Rival interns with sizzling chemistry in and out of the kitchen? That’s a recipe for love.
“Sweet and satisfying!”—Jenna Evans Welch, New York Times bestselling author of Love & Gelato
This summer, Reese Camden is trading sweet tea and Southern hospitality for cold brew and crisp coastal air. She's landed her dream marketing internship at Friends of Flavor, a wildly popular cooking channel in Seattle. The only problem? Benny Beneventi, the relentlessly charming, backwards-baseball-cap-wearing culinary intern—and her main competition for the fall job.
Reese's plan to keep work a No Feelings Zone crumbles like a day-old muffin when she and Benny are thrown together for a video shoot that goes viral, making them the internet's newest ship. Audiences are hungry for more, and their bosses at Friends of Flavor are happy to deliver. Soon Reese and Benny are in an all-out food war, churning homemade ice cream, twisting soft pretzels, breaking eggs in an omelet showdown—while hundreds of thousands of viewers watch.
Reese can't deny the chemistry between her and Benny. But the more their rivalry heats up, the harder it is to keep love on the back burner...
An Excerpt fromLove from Scratch
The man in front of me has a bee in his bonnet and cat hair on his coat. I know these things because from where I stand--smooshed into the back of a crowded elevator in the downtown Seattle skyscraper where my internship is located--the sleeve of his suit is only inches from my face. As such, I can see the white strands plain as day against the black fabric while he grunts at the phone in his hand--plus feel the tickle in my nose that says I’m dangerously close to a sneeze.
Lordhavemercy, I think, one big compound, catchall word I inherited from my mamaw and so many other Southerners, religious or not. It’s what you say when you’re in company too polite to say something worse.
Mr. Business is testing my limits, though. He just couldn’t be bothered to use a lint roller, could he? Nor to give me any personal space back here, in the midst of whatever turmoil he’s dealing with in his email inbox. I hope my nose breath is making him hot. I press my tongue to the roof of my mouth, a trick I saw online somewhere to help put off sneezing, watching the floor numbers tick higher.
Finally, the ding ding is for my floor and I adjust my grip on the tray of to-go cups I’m balancing in the crook of my arm, reaching for my badge to swipe into the office with the other hand as I make the quiet, “pardon me, sorry” noises required to edge my way out of the crush of bodies. It’s made a little easier today by the human Grumpy Cat, whose office must also be on floor forty-two, thus allowing me to slink through the wake left by his wide frame.
That plan is working flawlessly, right up until he steps off the elevator and--I don’t know--needs a moment to collect himself, or realizes he forgot to feed Fluffy or something. He stops short, with no regard for my or anyone else’s presence a half step behind him.
And because I do not stop short, I run smack into his cat-hair-covered backside, coffee tray first, sending hot brown lava into the air, onto the floor, and all over myself.
“Whoa, careful there,” the man grumbles with an errant glance over his shoulder. He’s already turning to head down the hall toward the entrance of some investment firm, leaving me gaping and covered in gourmet bean water.
I should be careful? Oh, for the love of--
“Reese! Oh my God, are you okay?”
Teagan, receptionist at Friends of Flavor, comes rushing out of the glass double doors that face the elevators, through which I guess she just witnessed the accident.
“I’m fine,” I say in the least grumbly voice I can manage, peeling my once-lavender shirt away from where it’s clinging to my stomach and chest. I’m never dressed in the blacks and grays of most of the businesspeople who work in our building, but of course I had to go all-pastel today. “Can’t say the same for the drinks, though.”
I peer over the to-go cups, which have all miraculously stayed in their designated slots, and to my relief find that my own hot tea might be the only total loss. Gourmet leaf water, I mentally correct myself, with regard to what’s soaked me. I’ve never felt so betrayed by my favorite beverage. The bean waters kept their lids on and lost a little foam at most. Small victories.
“What an asshole,” Teagan blurts, nodding in the direction of my new nemesis, who has by now disappeared. I nod my agreement but keep my mouth shut; she’s been here a couple of years and is so well liked that I don’t think anyone would bat an eye at her outburst. I’ve been here less than two weeks and would rather not be tossed out on my tea-soaked rear for losing my temper.
“You go on in, I’ll wipe the rest of this up,” she continues, shooing me away. I would argue, but she probably knows the time and therefore realizes that I’m already cutting it close, so I thank her profusely and get on my way.
Rounding the lobby corner, I shift the ill-fated tray to my other hand just in time to hold it out of the way of someone passing with a wheel of cheese so massive he nearly has to walk sideways to fit it through the hall. I pass by one of the ingredient pantries and catch a guy who looks like he stepped straight out of the Discovery Channel dropping live crabs into a tank. When I’ve almost reached the little alcove off Prep Kitchen 2 where my team works, a cooked strand of spaghetti sails just past the end of my nose and sticks to the wall beside me.
“Sorry! Didn’t see you there,” calls out an embarrassed kitchen assistant. I wave him off and bite my bottom lip to keep myself from saying something snippy. Not seeing me there seems to be the theme today, doesn’t it? But honestly, they seldom “see me there,” and that’s fine. So long as I’m noticed by the people who matter--the people with my future in their hands.
This is how it goes at Friends of Flavor. It’s the second full week of my internship, and I’m only just getting used to the organized chaos that characterizes these “culinary content creators.” There is constant hustle and bustle, chefs and kitchen assistants and art directors and camera crews and more rushing around to get the next recipes made, the next episodes shot for the various series, the kitchens cleaned so it can start all over. I’m merely a background player, an intern on the marketing team, and I have no desire to be anything more attention-grabbing--for now. If I can just keep my head down, work hard, learn from the pros, and do a good job on the tasks I’m given this summer, it could be the beginning for me. My entry into their flagship semester-long culinary internship in the fall, and from there . . . who knows what else? Once I have my degree, I’m angling for something full time in marketing or maybe on the production side--wherever my skills can be best put to use. If all goes according to plan, hopefully I’ll have a chance to stay in this weird and wonderful world long term.
Working at FoF has been my dream for years now, ever since my best friends back home in Kentucky, Natalie and Clara, pulled me out of a seriously self-pitying funk our freshman year of high school and into the home theater at Clara’s house with a dozen FoF videos queued up. It was the start of our shared obsession with the channel and the charismatic chefs who make its culinary magic. On countless nights when our schoolmates went to parties and football games, we stayed in, smooshed together on someone’s bed or couch, catching up on all the episodes of FoF’s cooking series. We fell in love with Katherine’s easygoing competence on Fuss-Free Foodie. We got to travel the US with Rajesh in Cross-Country Cookery. We dreamed of one day competing against other amateur chefs on Good Chef /Bad Chef. The prep kitchens and studio where most shows took place seemed like Narnia to us, as aspirational and dreamy and seemingly out of reach as that wonderland through the wardrobe.
I never imagined Narnia having quite so many copy machines, though. After rounding the corner near one of the mechanical beasts, I’m finally in the marketing team nook. I hand off the surviving cups to each of the team members I work with, who mumble their under-caffeinated thanks, then take a seat at my makeshift TV-tray desk. If anything, I suppose I can be thankful that the shock of the hot liquid down my front has given me the jolt of energy that I won’t be getting from a beverage this morning. I see a lock of dripping blond hair hanging in my periphery and try my best to discreetly wring it out above the trash can before pushing it back into place. I snap a quick picture of the results of the spill to Natalie and Clara with the caption “#OOTD #professional.” Their responses come quickly and are highly on-brand.
Clara: yikes! hope you have stain-fighting detergent. my mom uses tide
Natalie: Wet t-shirt contest?? LOVE that for you!
Laughing as I pocket my phone, I decide to put the annoyance of the coffee-tea-tastrophe to rest so I can get on with my day. I take out my laptop and open it, tucking my backpack neatly against the wall--as neatly as it will go, anyway, in a space barely big enough for a small trash can, let alone a whole human and her possessions.
Dream internship, I remind myself. Living the dream.
The dream that wasn’t so out of reach, as it turns out. Friends of Flavor is a real business, with real offices, where they hire real people to do real work. I had no idea the extent of the labor it takes behind the scenes to make twelve minutes of “Rajesh Prepares Chef Grant’s Deconstructed Chicken Cordon Bleu” look so clean and flawless. But the world of food media is complex, with many cogs that keep the machine running. It’s appealed to me since I first started watching FoF’s shows, and they’re producing the best work in the business. I love food and enjoy cooking, but my culinary chops are mostly collected from time spent in my mamaw’s kitchen throwing extra butter into everything and learning her recipes and techniques by example. Without any professional kitchen experience, I always figured that my graphic design skills from years on the school newspaper staff would have to be my in.
And when I started browsing internships for the summer before college and saw that the big streaming service that hosts Friends of Flavor had a spot open in its marketing department for a recent high school grad with minimal experience to their name? A chance to get away from my hometown and to my new city as soon as possible before I go to the University of Washington in the fall, to start anew away from all the people and baggage of my past, to work with some of my favorite creators in the whole wide web? I barely even considered what the day-to-day would look like, or that it might be anything other than a dream come true. Truly, I don’t think I’ve ever clicked a button so fast in my life.
I’ve done quite a bit of clicking buttons since then, though, like I do now as I open up the usual tabs in my browser. Button clicking is one of my main responsibilities here, along with getting morning coffee when the boss decides to splurge on some from outside the staff break room. Every Friends of Flavor social media page is at the ready on my computer, waiting for me to tend to the replies and reposts and favorites appropriately. In other words, to click some buttons.
On Instagram, I like everyone’s comments that I can. This is a never-ending task, as there are thousands of comments per post and they are constantly multiplying. Half of them are just people tagging their friends so they’ll see the post, but as my boss Margie says, we still have to show that we “appreciate their engagement.” I reply to a handful that I deem reply-worthy, like if they ask a genuine question to which I can find an answer--
@sw3et.c4rolin3e3: What brand of brown sugar did Nia use in her drop cookies?
@friendsofflavor: Domino, but any kind will do!
--or if they say something that gives me a chance to be quippy--
@MrZtoA1: I accidentally melted my butter instead of softening it OOPS
@friendsofflavor: BUTTER luck next time! ;)
Quippy comments always get more engagement and are the most fulfilling for me personally. My food pun repertoire is vast and always growing. Those almost balance out all of the comments I have to delete and users I have to block for inappropriateness. Why anyone would come to a page for a cooking channel to post racial slurs is beyond me, but then so is posting that garbage anywhere. I think of it as my daily taking out the trash, and it’s sort of cathartic. Block, delete, block, delete, block, block, block.
Twitter and Facebook are more of the same, though the latter is increasingly bogged down with accidental comments by older folks who were clearly trying to type in the search bar, bless their hearts. Where we get the most engagement, and therefore where I spend the bulk of my time, is in the comments on our actual video content.
It’s impossible to keep up with all of the comments on the Friends of Flavor channel on our host streaming service, UltiMedia. The UltiMedia website is busy as it hosts a wide variety of original scripted and unscripted content on its different channels. There are channels for every interest--sitcoms, dramas, romantic movies. But Friends of Flavor’s culinary reality series make it one of the most popular channels of all. Everyone likes food, right? And honestly, most people seem to like our videos.
UltiMedia has a comments section under each video, and each channel has an account that can monitor and reply to comments--a lot of my job is managing Friends of Flavor’s. But there are so many episodes within each of the different series getting a minimum of thousands of new views daily, it’s all I can do to give the occasional “Thanks for watching!” to every 217th commenter. Anything to show we care, I guess. It’s one of Friends of Flavor’s biggest priorities to remain as approachable to the over four million viewers of each new video as they were to the first fourteen, and as a loyal longtime fan myself, I appreciate it.
I’ve been at it for a couple of hours when I hear Margie abruptly scoot her chair back behind me. I peek over my shoulder, though I know she’s likely only taking a bathroom break. But to my surprise, she’s gazing at her cell phone as she gets to her feet and gestures for me to get up, too.
“Aiden texted. Impromptu meeting in PK 1. Why don’t you join me, see what’s up?”
I nod, knowing it’s more of an order than a suggestion, and close my laptop. I fight the urge to tuck in the flyaway strands of Margie’s long, gray-brown braid as I trail her down the hall. While Margie has her shit together more than most people I know, the state of her braid always suggests otherwise. And somehow, I seem to be the only one who notices. It’s like these people didn’t grow up with a mama who would lick her fingers and pat into submission any individual hair that dared to step out of line.