MY FINE FELLOW, by Jennieke Cohen, HarperTeen, Jan. 11, 2022, Hardcover, $17.99 (young adult)
My Fair Lady gets a culinary twist in Jennieke Cohen’s new historical young adult novel, My Fine Fellow.
It’s 1830s England, and Culinarians — doyens who consult with society’s elite to create gorgeous food and confections — are the crème de la crème of high society.
Helena Higgins, top of her class at the Royal Academy, has a sharp demeanor and an even sharper palate — and knows stardom awaits her if she can produce greatness in her final year.
Penelope Pickering is going to prove the value of non-European cuisine to all of England. Her contemporaries may scorn her Filipina heritage and her dishes, but with her flawless social graces and culinary talents, Penelope is set to prove them wrong.
Elijah Little has nothing to his name but a truly excellent instinct for flavors. London merchants won’t allow a Jewish boy to own a shop, so he hawks his pasties for a shilling a piece to passersby — but he knows with training he can break into the highest echelon of society.
When Penelope and Helena meet Elijah, a golden opportunity arises: to pull off a project never seen before, and turn Elijah from a street vendor to a gentleman chef.
But Elijah’s transformation will have a greater impact on this trio than they originally realize — and mayhem, unseemly faux pas, and a little romance will all be a part of the delicious recipe. —Synopsis provided by HarperTeen
My Fine Fellow is a light romance that not imagines respected careers for young women in the 1830s but places them in a position above men. It’s a lovely twist that feels natural. The romantic elements remain enjoyable even if they are not surprising.
The real star of My Fine Fellow is the food. It’s clear that author Jennieke Cohen is a fan of the culinary world. Her detailed descriptions cover everything from the correct way to hull and slice a strawberry to the intricate details of how different spices should taste and enhance certain dishes. I found myself caring just as much about the food as the characters.
Much like the ingredients in Cohen’s dishes, her characters each provide necessary elements needed to balance one another. A trio can be a tricky combination, but the author handles them with a skilled hand.
My Fine Fellow starts a little slowly but Cohen quickly finds her pacing. It’s a refreshing book that offers readers a nice escape from current worries. I can see this book doing well as a crossover into adult fiction.