Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen?
Rico Silva, that’s what.
Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster.
FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn't too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he's definitely over her.
But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico. Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…?
“We’re at the door.” A text from her cousin Trisha.
In a mad dash Ashna put away the cart, and rubbed rose scented hand lotion into her hands to cover the chemical smell as she ran to the door.
It was just past midnight, but a visit after closing time from one of her cousins or her best friend China was a common occurrence. Everyone Ashna knew worked too long and too late and after all the restaurants in the area closed she was everyone’s favorite food source. She opened the door and found herself to be right twice over. Both China and her cousin Trisha pushed their way into the kitchen.
“We’ve been knocking for five minutes!” Trisha said accusatorially.
“You’re still here, Thank God!” China added.
“Where else would I be?” Ashna headed for the fridge. “You hungry?”
They shook their heads in unison. “We ate.”
This was strange. A midnight visit without a food agenda.
“We’ll take some tea,” Trisha said, but she found Ashna’s cup and took a sip. “I can never drink chai anyone else makes. You’ve ruined me for substandard chai.”
Ashna smiled. Most people did murder tea. They didn’t understand the subtlety of flavor involved and basically just threw stuff together and called it a blend.
“Don’t drink cold tea.” Before Ashna could finish the sentence, the cup in Trisha’s hands had been drained.
Ashna sighed, refilled the kettle, and retrieved a few of her tea jars from the pantry. China and Trisha threw each other a speaking look. Something was definitely up. Trisha might be her uncle’s daughter but they had grown up together and were more sisters than cousins. Trisha also had the world’s most transparent face.
“Anyone want to tell me what this is about?”
China extracted a beer from the cooler. “Maybe it’s too late for tea.”
Trisha noticed the stack of mail Ashna had brought in earlier and started filing through it. The kettle whistled.
China and Trisha jumped.
“Okay, what’s going on? What do you two want?”
Instead of answering, Trisha picked out an envelope and waved it like a flag of victory. “I think we finally have a way to get rid of these foreclosure notices.”
China glared at Trisha. Her look said: Smooth. You should let me do it.
“They’re just warnings.” Ashna snatched the envelope away. “And I don’t need any more of your harebrained ideas.”
Last week Trisha had tried to convince DJ, who was her boyfriend and one of the Bay’s hottest private chefs, to insist on all his offsite parties being held at Curried Dreams. DJ had been one of Ashna’s closest friends since culinary school in Paris. Ashna was, in fact, the one who had introduced DJ and Trisha, a match-making win she would always be smug about. But she was not going to let DJ hold his clients to ransom for her restaurant. He had already done enough for her with The Menu She Couldn’t Cook.
Trisha made a face. “I’ve never had a harebrained idea in my life. Neurosurgeons don’t have harebrained ideas, we can’t. It’s in the Hippocratic oath.”
Trisha was being only half facetious. The woman was abnormally brilliant and Ashna was obnoxiously proud of her cousin, but when it came to ideas for saving Curried Dreams, not so much.
Ashna sighed. “I’m sorry. I appreciate the effort. It’s not like I’ve come up with anything that works either.”
China and Trisha high-fived. Were her best friends high-fiving her failure?
Trisha grabbed Ashna’s hand, dragged her into the dining, area and pushed her into a chair with the stupid know-it-all smile Ashna knew only too well.
Looking at China for answers only caused her to study her beer bottle.
“Now that you have a boyfriend,” Ashna said to Trisha, not attempting to hide her irritation. “Shouldn’t you be home spending time with him instead of worrying about Curried Dreams?”
Trisha dropped into a chair across from Ashna. “First, you should smack me upside the head if I let myself get involved with someone who doesn’t understand how much you and Curried Dreams mean to me.”
Fair enough. But Ashna kept her eyes stubbornly narrowed.
“Second, this actually has to do with said boyfriend. DJ needs your help.” Trisha tried to look pleading, but she was incapable of pulling off helplessness.
Ashna very much doubted DJ needed help and she could almost see the scene where he had tried to stop Trisha from whatever fanciful errand she was on.
“Right,” Ashna said leaning forward in her chair. “First, if DJ needed my help, he’d ask himself. Second, I know that face.” She stuck a finger at Trisha.
“And that one.” She moved her finger to China’s face. “What are you two up to? Spit it out. I need to be at the farmer’s market at 5 AM.”
“There’s my girl. We would very much love to spit it out.” Finally, China spoke, relief clear in her strong leader-of-the-pack voice. Her ability to lead crews through crazy schedules had made Food Network steal her away from a local production company earlier this year.
“So, you know how DJ was going to be a Pro on my new show?” China was one of the producers on Cooking With The Stars—a new competitive show that followed the format of Dancing With The Stars, where they teamed up celebrities with professional chefs and the duos duked it out for viewer votes and judges’ scores.
Ashna had helped China and Trisha talk (bully?) DJ into it. DJ was handsome, madly talented, charismatic and had that magic element for American television: A Very British Accent.
“Did you say was?” Ashna asked, alarmed.
“Yeah, he’s not going to be a Pro chef on the show any more.” Trisha sounded far too cheery.
“I thought he was all excited about it. What happened?”
“Well,” Chana said, “Aaron Smith, our host for the show, his wife has cancer. So, he had to quit to take care of her.”
“Oh no. That’s so sad.” Ashna pressed a hand to her mouth.
“Yes. But the prognosis is excellent. Catching ovarian cancer at stage one is a win.” Trisha sounded every inch the doctor she was. “DJ is taking over as host.”
“DJ? Our DJ?” Ashna sat up.
“The very one.” Trisha beamed like the smitten fool she was. “It’s the accent. Also, he’s actually a better fit to host the show than Aaron was in the first place. He knows so much more about food. Plus, I was a little worried about him working with a celebrity. He’s such a diva when it comes to cooking, I can’t imagine him working with someone who might not turn out something utterly perfect.”
Ashna grabbed China’s beer and took a sip. “What does all this have to do with me?” The moment the words left her mouth, she knew she shouldn’t have asked.
“Well, the network is set to announce the Pro chefs the day after tomorrow on a special episode of Iron Chef. We’ve been promoting it for months.” China took the beer back and took a sip. “And we’re short a chef.”
“Oh no, look at the time.” Ashna jumped out of her chair. “If I don’t close up I won’t be able to get to the farmer’s market before all the best produce is gone. Palo Alto chefs are ruthless. You won’t believe how fast everything gets swept away. Last week they ran out of bitter melon because I was twelve minutes late.”
Using both hands, she tried to yank China out of her chair but she didn’t budge. “It doesn’t sound like an emergency.” It totally sounded like an emergency. For her not them. “We can discuss it tomorrow.” She tried to move Trisha with similar results. “Don’t you have work tomorrow. Surgeries maybe? Saving lives and all that?”
China made her best puppy dog eyes. “Trisha will have her lives to save. You’ll have your restaurant to run.” Her sigh took on a desperate quality that didn’t sound like she was faking. “But I won’t have work to go to. Not if I don’t have a new chef to replace DJ by tomorrow.”
Trisha and China stared at Ashna with all the expectation of friends who had you perfectly cornered.
“Of course you’ll find a chef to replace DJ. Chefs have to be scrambling to get on your show.”
“Like who? We start shooting in less than a month. How will I run auditions before the announcement in one day?”
“How about…” Ashna racked her brains, why-oh-why hadn’t she worked harder to network with her peers? She wanted to help. Truly, she did.
“You know how hot DJ is,” Trisha said.
“We need someone hot and talented,” China said.
“I can’t think of anyone—”
“We can,” they both said in a perfectly delusional symphony. “You, Ashna.”
Ashna laughed, a giant ball of laughter gathering inside her and tumbling out like an avalanche. And couldn’t stop. “Very funny. No, really, you guys are hilarious,” she said between hiccupping—and bordering on maniacal—laughter. “Hil-fucking-arious.”