice. She raised her chin and met his gaze, not backing down. He was muscle-bound and taller than her by a head, but she refused to be intimidated. She hated a bully. She'd learned early on in life that the only way to face one was to ball your fists and stand your ground. She was aware of Ismael hovering nervously behind her, and Michel observing the exchange with clinical interest from across the room. She leaned in close, feeling the heat from the gas stovetop, so close she could see the sweat beading on Cyril's upper lip. She swallowed hard and murmured fiercely.

"The next time you call one of your fellow cooks garbage, you will find yourself scraping dishes and hauling garbage in this kitchen until you remember how to use kinder words. Is that clear?" She met his gaze, holding it for what felt like an eternity. The smell of seared duck liver was rich and fatty in her nostrils. It was the most high-stakes game of chicken she'd ever played. What if he challenged her, right here in front of Michel? What would she do? She forced herself to not budge. She was his superior in this kitchen, and she had Etienne's backing. Surely, Cyril would not challenge the hierarchy of the kitchen. It simply wasn't done. Cyril's eyes narrowed in contempt. Georgia didn't even blink.

After a long moment, he broke the glance, shooting a narrow, spiteful glare at Ismael, then looked back down at the sizzling pan in front of him and expertly flipped the duck liver over, his lip curled in disdain. He gave the barest of nods in acknowledgment. As she turned away, she heard him mutter a string of crude insults in French, all aimed at her. She pretended not to hear. Wiping her damp palms on her kitchen whites, she stepped away and took a moment to collect herself. Her hands were shaking.

"Thank you," Ismael whispered gratefully as he passed her with the pistou.

She nodded and took a deep breath. "You're welcome."

Then she straightened her shoulders and plastered a confident smile on her lips, relieved that she'd narrowly averted disaster and restored order in the kitchen. She was also grateful that her sense of taste seemed to be functioning normally this evening. There was no guarantee these days that it would. In the past few months, her ability to taste ingredients in Technicolor, the intuition that guided her creative genius, had begun to falter. It was unpredictable. She'd go for days at a time with everything humming along like normal, then pop a whole raw clove of garlic in her mouth and strangely taste nutmeg and cinnamon, or even more alarmingly, sometimes she could taste nothing at all. She would eat a spoonful of caviar or bite into a Valencia orange, and instead of tasting the brine of the sea or the candy-sweet acidity of the citrus, it was like drinking water or crunching ice. Completely blank, devoid of flavor.

Those moments terrified her. She'd been to the doctor and even a seen a few specialists on the sly. There had been a battery of tests. No brain tumor, nothing abnormal. The results were clear. Physically, she was fine, but Georgia knew something was very wrong. Each day, her concern grew stronger, like a fist tightening itself in the hollow space inside her rib cage. She had no idea what was happening to her, but she was desperate to figure out the problem and find a way to fix it. Her life-long dream depended on it.


Three hours later, the dinner rush was in full swing. Every table was filled, and the kitchen was operating with brisk efficiency and precision.

"Ismael, be careful with the amount of sauce," Georgia cautioned as she spooned a bit of browned butter sauce off the house-made bacon, ricotta, and chicken ravioli. "Let the pasta shine."

"Yes, Chef. Of course." Ismael nodded deferentially. She gave him a quick smile, taking the sting from her correction.

Michel had left some time ago. Georgia wasn't sure when. She'd glanced up and he'd been gone. Etienne had disappeared too, saying something in passing about a quick meeting with Manon, the restaurant's new pastry chef. But he hadn't returned, so Georgia was continuing to oversee the kitchen until he came back. She was, on the whole, feeling good about what Michel had witnessed. She'd handled the kitchen with poise and confidence. Even that nasty interaction with Cyril had smoothed out quickly.

Suddenly, Damien, La Pomme d'Or's head waiter, burst into the kitchen. "We have an emergency!" he cried breathlessly.

"What?" Georgia looked up, startled. "What's wrong?"

Damien wore an expression of barely controlled panic. "It's Antoine Dupont," he hissed, gesturing frantically toward the dining room. "He's here. Tonight. Amelie is seating him now!"

"Antoine Dupont? Are you sure?" Georgia froze, spoon in hand. The entire kitchen stopped, awaiting his reply. No one breathed.

"Positive." Damien wrung his hands. "He is trying to disguise his identity with a false mustache, but he is as round as a wine barrel. And that nose. I am positive it is him. Amelie agrees with me."

"Merde," Georgia murmured softly in French, looking around for Etienne. What in the world was taking him so long? Where was he? La Pomme d'Or's star chef needed to know that at this very second, Antoine Dupont, arguably Paris's most preeminent restaurant critic, was in the dining room. A negative review from Dupont could spell trouble for any restaurant that displeased him, regardless of Michelin stars. In the Parisian restaurant scene, Dupont's word was gospel, and he was notoriously difficult to please.

Unfortunately, Etienne was nowhere to be seen.

"Okay," Georgia addressed the kitchen staff who were awaiting her instructions. She adopted a calm and capable air although her heart was pounding. "Nothing changes just because Antoine Dupont is one of our guests tonight," she assured them. "We will continue to do what we do for our guests every night-make delicious food as always. Don't worry about impressing Antoine Dupont. If we all do our jobs, everything will be okay. We've got this." She clapped her hands briskly. "Now back to work!"

Recipe for a Charmed LifePaperback (2024)
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