Rick R. Reed Interview in the KitchenWe’re here with Rick R. Reed in his Seattle kitchen. Here are his treasures—his Wusthof knives, All-Clad pans, and Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. His Fiesta ware, from the area where he grew up, has a place of honor in his cabinets. Rick spends some of his happiest and most creative hours in this room.
And just down the hall from the kitchen, a distance of only about fifteen feet, is another room where Rick also spends some of his happiest and most creative hours—his office. Here are his essentials, his Mac computer—which is the repository for all of his creative work—his view of Lake Union from his window which both calms and distracts, and the little bed on the floor to the left of his desk, where his faithful muse and writing assistant, his Boston terrier, Lily, snores away while Rick writes.
Today, we’ve put a few cooking- and writing-related questions to Rick, after which we’ll step out onto the balcony and enjoy a few of Rick’s favorite cocktails—Pimm’s Cups—on the balcony.
So let’s get started!
When you were writing Dinner at Fiorello’s, did the plot lay itself out, or did your characters take you in directions other than what you wanted?
As you know, two of my favorite topics in the world are food and love and often in that order. So, I started with the idea that I wanted to combine the two in a story that would make readers laugh, cry, open their hearts, and whet their appetites.
When I write a book, I always have a general idea of what the plot arc will be and what I want to do with the story, but for me, it’s really all about the characters. In Dinner at Fiorello’s, I started with my two love interests, Vito and Henry (in fact, that was the working title for the book). I knew that Henry came from an affluent background and that his growing desire to cook for a living, coming to the forefront the summer he graduated high school, would make for a great conflict. Then, I thought it would be cool that he not only gets an entry-level job in a restaurant kitchen, where he sees he was correct in following his passion and not his family’s desire for affluence, if he also found another passion—his first love. Because the course to true love never did run smooth, I knew that Vito would be a troubled man, tormented by a secret he kept buried inside. And, in a way, I knew that my main characters, in finding love, would also find the road to their own personal happiness, hope, and healing.
As a writer, what is your biggest inspiration?
The idea that loving and nurturing another person (or people) is really what makes life worth living.
Do you have a big cookbook collection? What is your favorite?
You know I do. A huge collection—there’s a whole bookcase at our house that’s only cookbooks. And you know what? These days, I almost never refer to any of them! For one, the Internet has made it so easy to find what I want to make that I have a sort of one-stop shopping experience online for recipes. Usually, even if I’m thinking of making something I know is in one of my cookbooks, I can find it online. Plus, propping my iPad up in the kitchen is easier than grappling with a cookbook.
The other reason I seldom use cookbooks anymore is that I’m happiest when I’m just creating something from scratch. I read a lot of recipes—on food blogs and more—and these days, they’re most inspiration rather than step-by-step instructions. I look at something and wonder how I can put my own personal spin on it. I love it when my husband looks up from whatever I’ve made for dinner that night and tells me something is crazy good and asks where I got the recipe. Little makes me happier than being able to tell him, “I made it up.”
But if there’s one cookbook I would suggest everyone have, it’s Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It’s indispensible and the title is spot-on. It’s equally good for the beginner as well as the accomplished chef. I refer to it more than any other cookbook.
Who taught you how to cook?
My parents. Both my mother and father were excellent cooks. So I never had the sense that cooking wasn’t something for boys. My mom, who was Sicilian, showed my how to cook with love and that the simplest and freshest things were often the best. She taught me how to make the good, hearty peasant-type food the Sicilian aunts and grandmother who raised her made. My dad was more of the chef. Like me, he loved reading recipes and getting ideas, getting inspired.
What’s next for this series?
As you probably know, I have another Dinner at… title, Dinner at Home. I anticipate writing a whole series of books combining food and love. Although they will have different characters and plotlines, the common thread running through all of them is the way food and love work together and what they have in common. Dinner at Fiorello’s is the next in the series. There’s another one on the way and I’m not at liberty to share the details, but expect it by the end of the year.
This was fun, but I need a drink. Shall we step outside and I’ll mix us up a couple? Or a couple dozen?
Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.
Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.
Pages or Words: 210 pages
Categories: Contemporary, M/M Romance, Fiction, Gay Fiction
Vito came to the door that led to a set of stairs that would take him to his big two-bedroom, above a dollar store at street level. He unlocked it with his key and trudged up the stairs. Vito was a big man, and his tread was heavy. Every night, it alerted his girls, Gabriella and Concetina, Gabby and Connie for short, that he was home. Vito permitted himself a smile as he heard them send up a chorus of barks and whining. Connie would always scratch at the door when she realized her master was making his homecoming, and Vito knew if he ever moved, he’d need to paint that door before taking his leave.
It was nice to know that someone was happy to see him, someone wanted to welcome him home. Even if they were just two mutts, hungry for their suppers.
Vito sighed. He hated leaving the girls cooped up in the little apartment all day, even if Victor, the old man living next to him, took them out for walks a couple of times a day. They were big girls, German shepherd and pit bull mixes, and Vito often wished he could give them more room to frolic and roam.
He tried to make up for it by showering them with love and affection. And he spoiled them! They slept on the bed with him, and every night he brought home food from the restaurant for them. It was usually scraps and leftovers, things that would have been thrown away anyway, but what dog would complain about a veal cutlet, a bit of roast chicken, say, or a nice piece of flank steak?
Vito pressed his key into the lock and, as usual, had to jam his shoulder hard against the door to open it, since the girls were frantically pushing on it, jumping in their excitement to see him.
Finally he got the door open and slipped quickly inside. He fell to his knees before the dogs, hugging them and allowing them to lick his face all over. The welcome never failed to make him laugh. The girls were so excited they were whimpering.
But the welcome also saddened him, because it always brought about the memory, not so long ago, when he was greeted at the door with human kisses, human touches, excitement, and love.
He couldn’t allow himself to think about that. Think about that, and he might just be tempted to go throw himself in bed and pull the covers over his head. He might stave off the night licking his wounds and wallowing in sorrow. He kissed each dog’s forehead and clumsily got to his feet.
He smiled down at the girls and said, “You ready to go outside? And then we have our supper, no?”
He was sure the dogs understood every word. To prove his point, they both moved over to the area opposite from the door, where their leashes and harnesses hung from hooks on the wall. Vito took them down and suited Gabby and Connie up.
They tugged at his hand, eager to get outside, to do their business and see what new smells awaited them. He remembered a certain little dark-haired boy saying they were reading their “pee-mail” and shut the memory quickly from his mind.
Outside, the girls led him straightaway to the spot near a streetlight where they often peed. Both squatted, and Vito indulged them by saying, as he always did, “Brave raggaze,” or “good girls.”
They trotted on, stopping here and there to sniff. Tonight he had brought home some ground veal, left over from that day’s special—meatball subs. He couldn’t wait to watch the girls enjoy the meat, although it would be gone so quickly, he would wonder, as he always did, if they even tasted it.
Later, after the dogs had eaten their feast, everyone was in a mellow mood. Vito was curled up on the couch with the latest Lee Child thriller he was attempting to get through on his chest, and the dogs lay at his feet, Connie snoring loudly. “Sawing logs again,” he whispered. Sometimes the dog snored so loudly at night she woke him, but the evenness of her breathing, fortunately, almost always worked to lull him back to sleep.
He couldn’t concentrate on the book. Times like these, he thought, shutting the book after dog-earing the page where he left off, were the hardest—when it was quiet, when his hands and mind were unoccupied. It was part of the reason he loved working in a busy kitchen. There was always something to do and scarcely a free moment to think. There was always another order. That busyness was a blessing.
He told himself, as he had a thousand times before, he shouldn’t do it, but he got up carefully off the couch, placing his feet so he didn’t awaken his girls, and headed for the bedroom that wasn’t his. “Why do you do this to yourself?” he wondered aloud.
He crept into the bedroom softly, almost as though he were afraid he might wake its occupant, but the moonlight streaming in through the single window bore witness to an empty room. The silver light showed, in a kind of black-and-white reality, a twin bed, neatly made up with a Sesame Street comforter. Atop the bed was a stuffed rabbit, one ear up, one down, its synthetic fur worn down in spots, demonstrating that it was much loved. Above the bed was a poster, a framed blowup of the cover from one of the Harry Potter books. Opposite the bed, a bookcase, filled partially with Golden books and paperbacks of Harry Potter. There was also a collection of all the Wizard of Oz books. Interspersed with the books were toys: a fire truck, a baseball and glove, a battered Candy Land board game, and more stuffed animals.
Vito sat down on the bed, which creaked under his weight. He put his head in his hands and wept. The visitation to this room was one he tried to avoid, because this was always what happened when he broached the doorway. He lost control. He could never keep the tears at bay.
He cried until his throat felt raw, sore, and his eyes burned. He lifted his head and tried unsuccessfully not to allow himself to remember sitting on this same bed, reading a chapter from one of the books in the room to a little boy with serious eyes, who would always urge him to read just a little more, just a little more, until Vito would tell him that enough was enough, kiss his forehead, and tuck him in tightly. “Buona notte e sogni d’oro,” Vito whispered every night after the kiss, and he would ruffle the little boy’s hair. Good night and golden dreams….
Would Vito ever have them again?
Wearily, he got up from the bed, feeling as though his very bones weighed more, such was the effort to drag them across the room.
He paused in the doorway and thought, for the thousandth time, he should get rid of all the toys and kiddie books. He could donate them to a charity where some child could actually get some joy out of them, instead of having them lie fallow here, like museum pieces.
He could turn the room into a study for himself, perhaps get a leather recliner and a reading lamp, a nice side table, and come in here and have a glass of wine or a grappa, read at night, instead of brooding over what could never be changed.
He sighed and left the room, closing the door behind him.