The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux
Author: Samantha Vérant
Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House (New York)
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Genre: Fiction; 352 pages
As a child, Sophie Valroux spent summers visiting her grandmother in southwestern France. Sophie credits “Grand-mère Odette” for instilling a love of food and cooking in her.
Today, 26-year-old Sophie is a chef living in New York City. She dreams of being part of the 1% of female chefs running a 3-star Michelin restaurant. At the restaurant where she is a chef de partie, Sophie is sabotaged by another chef, causing her to lose her job.
She is in the process of figuring out her next steps when she learns that her grandmother has suffered a stroke. Sophie travels back to France to care for her and finds out that the home where she spent her childhood summers is now a château with two restaurants and a vineyard.
As a Francophile who also loves good food, I couldn’t wait to read this book. Usually, in this type of novel (or, at least, the ones I’m drawn to), the main character moves to France, specifically Paris. In this novel, the main character is actually French-born; Sophie and her mother, Céleste, moved to New York when Sophie was a baby.
In addition, this story is set in the Toulouse area in southwestern France, bringing a welcome change. Lively descriptions of the Place du Capitole and surrounding areas reminded me of my own visit to La Ville Rose, or the Pink City.
I also liked how Sophie is not obsessed with romance. She’s not coy or playing hard to get either. She merely has a pragmatic and take-it-slow attitude toward relationships.
However, Sophie is indecisive and she gets in her own way at times. Her pride doesn’t let her easily accept gifts that she didn’t work for (namely, the gift of running the château’s restaurants while her grandmother recovers).
Nevertheless, the one area that Sophie does not waver in is food. For example, she knows exactly what she wants when developing menus, which I noticed almost always includes a velouté (a velvety savory sauce) and daurade (sea bream fish)!
Apart from Grand-mère Odette, the other characters in the novel were well-developed. I got the sense that they’re more like family than staff working at the château. Rémi and Jane provide tension throughout the narrative, as they weren’t thrilled about Sophie’s arrival. Fortunately, Sophie has supportive friends in Walter, his boyfriend, Robert, and Phillipa, who happens to be Jane’s sister.
The loose ends are tied up rather quickly, but happily-ever-after isn’t what you’d expect it to be. It’s Sophie’s own indecisiveness that keeps her happy enough.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about good food, family secrets, and supportive friendships. (Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment, depression, and suicide).
Not to miss: At the end of the book, Sophie shares a few recipes, including one for crème brûlée, which I’m inspired to make one of these days!
About the author
Samantha (Sam) Vérant is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile, and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, at home French chef. She lives in southwestern France, where she’s married to a French rocket scientist she met in 1989 (but ignored for twenty years), a stepmom to two incredible kids, and the adoptive mother to a ridiculously adorable French cat. When she’s not trekking from Provence to the Pyrénées or embracing her inner Julia Child, Sam is making her best effort to relearn those dreaded conjugations.
Thank you to Berkley/Penguin Random House for inviting me to read The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant. I received a digital advance review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.