Title: Black Truffle & Spice
Author: Mathis Bailey
Publication date: February 1, 2022
Genre: Romance, Fiction, Multicultural, LGBTQ
One Sentence Summary: Zola and Pierre have finally opened their own cafe, but the bistro across the street has something to say about it, and a handsome food critic might derail Zola.
Black Truffle & Spice is a delicious multicultural, LGBTQ read. It features a bit of mystery and two romances. Zola and Pierre, friends and roommates, have finally opened their own cafe, but the bistro across the way is determined to run them out of business. However, a food critic falls for Zola, rapidly making those around him change their plans. Then there’s Pierre and a chef named Marquis who has a surprising story that has Pierre questioning if he can trust him. I loved how these stories were intertwined and how they supported each other. They were uneven as there were big leaps that had me wondering if I had missed some scenes, but I really enjoyed how the stories came together into a cohesive whole.
In Toronto, Canada, friends and roommates Zola and Pierre have finally opened their own restaurant, the Spice Cafe.Unfortunately, it’s right across from the Indo-French Bistro, a high class Indian and French fusion restaurant whose owner wields a lot of power and has a history of driving out previous tenants. But Zola and Pierre are determined to make their cafe a success, despite some romance and unexpected secrets falling in their way.
Zola, a Black woman from the American South, is recently out of a bad relationship, but she can’t help falling for Darshan, a famed food critic whose Indian mother is very traditional and expects her son to marry an Indian woman. Then there’s Pierre who’s in a casual relationship with an executive chef named Marquis, who happens to not be very forthcoming about his life outside of Pierre’s bed. As their relationships heat up and cool down and as sabotage finds its way into the Spice Cafe’s kitchen, secrets are about to be exposed and Zola and Pierre will need to make some serious decisions.
Black Truffle & Spice continues to follow a character, Pierre, introduced in Bailey’s first book, Confused Spice, but I found it to be just as enjoyable as a standalone since I haven’t read the first two books detailing Pierre’s story. Despite some unevenness and big jumps in the major story lines, I had a great time reading this multicultural romance and all the food talk. I found there was a great deal of depth to the romantic story lines and other relationships despite the big jumps my mind had to take to catch up. The cultural differences between Zola and Darshan were also particularly emphasized, making my heart twist around wanting both what was best for each of them and to see them together.
Zola and Darshan are the main focus in Black Truffle & Spice. Theirs is a relationship between a young woman from the American South and a man from a sophisticated Indian-French background. As the story went on and their relationship intensified, I loved seeing the differences in their cultures play out and how Zola handled or didn’t handle it. I really liked Zola. She has a good head on her shoulders, but her heart also yearns for that true, deep love. Watching her come to terms with everything she wants out of life and how to achieve it while her personal and professional lives undergo upheaval was an incredible thing. I really felt for her and loved the interplay between her naivety and desire to accomplish what she wanted in life. Darshan is definitely that handsome man who will sweep a girl off her feet. He felt quieter than most of the other men in the book, more settled and self-assured. I loved his confidence, but also how it could be shaken when it came to Zola. I loved that he never demanded anything of Zola and very maturely accepted her behavior while doing his best to take care of her. Together, they were incredibly sweet and wonderful and their ups and downs pained my heart.
But there’s also another adorable romance, though it was filled with more uncertainty, immaturity, and ups and downs. Pierre has been casually seeing a man named Marquis whose family and career are pretty much off limits to Pierre. But it’s fine because it’s just casual, until Pierre makes certain connections and can’t find a way to trust this man who has come to mean so much to him. If Zola and Darshan twisted my heart, Pierre and Marquis pained it. When they were simply together, I could feel all the care between them just ooze out. But, when they were at odds, it was like a stormy sea. There’s so much more meat to their story, and I loved how it was tangled up in the other story lines.
The romance is strong in Black Truffle & Spice, but there’s also a bit of mystery, and this is where the third major story line comes in. The Spice Cafe has opened right across the street from an established fine dining establishment. Mrs. Singh has reigned superior on the street and has taken down more than one eatery across the way. She’ll do anything to stay on top. I loved her story line at the beginning, though it did bear a strong resemblance to the movie adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada, just with food instead of fashion. I loved how in control she was, how her word felt like it was law. But, by the end, I felt she had kind of given up on trying to be on the top. She acquiesced to certain things that I wish she had fought harder against, if only for more tension. There’s also the subplot of someone trying to bring down the Spice Cafe. It’s fairly easy to figure out some of it, though the particular individual does come to light sooner rather than later. It was the weaker story line, but it helped set up the rest of the story.
As delicious and food-filled as Black Truffle & Spice is, the one thing that really jarred me were all the jumps in every story line. Everything seemed to unfold at breakneck speed and I couldn’t help feeling like I had missed a scene or two. The characters seemed to make some nonsensical decisions, so I had to think a little to draw a line from B to C. The set up and the beginning of the book was excellent, but then, seemingly to compress the story, it felt like chunks were written out, taking the tension and making everything seem a little too easy for all the characters. It was difficult to see the character growth and to understand exactly what was going on, but the general story held together enough to be logical and enjoyable.
Set in Toronto and Paris, there’s no end to French food, much less delicious-sounding food of any kind. I felt Paris and France in general was more developed than Toronto, but I definitely got the feeling it was Toronto and not an American city more familiar to me. I really enjoyed wandering Paris and France with Zola. It was lovely to see the city from the eyes of someone who had never been and I liked getting the feeling of being a tourist beside her. But the highlight has to be the food. There’s so much and so many different kinds of dishes. There’s the French and Indian cuisine of Darshan and the homey Southern foods of Zola, highlighting the cultural differences and how they can work together even more. It was absolutely delicious, and even better against such a romantic backdrop.
Black Truffle & Spice is a fun read that lacks tension, but makes up for it with all the food. The romances are sweet even with their downs, but I think the multicultural aspect was my favorite thing about this book. Zola and Darshan’s romance really took center stage, but it was lovely to see how their backgrounds impacted each other and their relationship and how they worked it out. Overall, this was a delicious read despite the uneven story lines and big jumps that made me pause.
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Thank you to Mathis Bailey for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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