Today I’m very lucky to have the very lovely Jenny Oliver on the blog talking about her book The Parisian Christmas Bake Off, patisseries and roasted chestnuts!
1. Hi Jenny! Welcome to Sheli Reads! Tell us a bit about your book, The Parisian Christmas Bake Off.
Thanks for having me, Sheli!
The Parisian Christmas Bake Off is essentially about a girl, Rachel, heading off to Paris at Christmas to take part in a competition to become a world-renowned baker’s apprentice. But underneath that it’s about her coming to terms with the loss of her mother, facing her fears and having the courage to let her talent shine and live in the present again. Plus lots of mouth-watering cakes, competitiveness and sabotage, a sprinkling of romance and whole lot of Christmas!
2. Where did you get your inspiration to write the book?
I had always wanted to write a Christmas book but wasn’t quite sure what my setting or theme would be – apart from lots of snow! I was on holiday this year in a little village in France and fell in love with the tiny patisseries that were piled high with the most amazing cakes, tortes, breads and croissants. They were the bustling hub of the village. Those memories combined with a passion for the Bake Off and suddenly everything came together in this book.
3. There are lots of books out now that involve cupcakes, what made you go for delicate French pastries as your festive food of choice in this book?
My grandmother grew up in France so a lot of the cooking in our extended family has a french origin and a fair bit of what they make in the book I grew up watching being baked by my mum or grandmother – and occasionally giving it a go myself! – so it all felt very familiar. Also, while I’m quite partial to a cupcake, I really love the pastries that you see in the window of places like Patisserie Valerie and other little cake shops – strawberry tarts, millefeuille, flakey almond croissants, eclairs and of course the macaroon. They’re more art than food! When I walk past those places I have to just pause and admire!
4. Did you base the character of the chef, Henri Salernes, on a celebrity chef?
Not one in particular but I watch a lot of Masterchef and I’m always amazed at the hierarchy in the kitchen and how brutal it can be. I’d either be trembling in the corner or walk out in a rage whereas the junior chefs are so in tune with the system and what’s expected that a simple ‘yes chef’ always seems to be the only answer. There’s no quibbling. I liked the idea that no one had ever really had the courage to stand up to Rachel, the protagonist in my book, and tell her that it was time to change, to move on and forward. Possibly the only person who could have done that was her mum and she’s gone. So the idea that this mean french chef might be the one to break down her barriers really appealed to me.
5. I would love to read more about Rachel’s life back home in her village. Will you be writing more about her?
Yes I think so. I’m working on something at the moment where she appears as a secondary character and it’s really lovely to see her and Philippe again – he really makes me laugh so I can’t let him go!
6. What can we expect from you next?
I loved writing this book and I especially liked the community of Rachel’s home town so, at the moment, that’s where I’m headed next.
7. Have you got any tips for aspiring writers out there?
Enjoy what you are writing. And do it as much as possible.
8. I always like to ask a food related question, so what’s your favourite treat to get you in a festive mood?
Last weekend we were watching some terrible Christmas film, had just decorated the tree and we roasted some chestnuts! They’re one of my all time festive foods. I love breaking open the shells while they’re still steaming hot and the flavour just says Christmas to me. The trick is not to forget about them…countless times I’ve left them in the oven till they’re burnt to a crisp so when I get them right they seem doubly special.
Thank you for this great interview Jenny! The Parisian Christmas Bake Off is available on Amazon now, and you can read my review here.