Best Served Hot
Author: Amanda Elliot
Release: February 21, 2023
Two restaurant critics learn their opposing tastes might make for a five-star relationship in the next foodie romantic comedy from the author of Sadie on a Plate.
By day, Julie Zimmerman works as an executive assistant. After hours, she’s @JulieZeeEatsNYC, a social media restaurant reviewer with over fifty thousand followers. As much as she loves her self-employed side gig, what Julie really wants is to be a critic at a major newspaper, like the New York Scroll. The only thing worse than the Scroll’s rejection of her application is the fact that smarmy, social-media-averse society boy Bennett Richard Macalester Wright snagged her dream job.
While at the Central Park Food Festival, Julie confronts the annoyingly handsome Bennett about his outdated opinions on social media and posts the resulting video footage. Julie’s follower count soars—and so does the Scroll’s. Julie and Bennett grudgingly agree to partner up for a few reviews to further their buzz. Online buzz, obviously.
Over tapas, burgers, and more, Julie and Bennett connect over their shared love of food. But when the competitive fire between them turns extra spicy, they’ll have to decide how much heat their relationship can take.
New York Scroll names new restaurant critic, Bennett Richard Macalester Wright.
Suddenly none of the food looked all that appetizing anymore.
“What is it?” asked Alice.
“What is it?” asked Alice.
I sat back down with a thump. “I didn’t get it,” I said dully. And it wasn’t like I’d expected them to read my passionate cover letter and resume and social media stats and immediately roll out the heirloom-tomato-red carpet. But they hadn’t even bothered sending me a rejection email. Or any kind of acknowledgment at all. Maybe my application had been one of a million, even though the job hadn’t been listed online for the general peasantry to apply for (I’d been tipped off about the opening through an email my boss had gotten and I’d read). Or maybe they hadn’t taken my resume seriously. Laughed about it in the office. Who does this girl think she is? She thinks some followers and some videos make her suited for us? The New York Scroll had never hired a critic who wasn’t a white dude over fifty. They had social media, of course, but they still published trend pieces where they gaped at it and how it worked like it was a zoo exhibit. And over here we have people—wait for it—actually getting their news on social media. Thank goodness the protective bars are here, or they might attack us. Not unlike my boss, come to think of it. I still didn’t think he knew about my second “job,” but I’d heard the way he snorted as he watched his daughters take selfies or the older one herd her kids into the perfect light for a family snap.
Alice made a sympathetic mmm in response. “Who’d they name? Is it at least someone good?”
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I was already frantically googling to learn more, leaving the food to cool before us. “He went to Dartmouth,” I reported. Which, if I judged by the alumni I knew—my boss and his daughters—was stereotypically rich and fratty. “And he played on the squash team.” Which was basically code for “has an enormous trust fund.” I scowled down at my screen. “Hobbies include boating and collecting ancient coins.” Bennett Richard Macalester Wright had almost certainly never misbudgeted and run out of food money his freshman year of college and had to subsist on ramen and scrounged-up free pizza from various club meetings to get by.
“And then it looks like he was a food reporter at the Times for the last five years,” I said. I scrolled through a few of his past headlines. A profile on a chef semi-famous for his cooking and very famous for his string of ever-younger actress wives. A report on why high-end restaurants were trending toward smaller but more expensive wine lists. A few reviews of pricey restaurants—it looked like he’d filled in for their regular critic while she was out on maternity leave.
“At least he seems like he’s qualified,” Alice said. I scowled at her. I didn’t want to hear that he was qualified. I wanted to hear that he sucked and that they should’ve hired me. But I didn’t say that. I continued my googling, but turned up nothing except dead ends. Like most major food reviewers, he’d clearly done his best to take down as much as he possibly could about himself, especially photographs. No serious food reviewer wanted to tip off a restaurant that they were there, since that might lead the owner or the kitchen to offer them special treatment that would bias their review. It was why I never made a reservation under my own name, though I couldn’t do much about my face. Sometimes, if I got recognized on one visit, I’d go back with a wig or glasses the next time.
“Excuse me, ladies?” Our waiter smiled down on us. “How are we doing?”
“Not great, but the food is delicious,” I told him.
His smile wavered, not quite sure what to do with that. “Would you like anything more to drink? We have some lovely wines on offer tonight.”
“No thanks,” Alice said. “She doesn’t like wine.”
“Alice!” I hissed. Which was always fun. Alice had a particularly hissable name.
The waiter nodded and went off to bring our check. Alice turned to me, blinking. “What?”
“We’ve had this discussion before,” I said. “Don’t tell anyone I don’t like wine.”
“But you don’t like wine,” Alice said.
It was true. Wine tasted like literal sour grapes to me, whether it was the cheap boxed stuff our roommates used to bring home in college or the ultra-fancy kind my boss gave me last year for the holidays. It literally made my lips pucker and my cheeks suck in. I’d never been able to understand why people actually enjoyed drinking it. But my followers wouldn’t agree. Again, they were mostly young women around my age or a bit older. There was a whole meme industry around wine. The wine moms. Giant wine glasses. Social media love turned on a dime. Not like I was hiding it hardcore. It was just that I’d rather the truth not be known, because I didn’t want to do anything that might alienate me from my followers. Sometimes being loved on social media meant being loved as someone who isn’t really you.
“You know who I bet loooves wine?” I said, rather than continuing my lecture.
“Bennett…” I couldn’t remember his two middle names, so I made some up. “Bennett Rigatoni Mushroom Wright.” Alice giggled, which made me go on. “The Scroll always includes a wine list in their reviews, and the wines they choose always cost a fortune.”
Excerpted from Best Served Hot by Amanda Elliot Copyright © 2023 by Amanda Elliot.
Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Amanda Elliot is the author of several young adult and middle grade books as Amanda Panitch. She lives in New York City, where she owns way too many cookbooks for her tiny kitchen.
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