Do I like to cook? No. Do I like to read a good romance with foodie characters? Apparently so! Here’s a roundup of my faves so far. These folks could cook for me anytime.
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“Mason attempts to bake gluten-free cookies for their crush and college classmate, Natalie. When the baking goes very wrong, can Mason still win Natalie’s heart? This low stakes story includes holiday baking, two people pining, rain-soaked admissions from hopeless romantics, some wholesome smut and a 100% nonbinary trans cast.”
So, so glad this cute-as-heck short story exists! Totally adorable, friendly, and often quite funny. If you want to read about someone with a TERRIBLE crush – and I mean that in the best possible way – Mason is the main character you need. Perfect for fall and getting in the mood for the holidays. Or really whenever. :)
Diversity note: Wray is agender.
A soap-opera-esque M/F romance between a plus-size African-American female chef and a blond, blue-eyed Italian wine distributor and restaurant owner. Seriously, this one has all the drama. Danica’s sleeping with her boss who’s taking credit for her work while cheating on her, and her mother is an international supermodel who’s never truly accepted her! Toni’s messy ex-wife wants him back, their teenage daughter is caught in the middle, and his uncle has a heart attack right before they’re supposed to co-open a restaurant! I had fun reading it, and it’s a good pick for that “beach read” vibe.
The only warning: I loved how Toni was attracted to Dani exactly as she was, but I think some folks would be uncomfortable with some of the comments by various characters about her body. Example: he reassures her that she’s not fat, and she responds that society thinks she is. “Fat” in this book seems to mean “too big” instead of just being a neutral descriptor. There’s definitely more to Dani than her weight, but the book does have multiple events that center around it.
Diversity note: Blake is a woman of color.
A cute celebrity/foodie romance between Landon Patton, a gay pop singer whose music career is on the rocks, and Quentin Maxwell, a pansexual pastry chef who dreams of opening his own bakery. They’re paired up on the competition reality show Kitchen Wars, where Quentin must teach Landon how to cook during a series of diabolical weekly challenges. If they can avoid getting eliminated, they could both get what they want most for their careers… except it’s really freakin’ difficult to focus on cooking after the mutual crush bomb that just about exploded the first time they met! Seriously omg like invisible cartoon hearts over their heads and everything!
(So yeah, if instalove gives you hives, skip this book. I was fine with it because Landon up-front admits that he has a history of falling fast and hard, and that wow, it’s not always a good idea. Then the characters do spend quite a while getting to know each other.)
Beyond the difficulty of the cooking show challenges, Quentin and Landon have a significant hurdle to overcome, and that is Landon’s insecurity. He spends way too much time in his head worrying about how and when he’s going to screw things up. So, of course, he does. Quentin is the sweetest sweetheart in the history of everything, though, and this is a romance novel, so they manage to work it out. It was hella satisfying seeing Landon finally settle down and accept that Quentin’s not going to bail on him.
The writing sometimes errs on the side of too much telling in addition to showing, but Landon’s interior drama is so much a part of the story that I forgive it. And he writes a whole album of love songs for Quentin. How could I resist that?!
Gorgeously written M/M love story between widowed bakery owner Jules Burns and trapped-in-a-bleak-cube accountant Teddy Flores, who unexpectedly ends up in the bakery one rainy morning. It has a fairy-tale feel complete with narrator that speaks directly to the reader. In the hands of a less skilled writer this could feel clunky, but Constantine is quite skilled. This book is so kind to its main characters, especially when they’re wrestling with guilt, grief, and fear, and it’s so warm and loving.
If you’re willing to try something distinctive and slightly outside the usual romance “tone,” you should absolutely give this one a chance.
Diversity note: Constantine is queer.
A thoughtful, comforting M/F romance novella about landscape designer Maggie Augustin falling for food truck owner and gardener Rene St. Martin. Both are African-Americans originally from New Orleans, and they initially bond over beignets, a food which I support wholeheartedly.
Maggie is still processing the emotional fallout from a bad ex-boyfriend, but more interestingly to me, she’s a recovering jerk. She’d fallen in with a toxic group of “friends” who used Christianity to look down on people, leading to (among other things) Maggie treating her brother’s girlfriend like garbage. By the time we meet Maggie, she’s realized how terrible her behavior and attitudes were and trying to make amends. However, she’s kind of a mess emotionally, unsure whether to trust her own judgment after making so many mistakes. Rene is one of those rock-solid nurturing guys, smart and hardworking, and he’s totally crushed out on Maggie.
What I loved about this pair was how Rene made space for Maggie to have her feelings, but didn’t let her completely self-sabotage. Maggie’s transformation from judgmental mean girl was also fascinating to me, reading about it retrospectively, and I found her a sympathetic character because she didn’t let herself off the hook for the hurt she caused. Very enjoyable read. Though the, um, maneuver at the end seems unsafe. Unless Rene has an adamantium skeleton and his apartment has high ceilings, I guess.
Diversity note: Jones is a black woman.
This friends-to-lovers M/M romance between two chefs is so complex and messy and real, I almost didn’t know what to think of it the first time I read it. On second read I loved it. Giancarlo Rotolo is painfully in love with his best friend and restaurant business partner, British expat chef Garrett Ransom. Carlo’s almost ready to confess when Garrett brings his latest boy toy to their restaurant and installs him as chef so Garrett can move to another city.
What follows is kind of a disaster, to be honest. Garrett is IMHO is either on the autism spectrum or has a mental health issue, and seems to be undiagnosed. Neither dude has a framework for understanding some of his reactions. He also has zero relationship skills, especially with regard to actually talking about anything. But of course, he and Carlo start sleeping together. They’re the most important people in each other’s lives, but Carlo is convinced it’s all doomed because Garrett doesn’t do relationships. (Granted, this pushes him to some personal and professional growth that he probably did need, so okay.) I was intensely struck by the talking-to Carlo finally gets from someone in his life that helps him see Garrett’s motivations more clearly. It felt like so much clicked into place once Carlo could really SEE Garrett instead of a distorted picture through a lens of what love and relationships are supposed to look like. Very compassionate and distinctive, with an HEA that really fit the characters.
Content warning: Garrett has issues with food. He does end up seeing a therapist for this and other reasons.
“Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.
Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.
All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.”
What the blurb for this book doesn’t tell you is that Chloe Fong’s one goal in life is for her family’s cooking sauce company to succeed. So many lovely scenes of her and father preparing food together here, and some hilarious uses of said food to communicate important truths to Jeremy.
Diversity note: Milan is Chinese-American, biracial, bisexual, and neurodivergent.
Roan Parrish writes the most gorgeous sentences arranged in lovely ways to make stories, and this M/M romance is no exception. Alex Barrow loses his relationship, job, and place to live, so he goes back home to Michigan to take over his mother’s cafe and turn it into his own long-dreamed-of bakery. He’s intrigued by regular customer Corbin Wale, the town outcast, an artistic young man who seems to live in his own head much of the time. Alex hires Corbin, against hostile advice from his fellow business owners, and as they bake together, an attraction develops. Alex discovers that Corbin really IS in his own head much of the time (in a way that Parrish never defines, it’s not necessary to the plot, but seems to be some kind of neurodiversity). Alex’s reaction? He just wants to know more about how Corbin sees the world. Beautiful, caring book about love and acceptance.
I’m hopeful for a sequel about Alex’s best friend and the town’s art gallery owner!
Diversity note: Alex is Jewish, as is Parrish, and there’s a lovely Hanukkah celebration in this book.
Deeply emotional romance between angry divorced NYC chef Ben Hausman and May Fredericks, a nice girl from Wisconsin who wears her heart on her sleeve and just rejected her football star boyfriend’s humiliating marriage proposal on national television and then stabbed him in the hand with a cocktail fork. (She didn’t mean to do that last part, it just kind of happened.)
Despite a few rough/nonsensical bits, this is one of my favorite straight romances, because Ben is hurting and can be so horrible, but May is completely unwilling to put up with his crap. She wants to nurture him in ways he desperately needs but can’t admit to, and he’s so clumsy at rehabilitating himself, but they succeed because they’re both willing to do some self-examination. Add the thread of May finally starting her journey to become who she wants to be, instead of what her family and ex-boyfriend expect her to be, and I was sold. The sexy food tour of New York City and May’s amazing new pants (read it and find out!) didn’t hurt either, not one little bit.
A fun, sexy, but still emotionally real opposites attract romance between former bad boy bartender Jamie Donovan, who’s struggling to get out from under his reputation and expand his family’s restaurant, and restaurant management professor and consultant Olivia Bishop, who desperately needs to shake off her internalization of her cheating ex’s judgment that she’s no fun.
I adored how these two characters, both of whom desperately needed someone to take them seriously in very different ways, were able to connect and validate each other. There were plenty of realistic obstacles, because Dahl is great at taking characters who trip themselves (and each other) up due to their baggage, then giving them external factors that also interfere in their relationship. Love wins the day, though, because duh romance novel, and the unlikely pair turns out to be a perfect fit. My favorite thing about this is Jamie’s emotional complexity and the journey he begins here to trust others and forgive himself. Ten out of five stars for the lack of a magic wand that fixes all his issues.
Content warning: There is a character who was (off-page) raped by coercion, does not want to label it as such, and the character they tell about it very respectfully does not push the issue. It’s clear to all characters, though, including the victim, what happened. I was pleased that the author treated the topic with such care.
Laid-back black British expat Craig Oliver, now living in Seattle, meets abrasive photographer Alex Scheff in a bar. Alex is miserably drunk, Craig gives him a cookie, and if that’s not a metaphor for these guys’ entire relationship, I don’t know what is. Hell, neither of them will even call it a relationship for months, Alex because he’s a burned shell of a man, and Craig because he’s worried about spooking Alex.
Which all sounds quite dismal, I know, but what’s glorious about this book is how hard they both fight for the relationship in their own ways. For Craig, it’s patience and kindness. For Alex, it’s symbolized by the heartbreaking internal repetition of the phrase “This is not that” as he tries so hard to separate Craig’s love from his ex’s toxicity. It’s so clear that Alex and Craig are falling in love for the right reasons, even with Alex’s grief and demolished self-esteem making him almost physically incapable of communicating.
I can’t even begin to explain how gorgeous Reed’s writing is. Craig and Alex have an amazing group of friends who are fantastic secondary characters, including other queer folks, and they’re so important in supporting this couple.
This book includes brief POV scenes from those characters, and they’re sometimes stunningly effective – though sometimes I have to say they’re unnecessary and a little jarring. I don’t hate the concept (especially when Alex’s best friend stages an intervention, and we need to see Alex from outside) but it needed one more editorial pass. I also feel like Alex’s Evil Ex gets a little too much forgiveness and understanding, IMHO. But I guess I can live with it if that’s what Alex needed.
Final note: I appreciated a review by Silvia on Goodreads pointing out places where she felt the male characters were fetishized by female characters. This wasn’t something that struck me while I was reading it (early in my romance reading career), but thinking back, I can see how some readers may feel this way.
Diversity note: Reed is queer femme non-binary, generally preferring she/they pronouns.
And that’s the list of my romance novels about foodies and the people who love them. Hope you found something interesting. If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!