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The Chef's Secret

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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.

352 pages, Paperback

First published February 12, 2019

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About the author

Crystal King

3 books418 followers
Crystal King is the bestselling 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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 208 reviews
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,124 reviews30.2k followers
June 18, 2019
I’ve wanted to read a Crystal King novel for some time, and I’m excited to have started with The Chef’s Secret! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Renaissance Italy comes to life in this beautiful novel rich in historical detail. At the center of the story is Bartolomeo Scappi, the well-known and well-loved chef to popes.

When Scappi dies, his inheritance goes to his nephew, Giovanni, who was also his apprentice. Of note is that Scappi leaves to Giovanni two locked boxes with keys with orders to burn them. Along with that is a warning: what’s inside could be dangerous for Giovanni and others.

Instead of listening to his late uncle, Giovanni chooses to learn his uncle’s secrets at any cost. He starts with decoding his uncle’s journals; there, he begins to uncover scandal and even murder.

Giovanni also has his brother, Cesare, and another protege of Scappi’s, Domenico Romoli, who are desperate to find Scappi’s secret recipes.

Mmm! Crystal King’s writing evokes all the senses as she describes this place and time and the tempting feasts made by Scappi. The story is full of intrigue and is well-paced. I loved the suspense of who would find what and where. I loved the delicious details and the ultimate meaning of the story for Giovanni: his search for connection to the man he loved as a father.

Overall, The Chef’s Secret is engaging, superbly written, with complex, dynamic characters. I loved it!

I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

My reviews are also available on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,184 followers
January 14, 2019
Totally Awesome Great GIF - TotallyAwesome Awesome Great GIFs

What a wonderfully delectable novel! You know those books you enjoy so much that they just linger with you? The mere mention of them, of the author, the slightest memory of the characters or the cover, just makes you feel all squiggly-happy inside? That is how Crystal King's novel Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome is for me, and so I was delighted to learn she has a new book! As much as I wanted to read it, I was also ambivalent, worried that Ms. King couldn't possibly write another novel I would enjoy as much as her previous book. I didn't want to be disappointed, but how could I possibly resist reading this new one?? No way, no how, could I resist!

Thankfully, The Chef's Secret proved to be just as brilliant and enjoyable. The novel is loosely based on the life of Bartolomeo Scappi, chef to several popes in the 16th century, of whom not much is known. With exquisite prose, Crystal King delivers a tale of passion and romance, murder and intrigue. Upon Bartolomeo's death, his nephew and apprentice Giovanni inherits the majority of his estate: Position and money, his recipes, his chef's knife -- and a secret that will change Giovanni's life forever. Bartolomeo has left instructions for Giovanni to destroy his journals which are written in code. Unable to do so, Giovanni sets out to decipher these journals, setting him on an unforgettable journey. From the vast kitchens of the Vaticano to the canals and i palazzi of Venezia, we follow Giovanni as he uncovers a dangerous story, one which will shake the very foundation of Giovanni's life.

This book is difficult to put down, and is full of everything you could possibly want in historical fiction. Romance, mystery, an illicit affair, danger, intrigue, revenge. I love that Crystal King calls the cities by their Italian names. They are more beautiful than the anglicized versions we English-speakers use and add authenticity to the story.

Crystal King, having now written two unforgettable books, has made it to my list of favourite authors. I look forward to reading much more of her work in the future! If you love historical fiction, you must read Crystal King's books!

I was invited to read The Chef's Secret by the publisher and given a free digital galley. In return I have given my honest and unbiased review. Grazie mille to Crystal King and Atria Books. Thank you for giving me such a delicious reading experience!
Profile Image for Ace.
433 reviews23 followers
February 10, 2019
Crystal King has a knack for writing about food that leaves you salivating and hungry for snacks at every turn and I absolutely love her second novel which is set in 1577.

Bartolemeo Scappi, papal chef to Pope Gregory dies and his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni, takes his place in the Vatican’s kitchens. Giovanni inherits everything from his uncle including his job and his journals and letters. From there a mystery unfolds revealing past secrets of his family, dramatic love affairs, mysterious murders and plots for revenge.

Alternating between Bartolomeo’s story which begins in 1523 present day story of Giovanni, who is unsure of his abilities in the kitchen and even more uncertain about the title he has just inherited. In attempting to unravel his uncles rich and sordid past he develops his own set of guilty secrets and vendettas. A great historical read which will take you to Venice, Rome and the secret hallways of the Vatican. 5 stars.

Thank you to Atria Books for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Profile Image for Lorna.
680 reviews368 followers
July 3, 2021
The Chef's Secret was a luscious and rich historical fiction novel set during the Renaissance period in Italy highlighting the mysterious life of a legendary chef to many popes, the infamous Bartolomeo Scappi. On his deathbed in 1577, Scappi implored his nephew and apprentice Giovanni Brioschi to burn all of his personal papers and diaries found in two strongboxes to which he had been given the keys. The bulk of his uncle's rather large estate including a valued and bejeweled knife, as well as his recipes, were willed to Brioschi. Haunted by many questions, Giovanni Brioschi begins to read the letters and diaries and breaking the cipher code, resulting in a lifetime of secrets revealed over a period of time. This is a very well-written and fast-paced book.

In the words of his nephew Giovanni as he reminisces about the last eleven of his thirty years, working as an apprentice to Bartolomeo:

"Being related to Bartolomeo Scappi was a great honor. As the celebrated private chef to several popes, he was lauded in circles all over Italy, and countless cardinali, nobles, kings and queens had fallen under the spell of his cuisine as I had."

There was also the sudden appearance of a comet in the western sky on the day that Bartolomeo was interred, causing Giovanni's mother and sister of Bartolomeo, Caterina, to cross herself and remark to her son that it was a sign that he was watching over them. The comet and its significance continues to be part of the tale as it unfolds.

As author Crystal King notes, very little is known about Bartolomeo Scappi except that he was the author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time. Scappi dediciated the book, L'Opera de Bartolomeo Scappi to his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni Brioschi. The author also graciously notes that Scappi was a member of the Compagnia dei Cuochi dell' Annunziata, or the Guild of Cooks of our Lady of the Annunciation. Today there is a plaque honoring the chef's renowned memory and his influence on the guild.
Profile Image for Annette.
765 reviews337 followers
May 27, 2021
Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577) was a legendary Italian chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time. Not much is known about him. The known facts, such as him dedicating his cookbook to his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni Brioschi, and bequeathing some jewelry to a sister named Catherina, are incorporated into the story. And all the popes he worked for and are involved in this story are true.

After the death of Bartolomeo in 1577 Rome, his nephew discovers Bartolomeo’s story through the letters from a woman named Stella and through Bartolomeo’s journals.

Bartolomeo’s journal begins in 1525 Venice. At the age of 18, he begins his humble journey in the kitchen, working for Cardinal Grimani.

In 1528, he meets “the most beautiful girl in the world.” She is of noble birth. Therefore, he can’t love her openly, but he can make her long for the food he makes. His creativity in the kitchen arises.

When Stella gets married to cardinal’s brother and moves to Rome, Bartolomeo follows her. In Rome he continues working for cardinals and continues making a name for himself.

As Giovanni unravels his uncle’s story, his own story progresses as well. He follows in his uncle’s footsteps. And not only in the kitchen, but also by meeting the most beautiful woman named Isabetta.

The story involves a lot of intrigue, including poisoning and murders to remove unwanted witnesses. This kind of intrigue reflects the time period and its reality. Personally, I would prefer a drop less of intrigue. As it is a story of a chef and his creations, I would love for the two important senses of smell and taste to be involved by bringing stories of making different dishes. There are mentions of menus, which were prepared for the feasts, but they do not awake those two senses, which are vital when it comes to food.

Overall, it is an engaging story and it is always interesting to learn about a lesser-known person who made a mark in history.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,304 reviews384 followers
November 17, 2022
I didn't have to high hopes for this one and it manged catching me by surprise. Was a lot more emersive and compelling than I thought it would be. Definitely interested in reading more by Crystal King in the future. Have seen them around but haven't really been compelled to pick one up until now
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,048 followers
April 14, 2019
I first learned about this author from Catherine on the Sarah's Book Shelves podcast, episode 2 - I was intrigued by the concept of historical foodie fiction so I requested an eARC of The Chef's Secret from Edelweiss (this came out February 12, 2019.)

Even though it took me a while to read, and I read it between other things, there are a lot of itches scratched by this novel. First is the food, of course. The two main characters are the Pope's chef in Renaissance Italy, so there is a lot of discussion of incredible feasts and elaborate dishes. On top of that is the story of a chef and his master teacher, a chef who leaves his property and possessions to him (including his last name!) when he dies. His journals are written in code, so there are elements of mystery and codebreaking and secrets. Everything is couched in deep historical research that doesn't bog down the story but really adds a lot to it. (I loved the author note at the end which points out which pieces she took from history and which she made work for the story, and the sources she relied on.)

The author also has some historical recipes to accompany the book and anything Renaissance Italy on her website. There is a tart that accompanied a major plot point, and I'm tempted....
Profile Image for Heather Webb.
Author 14 books981 followers
August 21, 2018
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!
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
February 15, 2019
This book was just so much fun to read. The story was set in the 1500's in the Vatican kitchens and featured the head chef and his nephew. The food descriptions were just mind blowing. Some of them were mouth watering and some of them were ones I would never eat. The artistry was unbelievable. I love the author even had Michelangelo making sugar molds for a banquet.

Bartol0meo was the head chef of the Vatican when he passed away. He left everything, his wealth and recipes, to his nephew who was his assistant, Giovanni. There were journals written in complex code that Bartolomeo begged Gio to burn without reading. The curiosity gets to Gio and he works on breaking the different codes in the books. There are tales of underground tunnels in the Vatican, love affairs between both males and females with the clergy and even Popes getting murdered. I loved the description of a conclave. The journals also chronicle Bartolomeo's sordid personal life which impact Gio's life. Gio is involved in many scrapes as the results of discoveries in the journal.

The history and the food make this delightful book from start to finish. If you are looking for a book to lift your spirits then I recommend this one.

Thanks to Net Galley for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.
Profile Image for Mary.
1,474 reviews495 followers
September 13, 2021
The Chef's Secret by Crystal King is a historical fiction novel unlike any I have read before. I loved the travel back in time to Renaissance Italy, and King's writing really brings it to life in the way you want. I was fully immersed in the time period and loved this look at chefs, popes, and secret tunnels - and don't forget MURDER, in the 1500s. There are two different viewpoints, one being Bartolomeo Scappi while he was alive through the journals he leaves behind, and the other is his nephew Giovanni who takes over his position as a chef for the current pope. He is supposed to burn the journals but of course, he doesn't, and what follows is a lot of mystery, intrigue, and the uncovering of long-buried secrets. I really enjoyed both viewpoints and I can't say I loved one more than the other. There was a lot of drama and action in both of them, and even though there isn't NONSTOP action, it is very well-paced and kept me really engaged the entire time. I had never heard of Scappi before, and I really enjoyed where King took his story.

If you're looking for a great audiobook, you are also going to find that here. The audio of The Chef's Secret is narrated by Jacques Roy and I quite loved his narration for it. His voice was perfect for the story, and I found myself wishing it would never be over because I didn't want to stop listening to him speak. I would have loved a little more about the actual food in the book since it's about a chef and his apprentice, but I got a pretty good visual of most of it and there were times it definitely made me a bit hungry. The mystery was a really surprising one, and I didn't have any idea of where this would end up going. I was thoroughly surprised by quite a few things that happen, and I had a moment where I actually gasped out loud. There is some romance in The Chef's Secret as well as a couple of heavier themes, and I thought it was all executed really well. If you love historical fiction and are in the mood to be transported back to Italy in the 1500s then this book is for you!

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Profile Image for Stephanie .
468 reviews95 followers
June 25, 2019
Medieval history has always been my favorite time period, which is why I minored in medieval history while earning my Bachelor's degree. I also love my historical fiction to be based on real people and real events then throw in the fact that Italy is my favorite place in the whole world, so to say I was over the moon when asked to read and review The Chef's Secret by Crystal King would be an understatement!

I just spent 2 weeks this past April in Italy visiting Rome, Florence, and Venice, and King's writing immediately propelled me back through the streets of Rome and Venice only this time with a renaissance flair as King recreates the life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the most renowned Italian chef  for the Popes, and creates a life for him full of mystery, forbidden secrets, forbidden love, and lots of sumptuous food (I was starving while reading this!).

The book begins in 1577 at Scappi's death when he leaves his entire estate and last name to his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni. He also leaves a box of diaries with the express order that Giovanni burn them without reading them because the knowledge inside is dangerous! Thank goodness Giovanni is curious about his uncle's writings because the diaries are the key to many secrets, many that are coded and have to be broken, and tales of murder, violence, intrigue, love, and oh the food! 

The plotting is flawless and the characterization is on point. The research of the time period is impeccable and as I said, I was immediately transported back to Italy in the spring by King's descriptions of Italy, its way of life, and its amazing culinary masterpieces. King weaves the secrets throughout the book expertly leaving the reveal of the mysteries until the end.

The Chef's Secret is a fast-paced, extremely well-written novel that will keep you turning pages. Devouring them I should say! If you love historical fiction, then I highly recommend this one!

**Thank you Atria Books for the gifted copy. All opinions are my own.**
Profile Image for theliterateleprechaun.
1,220 reviews29 followers
December 27, 2022
Before Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse, Giada De Laurentiis, and Mario Batali…there was Bartolomeo Scapi.

Scapi is the Renaissance culinary genius who probably fed Michaelangelo when he was working on the altar wall in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican. He was the private chef to four popes and the author of one of history’s best-selling cookbooks, L’Opera. When it was published in 1570, it instantly became the world’s best-seller for the next 200 years. Author Crystal King tells of his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni, setting off on a quest to unravel the truth about his uncle and the fifty-year love affair that Scappi hid from the world.

As you get caught up in helping Giovanni unravel the secrets held in his uncle’s journals, you’ll appreciate King’s vivid description of Renaissance culture, the role and impact food and the culinary arts had on this time period, and how status at birth determined who you married. You’ll love the theme of secrets and legacy and agree that she’s stuffed this novel with everything you’d expect from a book set in the Renaissance: duals, poisonings, and trysts. The mystery and the coded sections will hold your interest for the duration. Above all, you’ll agree that King has enveloped you in a culinary masterpiece and tantalized you with the recipes and descriptions of food fit for a pope.

Known for her food-enhancing fiction, King has now tantalized me with two novels that tick all the boxes:

✔️historical fiction
✔️set in Italy
✔️focused on food
✔️forbidden love

This epicurean delight is sure to enrapture the senses and must be on every foodie’s TBR list!

I eagerly await the wild gothic novel featuring Salvador Dali and his wife Galla due out next year. In the meantime, I’m enjoying looking at Scappi’s renaissance recipes for pomegranate sauce and pumpkin tourte!
Profile Image for The Lit Bitch.
1,248 reviews390 followers
February 24, 2019
When I first saw this title, it made me hungry.

The cover art did nothing to help that situation either. The trey of wine and fruit looks so appealing and I couldn’t help but think that I needed to crack open a bottle of wine to commemorate the beginning of this book!

Now if truth be told—I am neither a foodie or a wine drinker, but for this book I felt like I totally could be! I thought it sounded like a fun and interesting story told in a unique setting–so I said yes to reading it.

My sister got me a book on famous recipes from different Pope’s for Christmas and I thought this book would pair nicely with the book she got me!

So to be fair, when I was pitched this book, it was months ago and I had a lot of openings on my review schedule in the late winter to fill, so this sounded like a good idea at the time and then I kind of forgot about it.

Then I started seeing all these posts on my social media about this book and I was like oh ya, I have that one coming up! So I had renewed interest in it. I was even inspired to try a new recipe from my Pope cookbook in honor of this book!

So as I suspected with this novel, I was hungry throughout most of it. King writes with such deliciousness that I was longing for food all hours of the day and night while reading this one!

I was very surprised by how much I liked this book. On the surface I thought it was going to be basically a foodie book with some mystery, but it was so much more than that. It was part love story, part mystery/intrigue, with a healthy dosing of history and food! I loved it!

One of the things that I loved most about this book was the multiple layers of mystery. It wasn’t just about a murder, there is a ton of intrigue surrounding the murder and a ton of secrets to be ferreted out. I loved reading such a richly written novel lithesome enticing historical elements thrown in. As a Catholic myself, I am obviously going to be drawn to something set within the Vatican and this book was no different.

This book came in like a dark horse for me. I wasn’t ready to love it as much as I did, and it was one I was thinking about throughout the day, eager to return to and find out what was happening next!

An excellent read paired with wonderful food references!

See my full review here
Profile Image for Amy’s Booket List.
338 reviews10 followers
June 23, 2019
Months ago, I was given the chance to feature this book on its release day. When i featured the release, I was sad that it wasn't available for review. But then, as opportunity would have it, The Chef's Secret became available to review and I jumped at the chance. To say that I am excited to read this book is an understatement.

I have always loved historical fiction, but I have to say I haven't read a lot based in the 16th century. I especially love historical fiction based on real people and events. So, The Chef's Secret is a perfect book for me. Based on the real life and recipes of Bartolomeo Scappi, this book is filled with mystery, love, and lots of delicious food.

This book is one of those novels that you can curl into. Once you open the first page, the story starts building itself around you like a fort until you sink in and stay a while. You can almost feel the mystery surround you and the world envelope you until you are insulated from the outside, and the only desire you have left is to read and eat.

Be prepared to want to eat a lot. The recipes included and the dishes described made my mouth water. The Chef’s Secret is a feast for the senses, and I mean that literally. I was convinced that I should be able to cook miraculous meals by virtue of having read this book. Isn't that how literature works? Aren't you supposed to have some sort of osmosis relationship with the book you are reading, where you absorb the story and become more like the characters? Wait, scratch that. I don't want that to happen, because I have read too many thrillers to ever want to adapt characteristics from my books. I would have like to be able to create a small portion of the sumptuous fare described. My spaghetti looked pretty sad when I finished and did not meet my way too high expectations.

Crystal King managed to perfectly balance history with fiction, creating a plausible story of mystery and love around known events. I learned so much, but never felt like I was learning. I was a full on nerd while reading this book, reveling in my foodie love, bibliophile tendencies, and history obsession.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,184 reviews49 followers
July 4, 2019
The Chef's Secret is a yummy (pun intended) mystery filled with food, forbidden love and murder that revolves around a set of journals and secret letters. How appetizing does that sound?

Bartolomeo Scappi is a chef right out of the history books. He lived from 1500-1577 and served many Popes and was even the author of a best selling cookbook, which he dedicated to his nephew Giovanni. The author used that as the base for this book and I loved the direction it went.

Giovanni plays center stage as he tries to discover a past that he wasn’t meant to see. There are many layers here that kept the suspenseful pace going. I learned a lot about the times and it was refreshing to read in Rome without being overpowered by the Borgias or Medici families.

I love reading about lesser known characters in history and this fit the bill very nicely. Rome is one of my favorite places to visit and it was brought to life not just the edible part but visually as well as getting a feel for the lifestyle amongst the different social classes.

This is my first time reading Crystal King, her knowledge and passion of the era are evident. Definitely will be reading more of her books.

My thanks to Amy at Historical Fiction Blog Tour for the invite to be part of this tour and a complimentary ebook (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Davida Chazan.
606 reviews100 followers
February 15, 2019
Talk about luscious literature! Crystal King’s new novel, set in 16th century Italy, is a work of culinary, biographical fiction about Bartolomeo Scappi, a man who was chef to popes and royalty, and the legacy he hands down to his protégé, Giovanni. “The Chef’s Secret” is a must read for lovers of historical fiction, and you can find out why in my newest #bookreview on my blog now. https://tcl-bookreviews.com/2019/02/1...
Profile Image for Critterbee❇.
924 reviews67 followers
April 21, 2019
This is a historical fiction story based on the life of Bartolomeo Scappi, a revered Italian Renaissance celebrity chef.

Scappi was born in 1500 in Dumenza, Lombardy, Italy, and moved to the Vatican to chef for six popes. He was a contemporary of Michelangelo, and wrote a cookbook of over 1000 recipes which you can still find in print today: The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L'Arte Et Prudenza D'Un Maestro Cuoco.

Those are the facts, now to the story. The story grabs those scant details and throws in secrets, true love, intrigue, murder, shakes crazily for a good ten minutes, and then neatens the results into an epic family soap opera equal to real life histories of the Medicis and the Borgias.

The story begins with Bartolomeo's (henceforth known as 'Barty') death, and is told from the point of view of Giovanni (henceforth known as 'Gio'), his nephew and apprentice. Gio inherits all of Barty's worldly goods, recipes, journals and Barty's Chef Knife. Gio learns that Barty wants him to burn the journals unread, which of course is impossible because that is a right proper dose of temptation for anyone with an ounce of curiosity. Adding to that, the journals are partly in code. Who can resist investigating?

Gio starts reading and decoding, and the pov switches neatly to Barty's voice. Here comes the drama, all you could want and more. After discovering some pretty shocking surprises, Gio discovers that he truly did not know Barty. Oddly (to me), Gio does not read through all of the journals immediately to find out the entire situation, rather he starts talking to others and trying to figure out himself what is truly happening. Read the journals, Gio! Neither does he safeguard the journals, which he has been urged to do by several of his confidants. Hide the journals, Gio! Perhaps because the rest of the story could not happen without conflict?

I liked the daily life detail that was smoothly mixed in with the storytelling - actually that was my favorite thing about the book. The descriptions of cooking, architecture, ceremonies, and the cities and countryside of Italy were pretty delicious, I ate them up. I would have liked more character development across the board. Villains were mostly mustache twirling balls of evil, friends were devoted more to the MC than to their own friends and families, and there were a few characters who began as seemingly steadfast enemies, who then instantly flipped over to 'loyal to the death' allies. Mercurial and excessive!

As for the MCs Barty and Gio, and flipping back and forth between the journals and the present, at times their voices became muddled and indistinct, and I forgot who's brain I was inside, and what the year was, to be reminded only by the names of surrounding characters. I found that the choices that these two made (especially Barty) really made me dislike them.

Overall, I loved the research into lifestyles and setting, and I was not in love with the characters or the story.

*eARC Netgalley*
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,514 reviews455 followers
December 22, 2018
Slight trepidation going on because, you know, food. Just makes me think of all the food shows I’ve watched (never by choice except for the delight that is the Great British Bake Off) and have never enjoyed. In fact the only enjoyable thing about them has always been for me the historical factoids behind the recipes. So I figured maybe it’ll be like that but in a book form. But actually this turned out to be a pleasant surprise in that, while food is mentioned often and in copious amounts and never appetizing (taste buds have certainly changed since those days), the book is indeed a work of historical fiction and the plot has to do with much more than food preparation. It is based on a life of a famous Italian chef of the 1700s and as you’d guess from the title, a life of a secret, or several. Upon his passing it is up to his nephew/apprentice/inheritor to learn these and sometimes quite literally to decipher them from the diaries the man has left behind. Huge invasion of privacy, sure. But in this case it’s somewhat justified by the fact that what the young man uncovers is in every way life changing. The journals chronicle chef’s life and lifelong forbidden love affair with an unnamed princess all set among the gastronomically indulgent who’s who of the era. It’s luxurious, exciting and very romantic, without (kudos to the author) slipping the slippery slope into women’s fiction. The modern portion of the narration is set under the famous comet of the 1577, which makes for a great mood lighting as it were. The diaries cover the decades preceding it. The mysteries and secrets are all pretty exciting. Personally I enjoyed the way the author took a real life person with very limited available biographical data and imagined an entire life for him, often utilizing other real life persons and facts from the era. Pretty clever, albeit occasionally the facts were manipulated to suit the story, wherein arguably the opposite approach would have been more challenging and clever. Either way it was a lovely read, fairly light and plenty entertaining and, unlike The Great British Bake Off, didn’t make me hungry at all. Recommended, especially for fans of historical fiction. Thanks Netgalley.
Profile Image for Amy Bruno.
364 reviews482 followers
June 18, 2019
Warning: Don't read this book on an empty stomach!

Scrumptious food, mystery, and forbidden romance merge in a masterful way in this un-put-down-able historical from Crystal King!

When Bartolomeo Scappi, a famous Italian chef who works for the Pope, dies he gives his estate to his beloved nephew and protege Giovanni, along with a box of letters and journals that Bartolomeo expressly asked for him to burn. Unable to do so before finding out what is in them, Giovanni's curiosity gets the better of him and what he reads sets off a series of secret-revealing and adventure! Add in secret passageways (heck yes!) and secretly coded letters and you've got one exciting read! I was flippin' those pages like you wouldn't believe! I think I devoured (pun intended) this book in hours.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Rome and Florence in my senior year of high school and this book brought me back to that amazing place! I can't wait to go back and look at it through the eyes of a historical fiction reader and adult. Maybe Crystal will need an assistant on her next research trip :) heehee!

You seriously should pick up The Chef's Secret! It was exquisitely written and researched, and Crystal really knows how to bring Italy and it's amazing culinary talents to life! Loved, loved, loved! I cannot wait to go back and read her first book, The Feast of Sorrow, and will be anxiously awaiting her next one!
October 11, 2020
A Secret Everyone Should Know

A delicious romp through Renaissance Rome, Crystal King's A CHEF'S SECRET is everything that a great dish should be: assembling the very best ingredients, it is prepared with skill and care and presented with panache.

Sprinkling fictional events and relationships into a grand confection of documented history well told, King takes us on a thrilling journey that offers all the things I like best: fabulous food, intrigue and adventure, earnest underdogs to root for, pernicious villains to fear and loathe, secret sex, twisted politics, and complicated religion in full Renaissance drag.

A CHEF'S SECRET is substantial enough to please discerning palates and light enough to serve nicely as a savory snack while traveling. So take a bite, and buon appetito!
Profile Image for Whitney Scharer.
Author 1 book325 followers
January 13, 2019
This book is delicious in every sense of the word! I (smartly) brought it to read while I was on vacation, and spent the entire time drooling over the gorgeously written food and cooking scenes. Bartolomeo Scappi was a chef to several popes, and prepared lavish feasts for them at a scope that is almost unimaginable to us today. Equally interesting were the depictions of the simple food Scappi and his nephew were made to prepare for the more austere popes. The story alternates between two timelines: one of Scappi as a younger man, and one of his nephew uncovering Scappi's secrets through the journals he left behind after his death. There's so much drama and intrigue in this book--I couldn't put it down! A wonderful read.
Profile Image for Lisa Leone-campbell.
449 reviews44 followers
July 22, 2019
Chef Bartolomeo Scappi, the head cook for the Popes during the 1500's in Rome, dies suddenly and leaves most of his estate to his nephew, apprentice Giovanni Scappi who then steps into the head cook role

Giovanni is given Bartolomeo's cooking knife and a set of keys and is told to destroy what is in the boxes. Giovanni's curiosity gets the better of him and he opens one of the boxes to find his Uncle's journals dating back years, Unfortunately much of the journals are unreadable because they are in codes. Instead of burning the journals, he decides to decipher them to find out what Bartolomeo had been hiding all these years.

Within the notebooks Giovanni begins to see a different person than the kind, loving hardworking uncle he had always looked up to. He discovers Bartolomeo's secrets and even a murder. Bartolomeo, who never married had been carrying on an affair with a woman who was given the pseudonym Stella to hide her true identity. Who could Stella be?

The Chef's Secret is filled with intrigue, suspense, love, deception, and many feasts. The story reads like a juicy soap opera!. Anyone interested in the history of Renaissance life in Italy will be fascinated with the intricate details of the Vatican, the architecture of the day, artwork of the period as well as the massive amount of foods which were consumed during feasts and some of the delicacies' origins.

Thank you #NetGalley and #Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy. The Chef's Secret will be out on February 12.
Profile Image for Anjali Duva.
Author 1 book24 followers
November 13, 2018
Exquisitely researched, this page-turning story has it all: mystery, intrigue, history, gastronomy, and just the right amount of romance. Immerse yourself in Renaissance Italy with Crystal King's second excellent historical novel. A treat.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
1,303 reviews27 followers
June 19, 2019
Bartolomeo Scappi, the cuoco secreto to the pope died suddenly in 1577. In his will Barto leaves his estate and name to his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni. When Giovanni is readying himself to take over his uncle's role, another kitchen apprentice tells him that upon his deathbed Barto gave him keys to several lock boxes and made him promise to burn the journal s inside. Giovanni can not resist the pull of his uncle's secrets and dives into Barto's life. After deciphering the code that many entries were in, Gio begins to discover that his uncle was much more than an amazing cook and mentor. Barto harbored many secrets as well as a love that could change everything. As Giovanni and his friends dive deeper into Barto's affairs they uncover the danger in what Barto was hiding as well as a connection that will change their lives forever.

With perfectly portioned parts, The Chef's Secret is a delectable mix of historical fiction, romance and mystery in Renaissance Italy. With an intimate look into the kitchens of the Renaissance, the food comes alive off the page. I could imagine the intricate sugar sculptures and smell the hearty broths and I was amazed at the level of food production for the clergy. The format of the book goes back and forth between Giovanni and Bartolomeo's points of view as Giovanni reads through Barto's journals. Through the changing points of view, the characters show their care for one another. Giovanni respected and looked up to Bartolomeo and Barto did everything he could to provide for Gio. While deciphering the journals, Gio also leans heavily on his friends that help him navigate the dangers that appear after Barto's death. I did figure out one of the larger mysteries early on, however the adventure and excitement of Barto's life as well as the suspense of Gio figuring out how Barto's past affects his present. The ending quickly ramped up in suspense, but ended on a beautiful note. I was very pleased to learn about the real Bartolomeo and Giovanni. While they may not have had such amazing adventures, their lives were still important to culinary history. Overall, a thrilling read that will delight your senses through Renaissance Italy.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Andrea Guy.
1,464 reviews61 followers
June 25, 2019
I have to admit when I think of Renaissance Italy I don't think of food, I think of art, but then again food is art.

This book is about the life of Bartolomeo Scappi chef to many popes. His life is a lot more than you'd think and its brought to you care of ciphered journals that his nephew Giovanni was supposed to burn.

The book will grab you from the very start. The writing is engaging and the book well researched and the characters are so well rounded that you feel close to each of them. The real star of the show if Bartolomeo and his forbidden love.

As we learn more about Bartolomeo and Gio the plot thickens...IT REALLY THICKENS.

I have to admit I sort of knew where part of the plot was going from the beginning, but that didn't bother me. I wanted to know if I was right and how we got there. I was mostly right, but it was the other things that we learned about Barto and his love that keep you turning the page. If you think think of that old Meatloaf song, "I Would Do Anything For Love" Barto did and then some. There was no "I won't do that" for him. I found myself surprised at all the things he did for his Stella.

This was a short, fantastic read that will leaving you...erm...hungering for more. (yeah..the pun was intended)
Profile Image for Reeda Booke.
410 reviews21 followers
February 26, 2019
The year is 1577 and Bartolomeo Scappi, the famous Vatican chef, has died. Giovanni, his nephew who has long been his apprentice, has inherited almost everything, including his recipes and the many journals where his uncle has chronicled his life. He was supposed to burn them, but he was curious about the man he loved and had taught him so much. And therein he learns that his uncle had many secrets.

Dangerous secrets.

This was a fantastic look into the life of a famous chef, of which little is known about. Crystal King weaves a wonderful tale around his life, some historical, much of it made up, but still a delight to read. The meals this man cooked for the Vatican and many nobles were nothing less than extravagant, but it made my mouth water.

While not as good as her first book, in my opinion, it was still a great read and I definitely recommend it to all historical fiction fans out there.
Profile Image for Jennifer S. Brown.
Author 1 book400 followers
January 3, 2019
This dual timeline novel of two chefs--Bartolomeo Scappi (a real life famous Renaissance chef) and his protege Giovanni--is a fast-paced read. I loved immersing myself in the 16th century and the papal politics. The two chefs cook for popes and the intrigue of that world is fascinating. The heart of this story is the secrets Bartolomeo kept and Giovanni's quest to uncover them, through Bartolomeo's coded journals. At the same time, we learn of both Bartolomeo's romance and Giovanni's. There are quite a few twists, and I don't want to give anything away, but this is a terrific historical novel.
324 reviews
April 30, 2019
I really loved this book -- the food, the characters, the swashbuckling, the suspense, the mystery, the history -- all equally intriguing. It would make a fantastic movie.
Profile Image for Shree Aier.
Author 1 book6 followers
August 21, 2019
Beautifully written. There's food, sex, passion, love, lust, murders, mysteries and everything you want in a book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 208 reviews

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