Sassy foodie Becca Stone is over her job taking reservations for one of London's most successful restaurant empires. So when she is unexpectedly catapulted into working as PA to celebrity chef Damien Malone, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime.
Becca is quickly caught up in an exciting whirlwind of travel, reality TV and opening nights, and even her usually abysmal love-life takes a turn for the better. But as Becca is slowly consumed by the chaos of life in the spotlight, she begins to lose touch with her friends, her heart and even with reality. Working with Damien has its challenges and she is soon struggling with his increasingly outrageous demands and sleazy advances, all while managing the ridiculous requests of his self-centred wife. It takes a disastrous trip to Italy for Becca to realise that she may have thrown away exactly what she's been looking for all along.
Inspired by Lisa Joy's real-life adventures, this deliciously funny and romantic story is a tantalising llok at the trendy restaurant scene: a world where chefs are treated like rock stars, and cooking isn't all that goes on in the kitchen.
About the Author
Lisa Joy began writing stories in her teenage years, but decided she needed to get her heart broken and live in another country before pursuing a career as a novelist. Born in Sydney, she spent most of her childhood wearing pink tights and leotards at ballet class.
At age 21, deciding she wasn't cut out for the famished life of a ballerina, she left her safe and somewhat predictable existence behind and travelled to London, where she worked as a television producer's PA, in fashion retail and the restaurant business. Having fallen head over heels in love with London, travelling Europe, eating amazing food and the occasional stint on stage and screen, Lisa stayed put for about 7 years, until finally, family called and she returned to Australia to work as PA to a well known Melbourne chef.
Her writing took a dramatic turn for the better after she attended a commercial fiction masterclass with author Fiona McIntosh. She now lives in the picturesque Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne on a small acreage farm with her husband and four chooks where in addition to writing novels, she grows vegetables, berries and herbs to supply to some of Melbourne's best restaurants.
I probably shouldn't tell you this but . . . Oh shit, hang on, the phone's ringing.
'Good morning, Damien's . . . I'm sorry, Sir, we're fully booked this Saturday evening . . . Oh, it's your anniversary? I still don't have any tables available . . . Yes, Sir, even for just two, but I'd be happy to make a reservation for you on the next available Saturday . . . It's September 24th . . . Yes, Sir, I know it's only April . . . Hello, hello?'
He hung up. Rude prick.
'Why is it men always leave it to the last minute to organise their anniversary? I mean, it's not exactly a surprise, it happens every year,' I said to the office in general. But everyone was on the phone, except Kitty, the reservations supervisor.
'Same reason they call the day before Valentine's Day and try to bribe us for a table,' she replied.
Kitty sat at the desk next to me, headset on, eyes closed, office chair in recline, holding a bacon sandwich.
'Hung-over again?' I asked.
'Yeah, went to see Tool play last night,' she said, eyes still closed against the fluorescent light. 'My ears are still ringing. By the way, Jacq's called in sick again so you'll have to answer emails for the bistro, too.'
Jacq is sick on a bi-weekly basis. At least. But we forgive and love her because she's great for a laugh. She invented Sexual Harassment Thursdays, after all. But anyway, I was telling you about my boss, Damien Malone, celebrity chef, television personality, owner of seven of London's 'hottest' restaurants, and all-round arsehole.
Oh Christ, Molly's calling.
I was yet to discover what the benefit of caller ID on our office phones was. The only purpose it served was to strike fear or anxiety into our hearts whenever Damien's or his wife, Molly's name flashed ominously across the screen. I looked around to see if anyone else was free to take the call. Ten women were working the early shift that morning. Aside from me, Samira was the only one not already on a reservation call.
'Samira, can you take line one?'
'Who is it?'
Deep breath, Becca, just take a deep breath. I pressed the answer button as if I were afraid it might bite me.
'Hello, Molly, how are you? It's Becca, Becca Stone.' There was only one Becca in our office. She knew that. 'Just a second, Molly, I need to pick up the handset. I can hardly hear you; my headset's crackling. Right, is everything okay?'
'No, Becca, everything is not okay. I'm on the M4 coming back from Iver Heath and the most dreadful thing has happened.'
'Oh God, are you all right? Have you had an accident?'
'Becca, I need you to call the police.'
'Of course. Why?'
'Well, I was driving behind a dirty Fiat for at least a mile, when down rolls the passenger window and out flies a bag of McDonald's. McDonald's! They chucked it right into the road. It almost hit the Mercedes. I have the registration number, Becca; I need you to report this to the police straight away.'
I closed my eyes and focused on the bacon-scented air filling my lungs. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
When I opened my eyes I became fixated by the time on my computer screen. It was only nine fifty-four a.m.; I hadn't even made it to the Nespresso machine and I was already experiencing my daily existential crisis. I was a twenty-nine-year-old woman with a language degree and I was working in what was essentially a call centre, for a chef who thought he was a demigod and his no-grip-on-reality wife.
Our office is a veritable chook pen, only better smelling and with fewer feathers. Unless our colleague, Bonnie, is wearing one of her boas, of course. Usually pink with white tips, as if someone had plucked the tail feathers of a winged Disney character. But I digress . . . the office.
Five women face the wall on either side of the narrow room, drab grey dividers separating each of us only slightly from our neighbour. The dividers are a relatively new addition. Textured to absorb sound, they remind me of a padded cell in a nineteenth-century mental asylum. There are times, after I have just spoken with a particularly irate person, when I wonder if the padded dividers weren't installed with another reason in mind. A customer-facing role is tough, even if it is via the telephone. In the eighteen months I've worked for Damien I have often been tempted to slam my head against something in the hope of relieving my frustration.
At the head of our office sits the reservations and events manager, Harriet, a.k.a. Miss Piggy. Fortunately, she faces away from us, but that doesn't stop her from hearing everything. And there's a lot to hear. Imagine ten women all talking at once, the eternal ringing of ten telephones, the conversations we have on the telephone, and then the inevitable bitch session debrief after a guest has been rude to us. So not only do we cop abuse individually over the phone, we then hear the recap of everyone else's abuse. Needless to say, it's quite difficult to concentrate on the one hundred-plus emails that arrive in my inbox every day. These range from the banal, such as 'Can I book a table for two this Saturday evening?' to the distressing: a complaint about the food or service. You don't want to be in the room when Damien receives those. There are also some interesting requests; organising a reader event for Delicious magazine is always fun. The most exciting emails I receive are not work-related at all. They're usually from my brother, Anthony, and his girlfriend, Heidi. Since the cradle my little brother has only ever done what he wanted. He has none of my ingrained sense of duty or care for the future. As far as I can tell he doesn't think about it at all. He travels the world living hand-to-mouth, never worrying about what he's supposed to do with his life because he's already doing it. His last email included a picture of himself and Heidi astride camels with the Great Pyramid of Giza in the background. To say I envied him would be stating the obvious. A country in the midst of a revolution would not stop my brother seeing the pyramids.
Ping. New email. Only this time it was from Abigail, Damien's PA. My heartbeat quickened. It's completely irrational, ridiculous even, but Abigail scares me. She has this couldn't-give-a-toss attitude that is truly off-putting for someone who has sadly spent her life caring what others think.
Meet me in the new office, it said. Don't tell Harriet.
Of course, my immediate conclusion was that I must be in trouble. Slowly, I swirled my less-than-ergonomic office chair from left to right, looking for signs of anything suspicious. The back of Harriet's head gave me nothing, her bobbing brown ponytail as ordinary as ever. Everyone else was, you guessed it, on the phone. I put my phone on break and got up to go, when Bonnie stood up.
'Just heading to the loo,' she trilled before proceeding to sing 'Over the Rainbow' as she left the office. I sat back down again. Harriet doesn't like us going to the toilet at the same time. If we do, the phone lines bank up and she has to get off Facebook to help answer them.
The gap between telephone calls gave me pause to wonder what on earth Abigail wanted to speak to me about. Perhaps she needed help organising an event for Damien? But if that were the case, surely she would have asked Jacq or Grace. Both had been working for Damien much longer than I had. They didn't seem scared of Abigail at all and Grace was practically pally with Molly. Maybe I had done something wrong. Then again, if that were true, Harriet would be the one to discipline me. Nothing would please her more.
Minutes later, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw Bonnie open the office door and I was on my feet. Headset down, I made a dash for the door, slowing my stride as I passed Harriet's desk.
'Back soon,' I said. 'Bursting.'
The new office is taking longer to refurbish than everyone would like. The idea is accounts, human resources, Dwayne, the operations director, marketing and Abigail will move to the lovely flash office next door and we reservations girls will be able to spread out. So soon we will be free-range chooks, not caged. Won't Jamie Oliver be delighted? At this stage, though, the new office is still a building site. As I lifted the makeshift tarpaulin 'door', my nose itched with the peppery scent of dust and concrete. At least it's quiet in here, I thought. An office phone cannot ring when there is no wiring. Daylight filtered through dirty windows and on to grey concrete walls. The relative darkness added to the mystery of this clandestine meeting.
Abigail was waiting for me, Louis Vuitton wallet and sunglasses in one hand, as if she meant to make a break for it straight after this meeting. Her father financed Damien's restaurants. He also financed Abigail and her chef boyfriend, from what I gathered. How else could they afford to live in Notting Hill? In a three-level townhouse, I might add, not some dingy converted basement flat.
'What's up?' I asked casually, trying to avoid showing someone six years younger how intimidated I was.
'Sorry about the secrecy. It's pretty fucking childish actually, but you know what she's like.'
I assumed she meant Harriet. 'Yeah,' I said, none the wiser.
'I'm going to America next week. A road trip from Las Vegas to LA for a whole month.' She grinned, the happiness incongruous with her usual air of indifference.
'That's fantastic,' I said.
'Damien doesn't think so.'
'I'm sure he can cope without you for one month.'
'He can.' She glanced down at her perfectly manicured nails, as if she were debating a change of colour. 'He'll have you.'
'What? Why me?'
I guess she wasn't expecting resistance. Abigail's expressions were difficult to read at the best of times, but I thought I glimpsed surprise when she looked up. Then she shrugged and the nonchalance returned.
'When I told Damien I was going away he said I'd need to find someone to cover me. His bistro's not long open and there are still loads of media enquiries coming through. And it won't be long before he starts filming again.'
'Yes,' I agreed, 'but wouldn't Harriet be a better choice? I mean, she's known Damien for years. I've barely spoken to him. I don't even think he knows my name. Every time I see him he calls me 'sweet cheeks'.'
'He asked for you. Harriet has enough to do running her department.' She looked out the hazy window to the terrace on the other side of Regent Street. We both knew she was lying. Harriet did jack-all, and besides, she practically lorded her great relationship with Damien over the rest of us. There was more to this, but I wasn't going to find it out from Abigail. Must remember to ask Grace, I thought, my font of gossip.
'He asked for me personally?' I pressed.
'Not exactly.' She almost squirmed, embarrassed by association. 'But I could tell who he meant and he knows your name now.'
'You'd better get back to the office,' she said. 'Harriet will be wondering where you are. I'll speak to Dwayne about it and call a meeting with him and Harriet.'
She turned and made her way around the cleared rubble to what would one day be the exit. As I stood there, listening to the click of her Jimmy Choos on the bare concrete, I realised I hadn't even said yes.
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: 25th February 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.2 x 15.4 x 2.1
Weight (kg): 0.39