By Kelly Fiore
Available now from Walker Children's (Bloomsbury)
There's something fascinating about cooking shows. Unlike a lot of scripted television, there's true talent involved. But unlike something like So You Think You Can Dance, there's little way for the viewer at home to judge the talent. There's no way to participate in the best part: eating the food. Still, it's strangely fun to watch.
Nora isn't a watcher, but a competitor in the teen cooking show Taste Test. She's worked in her father's barbeque restaurant all her life, and this is her chance to get a free ride to culinary school. She's certainly not going to be bested by someone like Christian, the son of a famous chef who has plenty of money and can always work in his father's respected restaurants. It doesn't help that the first time Nora meets Christian, he insults her background.
Nora is extremely competitive, and like most teenagers, quite judgmental. It's little wonder that she instantly dislikes Christian, especially since he doesn't appear to have made it past grade school when it comes to flirting techniques. But there is a real, obvious chemistry between the characters, particularly when they have moments alone. However, I would have liked a little more of the female friendships. Nora quickly makes friends with fellow contestants Angela and Gigi, but things happen. And honestly, one of those things makes sense from a narrative standpoint, but I don't think it worked that well with the character development.
In addition to the romance and cooking competition, there's a mystery. Someone is sabotaging the competition - the kind of sabotage that puts people in the hospital. (And the kind that requires you to suspend disbelief that they wouldn't halt production.) I'm not sure the mystery was the best move, as it pushes Nora's worst judge-y qualities to the fore. Not to mention there's little time to get into any real detecting. Perhaps I just miss the days of plain old teen contemporary romance. It's pretty thin on the ground.
I think TASTE TEST will appeal to fans of cooking shows (or just cooking!) looking for something light and funny to read. The show mechanics don't make complete sense, but the challenges are described well and the montage through the judge's score sheets is hilarious. As a bonus, there's a section of recipes in the back. TASTE TEST would do well paired with FLAVOR OF THE WEEK by Tucker Shaw.